I get asked this question all the time. I once had a person demand to know where each individual skull came from, and when I told them to read the story of my road trip to Kentucky, they were unsatisfied with what to them seemed like one anecdote about one individual skeleton. The truth of the matter is very much like the owner of that skeleton in Kentucky, a lot of the sources I get skeletons from are the descendants of doctors and dentists.
The reasons for this are interesting, and based on a complex history of the Medical bone trade. Many medical and dental schools would require students to have their own skeleton for their studies. Before the 1920’s, this was very problematic. Due to the lack of people donating their bodies to science, there were few cadavers available for dissection or skeletonization. This led to many instances of grave robbing, and even the creation of a whole trade, called “resurrectionists” who procured bodies for anatomists and medical students. These actions, while morally dubious, represented a great need for legally acquired skeletons.
In the 1920’s, the medical bone trade began in earnest. Primarily in India, but with some competition from other countries such as China, skeletons were prepared and then exported to Europe and the United States. Companies such as Kilgore International, Adam, Rouilly, Somso, and Clay Adams would purchase these skeletons wholesale, add their own branding, and prepare the skeletons for their particular client base. For example, Kilgore International would send their skeletons to Germany, where cuts depicting nerves and veins were added to the skeletons. These skulls and skeletons were then distributed to medical and dentistry students, up until 1985 when India banned the sale of human osteology.
Since then, as the original owners of these skeletons graduated from their studies, went into practice, retired, and passed away, these skulls remained in private ownership. Oftentimes the descendants of these doctors and dentists do not want these pieces to remain in their attics and basements, so that’s where We come in! We take these pieces and sell them back to the medical field for the purpose of expanding knowledge about the human body.