At JonsBones, we specialize exclusively in medical bones. People often ask us what this means specifically, and what constitutes “medical bones” versus any other category of human remains.
Medical bones were specifically prepared to be sold to medical students and professionals. These can be identified by their thorough cleaning, labeling by various preparators, hardware, and/or their cuts. A medical specimen demonstrates a level of professional and clinical preparation that non-medical specimens do not.
So how do you tell if something is a non-medical bone? There are several factors that can go into determining if a bone has come from a non-medical background. Non-medical bones can fall into a few categories such as tribal, archaeological, ossuary, or previously-interred.
Tribal bones can be pretty distinguishable. They are typically ornamented, painted, or otherwise decorated and prepared to play a role within the culture it came from. Examples of these skulls include Dayak trophy skulls, Kapala ritual skull cups, Tibetan Damarus, or even Jivaroan shrunken heads. Because of the cultural significance of these remains, we do not keep them in our showroom, and do not buy or sell them. Some might reside in museums, but it is ultimately up to the museum and the original community of these pieces to determine where the proper place for these artifacts is.
Archaeological bones at first glance might be similar to medical bones. These bones come from ancient gravesites, and are preserved by natural circumstance and whatever funerary practice was employed by the culture the individual came from. Some archaeological bones might obtain a similar level of bleaching from the sun that the hydrogen peroxide baths give to medical bones, but this is exceedingly rare. Archaeological bones do not come with the surgical cuts that medical bones do, and if they end up on the public market, they are typically removed from archaeological digs or university collections. We do not deal in archaeological bones because their cultural significance far outweighs their medical value, and their procurement is most often in violation of our values. Medical bones were specifically prepared for education, but we cannot know the intent of the people whose remains are found within archaeological sites, and therefore cannot respect their final wishes within the scope of our business.
Ossuary bones come from sites such as the Paris Catacombs, the Sedlec Bone Church, Hallstatt Charnel House, or other sacred sites. These bones are prepared and arranged, usually with the individual’s living consent, to lie in specific sites, often with religious significance. These bones can be ornamented or plain, but they belong in the final resting places the individuals intended, and therefore we do not sell them. Again, their cultural significance far outweighs any medical insight that could be gained from them.
Previously-interred bones are an unfortunate reality of the oddities trade. Bones that were once buried, that have now been dug up and put onto the public market, have been an issue for time immemorial. Bones that were previously interred are not thoroughly cleaned, have no hardware, show no surgical cuts, and also demonstrate various levels of decomposition. We find grave-robbing abhorrent, and do not deal in these bones because of the disrespect shown to the individual and their living family in this practice.
Our business philosophy believes that anatomical education is the right of all people. While the medical bone trade is a fraught one, we are ultimately left to answer the question of what to do with these remains that were donated by individuals for the purpose of medical science, after they have fallen into dis-use. In order to provide the next generation of medical professionals with vital education, we do our best to honor the original intention of these bones: to promote education and understanding. Bones that do not fall inside that category are not what we specialize in.