Banana was code for human bones, on one archaeological dig where I’ve worked. We were excavating a cemetery, several thousand years old, and had permits from the appropriate authorities. However, certain religious groups in the area had a history of protesting any destruction of burials, so we kept our work discrete.
We packed excavated skeletons in boxes labeled “bananas” and referenced the fruit when discussing the project in public.
Our team had legal approval and scientific justification, but those bananas represent a conundrum: When is it acceptable for archaeologists to disturb the dead?
The short answer: “There’s no blanket answer… Sometimes, yes definitely. And sometimes it’s the right thing to do, not to excavate,” says Duncan Sayer, an archaeologist who has written a book on the ethics of burial excavations.