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Gravely mistaken

When a stranger says he wants to dig up a corpse that might be buried beneath the pews of your church, should you let him? Would it help if he explains that: (a) he recently dug up a corpse on the other side of an ocean; and (b) he’s not certain who that foreign corpse is, but he thinks it might be a relative of the corpse that might be buried in your church; and (c) he’s doing this to bring attention to a man who played an early role in a small, miserable failure four centuries ago?

American historian William M Kelso thinks you should. Kelso’s book, Jamestown – The Buried Truth, tells how (a) he persuaded two British churches to let him poke into their bowels; and (b) he also persuaded the Church of England to, for the first time in its history, give permission for such poking; and (c) the digging did not proceed smoothly; and (d) the church corpses turned out to be, probably, not the ones he was looking for….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

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