When communicating with the general public, one question we frequently get is: “Why do these bones not have any paperwork?” By “paperwork” people usually mean a receipt, or some kind of written documentation about the origin of the skeletal materials. People might also desire to know information about the identity of the individual.

Information about the identity of the individual is not available. While we have covered this topic before, it is important to reiterate: the identities of these body donors were purposely divorced from their remains because it was not medically relevant, and did not pertain to the information that could be gained from the individual’s bones. Any information beyond what can be determined through forensic analysis is purposefully unavailable, to maintain scientific integrity and to prevent families from receiving unwanted contact from curious parties.

An original bill of sale from Adam, Rouilly

What most people fail to understand is that the modern bone market is a resale market. At JonsBones we often joke that we run “a highly-stigmatized antique store.” This means that we are not providing any new material into the market, and purely purchasing bones as a secondary caretaker. When purchasing any second hand item, it would be unusual to get the original receipt. How many times have you bought an item and thrown out the receipt as soon as you left the store or filed it in your personal records? Many of the original owners of these pieces did the same thing.

Furthermore, most bone companies did not put permanent labels on their specimens. Some have fallen away from age and use, and some were never labeled in the first place. This makes it difficult to determine the company of origin, and therefore we must estimate using context clues like hardware, preparation style, cleaning methods, and forensic analysis to get a rough idea of where these pieces originated from.

The back of the original bill of sale from Adam, Rouilly

Asking someone to keep a small scrap of paper for decades after its relevance has faded is a big ask. That is why we are overjoyed when we find original catalogs, receipts, or photographs. These help us to further contextualize the trade, and fill in missing bits of history.