BYU's Halloween Delivery

I came across a link to this story about a mysterious package containing two skulls that showed up at BYU's history department. I totally buy that someone thought possessing the skulls was a bad idea; even legally obtained skulls (such as those from medical supply companies) tend to have a sordid history of body part trading from another area of the word (e.g., India, China) and thus cross over into ethically grey territory. But the person who sent these skulls (a child and an adult) marked the return address as: Jim Crow, Route 3-126, Augusta, Montana. The police's current theory is that they're Native American skulls; if they were from Augusta, that seems to be originally Blackfoot territory. And the skulls might therefore be able to be repatriated under NAGPRA as the Blackfoot Nation is nationally-recognized. The super weird part of the puzzle, though, is the name Jim Crow. Is there a possibility that these are the skulls of an African-American adult and child? I watched the video half a dozen times, but the cop doesn't hold the adult skull still enough for me to estimate sex, much less attempt to suss out any possible ancestry traits. The skulls, according to the news report, are being sent to the state archaeologist's office, and I know they have bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists in Utah, so I hope more information comes out.

I have to wonder, though, as I'm not as versed as I should be in my knowledge of human remains possession, what does one do if one finds a skull or other human body parts? It wasn't unusual in the past for medical doctors to have their own study skulls, which may have ended up in the attic for their unsuspecting heirs to find long after their death. Are there laws that protect people who turn in human remains? Is an investigation immediately launched? What if those human remains turn out to be Native American or African-American rather than medical specimens procured from India or China?

UPDATE - 10/28/10: That was quick. The state archaeologist has already said that the skulls were most likely Native American, but that seems to be all he could tell upon immediate examination. (Interestingly, the news report doesn't state the sex of the adult or the age of the child, which are arguably easier to determine than ancestry.)

UPDATE - 11/5/10: The skulls are indeed Native American according to the state archaeologist. They'll be turned over to a Utah tribe.


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