Is it right to sell human bones?

October 5, 2021

Photograph by Peter Novotny at Pixabay

Olivia Opara investigates the ethical practices of human bones seller, JonsBones

On TikTok an uproar has been sparked recently by rising concerns about a creator under the handle JonsBones, a company that collects and sells human bones.

Jon Ferry, the face and founder, has been receiving backlash from users on the platform. He is frequently challenged to publicly show proof of what he claims to be ethically sourced human remains.

As well as blocking TikTok creators who’ve called him out, and making alternate (alt) accounts to find out what they’re saying about him, JonsBones has blatantly ignored the concerns raised about his possession of human remains.

The New York-based company claims to be the leading provider of medical human osteology. According to The Human Bone Manual, “Human osteology is the science that deals with human skeleton recovery and interpretation”. To put it simply, human osteology is the study of bones.

However, there is only one osteologist, Rhiannon, with a degree in Anthropology, from the University of Tennessee, on a team of five designers at JonsBones. This is a major red flag, as explained by TikTok creator, StephTheArcheologist.

The very same osteologist, Rhiannon, had their staff profile blurred and recently all staff profiles – except Jon’s – have mysteriously disappeared from the company site.

If this company is ethical and moral, why would the only qualified person want to distance themselves from it?

This, again, raises suspicions. If this company is ethical and moral, why would the only qualified person want to try and distance themselves from it?

Additionally, it turns out that Rhiannon doesn’t even examine the remains in person. They only analyse them through photographs.

On the JonsBones website, there is a page called: Sell to Us. This page fails to mention that they are looking to purchase only medical human remains.

After clicking the first continue button, there is a line, paperwork is not required and neither is a license. This is extremely alarming. Wouldn’t you want as much documentation and background information on the seller and on the remains themselves? Isn’t that what professional osteologists do?

So, Jon, where are the bones from? And who do they belong to?

These questions are yet to be definitively answered. Yet, from his TikToks, many have been able to see that he has in his possession, indigenous bones from the Dalit and the Sámi people.

The Dalit remains
In one of his most recent Tiktoks, Jon states that the bones typically come from China, Russia and India with the latter being the “largest supplier”.

He then proceeds to elaborate that there was a “government-funded program” in India that “allowed individuals to donate their bodies to science” and how the lower caste Dalits, the untouchables were predominately involved.

According to Minority Rights (The World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples), in legal and constitutional terms, Dalits are known in India as scheduled castes. They were outcast communities who were forbidden to join in religious and social life, confined to menial tasks such as animal slaughter and leather-working.

Jon claims that the remains are collected, cleaned and initially sold in India to big companies and educational institutes, which he then goes on to list.

As reported by Dr Kalpana Wilson, the Dalits were treated terribly, from forced sterilisation under the guise of family planning programmes to the discrimination they face to this day.

According to Wired magazine, India has been “the world’s primary source of bones used in a medical study, renowned for producing specimens scrubbed to a pristine white patina and fitted with high-quality connecting hardware”.

However, NPR reported that a large number of these models are stolen from graves in Calcutta, India“. The selling of human remains was outlawed by the Indian government in 1985 so business moved underground.

As the Dalit were encouraged to donate their remains in the name of science, it’s not surprising that many believe that some of Jon’s bones are of Dalit origins.

The Sámi remains
On the JonsBones website, a human skull was listed as a Sámi Medical Skull priced $1,850. The accompanying description went on to include a derogatory term: Laplander. A TikToker of Sámi descent, The_northernskald, questioned Jon about where he got this particular skull from. They stated in their TikToks that Jon’s possession of this remain is “highly disgusting and disrespectful to Sámi people and that it is illegal to own Sámi remains.

StephTheArcheologist has also stated that the Sámi skull, that Jon had listed for sale, had actually gone missing and that the Sámi community have been looking for it.

Another creator, acrtic_melody, uploaded to TikTok about the history of the grave-robbing of Sámi burial sites and the immoral selling of bones for science.

The Sámi have historically been subject to discrimination. Sámi women were forcibly sterilised by the Swedish Institute for Racial Biology, founded in 1922, with the purpose of studying eugenics and human genetics.

The Sámi people were also exposed to ethnographic photography, which means to be photographed naked and anatomically measured by scientists.

Knowing the atrocities that the Sámi have been through is enough to make anyone question JonsBones’ dire lack of morality by selling this skull.

As of now, this issue is being taken to the Sámi parliament to enable the Sámi people to retrieve the skull from Jon’s possession.

Legality vs. morality
Unfortunately, in the US, there aren’t any federal laws prohibiting the ownership of human bones except for a few states who have made exceptions. See more here from Morbitorium.

Jon has decorated his environment with bones hanging like decorative pieces and he has even been giving them away as competition prizes, as highlighted by Laura ni Conchobhar on TikTok. He continuously professes that it’s legal to sell human bones.

He has been blocking those expressing that what he is doing is morally wrong. If his company is ethical, why does he go to such lengths to try and cover his tracks?

The history of selling human remains is drenched in immorality and inhumanity. No matter how legal the practice is, it will never be ethical to disrespect the dead, rob their graves, slap a price tag on their bones and ship them off to be sold to anyone, anywhere.

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