SKULL OF LAW PRICE
SKULL OF LAW PRICE.A morbid market. Staffers at the Louisiana Department of Justice in Baton Rouge tracked the sale of human skulls on eBay for seven months. During that period, 237 people listed 454 skulls for sale, with opening bids ranging from one cent to $5500.
Until last week, eBay’s official policy as stated on its website was that it doesn’t allow the sale of human remains, with two exceptions – “items containing human scalp hair, and skulls and skeletons intended for medical use”. However, sellers could say that skulls were for medical use without proving it, and still sell them as curiosities, says Tanya Marsh at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
Following the study’s publication, eBay recently changed its policy to ban sales of all human body parts except hair.
On average, the opening bids were about $650. Skulls described as pathological – coming from someone with a disease – went for similar prices as other skulls. Specimens cleaned and articulated for teaching started at about $50 more, though.
Of the listings which included the seller’s location, most came from the US. California led the pack, with over 50 sales. Missouri came in second with over 30. Ninety-six skulls came from a variety of international locations.
Most likely, not all the skulls were donated to science – some are probably archaeological specimens or from forensic investigations, according to the study.
Marsh says that many skulls could have originated from India and China. This issue attracted attention when exhibitions of plasticised bodies were criticised for using bodies that could have belonged to Chinese prisoners.
Though China and India have since banned the export of human remains, Marsh suspects that many imported skeletons could stay on the US market. “We should have strong moral problems with that,” she says. “They don’t say how long the skeletons have been skeletons. You can’t tell just by looking at them. It’s possible that some of them are disinterred human remains.”