Historical skulls, other body parts being sold on Facebook — report
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Historical skulls, other body parts being sold on Facebook — report

Investigation by Live Science news site finds macabre trade in private groups on social media platform, despite ban against the practice

Illustrative: A skull in the catacombs of Paris, France, on October 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Illustrative: A skull in the catacombs of Paris, France, on October 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Human remains that were looted from historical sites are being sold on Facebook, according to an investigation by the science news website Live Science.

In most countries, it is illegal to steal from historical sites and cemeteries, and in many US states, it is illegal to sell human remains. Facebook bans the practice, but does a shoddy job enforcing the ban, the report said.

The Live Science report, published after a 10-month investigation, highlighted a skull put up for sale for $550 by an American seller in a private Facebook group. The seller acknowledged that he had looted the artifact from catacombs in the Tunisian city of Sousse.

The looting of ancient sites is both disrespectful to the dead and can harm archaeological research, and the online sale of artifacts encourages the practice, according to the report.

Some of the sellers claimed the remains were acquired from medical schools, but the origin of many of the skulls and bones being sold in private groups on the social media platform is unknown.

Some buyers were particularly interested in the remains of children, the report said, citing a listing for a mummified child for 11,000 euros ($12,400). The seller claimed the child was around six-years-old at its time of death in the 1700s.

Other skulls that sellers claimed were from teenagers sold for over $1,000.

Most listings did not include information or documentation on where the remains came from.

There were also fetuses on sale for thousands of dollars. The sellers claimed the fetuses were from medical or teaching institutions. The sale of fetuses is a legal grey area in the US and many other regions, the report said.

Other listings advertised products made from human body parts, including knives and walking sticks made with human bones.

The buyers seemed to be interested in the offerings for use in personal displays inside their homes.

Law enforcement is largely unaware of the trade, or of its capabilities to prevent the practice. Live Science notified Facebook of the trade on its site. A spokesperson for the company said it would remove groups that engaged in banned practices, and at least three of the private groups were removed, but others were not, the report said.

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