New York State Funeral Directors Association

Funerals, cremation and burial often follow the death of a loved one in what some might consider a civilized society.

Nearly-forgotten veterans are being sought by those working to ensure they get their due respect. They’re earning praise and attention after ensuring the cremated remains of these veterans get a “decent burial.”

This worthy effort hasn’t yet found another group of people: those whose remains are up for sale.

If everyone deserves proper burial or final rites, why then, are several businesses in the U.S. selling bones? Human bones.

“From full human skeletons to single human bones and everything in between. If your [sic] in the market for any human bone other than just a skull, you'll find your fancy right here,” one company's website exclaims.

Your fancy indeed.

The Berkeley, California—based company is one of several in the bone market, trading corpses for currency over the Internet. Apparently, it’s completely legal.

Why not, one may think – these dead are probably not Americans?

I can’t help but put these people on top of my list of those who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some tidbits from their website make it sound really cute. They sell skulls to a range of “interesting people” including educators who use them in class, and scientists, who apparently use them for research.

Then there’s the artists who “incorporate” them into their work. No pun intended.

“We like to point out that everyone has one, ours are just a bit more exposed!” the company declares. Exposed indeed.

Deceased and Unidentified

I have to wonder, who was the guy displayed in a photo as a pile of human bones? Did his parents know he died? Did he have children - was he somebody’s brother, someone’s father? Could that be me some day?

I wonder how it would feel to have my remains cleaned up, photographed and put on display on the World Wide Web then made available to those with cash.

There’s something for everybody at this one website, another I decided not to name. They’ve got human skulls that display “the characteristics of various diseases, injuries, and congenital defects that occur in life.”

Useful, I suppose for the medical education facility uninterested in a synthetic version of a human skeleton for a fraction of the price – the fake ones are clearly “good enough” thanks to today’s technology.

But why settle for fake when you can get the real thing? There’s a whole selection available on one list of authentic human bones for sale.

Specialty skulls include veins and muscle locations painted on them, others have fancy springs that snap the jaw shut -- ideal for learning details about how the jaw bone works, I guess.

Then there’s the “normal human skulls,” depicted as the run-of-the mill type:

“Generally, these skulls can range from larger rougher chinese [sic] specimens to smaller, prepped Indian skulls (pre-1985 export ban) that usually have calvaria cuts and attached mandibles."

If I had a choice, I think I’d want to be one of the regular ones. I don’t like to stand out as special and I’m sure my bones wouldn’t be worth the extra money.

Adult, juvenile, fetal and partial are among the choices if you’re considering the basic brand version.

The partial ones are not fully intact and may be missing pieces – those come in handy for the “lot of requests for more affordable skulls, skull pieces, and individual skull bones” the company reports, on its website, as receiving.

You can take a good look at what you’re buying too.

The site includes a note “images are real stock,” beneath product ID #555, an eight year-old from India with a “small dark area” on its skull.

The skull of somebody’s eight year-old child, on display on the World Wide Web, is going for a mere $3,500 in U.S. currency.

Another, product ID #3291, another eight-year-old child, also from India, with a bonus – the kid has “one chipped baby tooth.” I suppose this is a key selling point for the medical community unfamiliar with what a chipped tooth looks like.

Childrens’ remains are more valuable, and for some reason the adult human skulls are not worth as much.

You can get the skull of an Indian female with 29 teeth for only $1,800. A series of other options range in price down to $900 for a skull.

People aren’t confined to buying a mere skull.

They have entire skeletons available too, ranging in price from $4,000 to $5,500.

The website says the majority of the skeletons are males, most are from India. Some of the primo versions have muscles painted onto them – they cost between $4,500 and $6,000.

I found a 2005 Mercury Sable for sale in that price range.

Human Remains for Entertainment

Apparently, these remaining body parts of human beings can come in handy for more than just research and education.

Try a 2009 episode of Mythbusters.

This one company brags on its website that it played a role in the November 2009 “Hurricane Windows” episode on Discovery Channel. “We're actually in the 'Shattering Heads' segment where they see if frozen heads will shatter,” the website states.

I decided not to look up the episode. I don’t want to see somebody’s skull get crushed for the sake of curiosity and the few bucks a cable TV station makes off of desecrating somebody’s remains.

It seems things are turning around, albeit slowly.

The price of human remains is going up because the two primary sources: China and India, banned their export. Maybe they want to hog all the bones to themselves, I don’t know.

According to the website, the country of India outlawed the export of human skeletons back in 1985.

And China – a place from which practically anything is sold – banned skeleton export not long before the 2008 Olympic Games were held in Beijing.

Hence the apology from the bone sellers' website: “A large percentage of the current stock in the U.S. came from those two sources, and with no new country exporting to fill the demand, the price has increased very markedly. Hence, we have had to raise prices on all of our natural human bone products as of 3-1-10.”

Sadly, many of the people in India – 80.5 percent of them – are Hindus who believe cremation helps the dead move on to their next step that follows death:

“Hinduism is unique among the world’s major religions in mandating cremation, called antim-sanskar (last rite) as one of the 16 life rituals.”

I’m unsure what the Chinese people prefer, but it wasn’t too long ago I read about senior citizens ending their own lives in order to beat a deadline that would see the end of legal burials due to the lack of space. They wanted to be buried so bad they put an end to themselves early.

I'm not just picking on one website either. Another I found has a female skeleton with a carrying case going for a cool sum of $9,944.

And still another boasts a variety of human remains for sale - a clavicle is only $99.

"A great addition to a doctor's office or anatomy classroom," they say.

I wonder if these poor people deserve a funeral, cremation or burial? How many of them knew their remains would be cleaned up, buffed for the camera and displayed on the Internet?

EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association