The Bone Chilling Truth: Buying and Selling Human Skeletal Remains on the Internet
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Human skeletal remains have been venerated in human society for hundreds of thousands of years. They have deep ritual and cultural significance around the world as well as being invaluable as a teaching resource for medical, dental, and forensic science purposes. With the proliferation of the internet and globalization, there has been growing popularity in buying and selling human skeletal remains on the web by private parties. In the U.S., there are no laws that prohibit the buying and selling of human skeletal remains except for in Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisiana. The only legal repercussions that exist is when sellers violate the terms of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Huxley and Finnegan, 2004), a law designed to repatriate Native American skeletal remains and grave goods unearthed during Federal construction projects. Aside from Native American remains and antiquities recovered from Federally funded project sites, there are no issues with owning or selling human skeletal remains in the majority of the U.S. The ethics of this practice are pulled into question as human skeletal remains are being sold for thousands of dollars with little to no background on where they came from with reference to if they were legally acquired or stolen. The most popular bone sold is the skull, with prices ranging from $2,000 for a medical/non-pathological skull, to $20,000 for a modern hand carved skull. The accessibility for purchasing human skeletal remains spans from private websites marketed toward medical anatomy, to eBay auctions, to selling human skeletons on Instagram for art and popularity. One of the main unaddressed ethical issues surrounding this practice is the concept of consent and whether these people consented to having their bones bought and sold. This paper provides a literature examination, methodological survey of bones for sale, and discussion of the buying and selling of human skeletal remains on the internet.