Dayak carved trophy skull. Image courtesy of a US gallery.

Dayak carved trophy skull. Image courtesy of a US gallery.

These days, it is said that you can find anything online. The research of Dr. Damien Huffer, post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute and Department of Anthropology, as well as colleagues at the University of Sydney, University of Technology, Sydney (Australia), and the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Springs, Maryland, USA, certainly adds clout to this theory.

Huffer, who will visit Carleton on October 22-23, 2015 sponsored by the Department of History and the Institute of Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture, has been collaboratively researching the illicit trade of ethnographic and archeological human remains through online platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and eBay.

The practice of purchasing and selling the physical remains of those who have passed is but a subset of a much larger global emporium of the human body known as the “red market.” The red market includes the sale of everything from human blood, organs and tissues to the trafficking of living human beings. Though there is a significant amount of academic study and effort put towards understanding the illegal channels of commerce used to buy and sell rare antiquities, Huffer explains that much less is known about the shadowy trade of the dead that exists within today’s red market:

“Professor Duncan Chappell (a lawyer and criminologists from the University of Sydney, Australia) and I found there was a gap in the literature investigating this private trade in all types of human remains, so we began to combine our divergent but complimentary skill sets to find out more.”

“We discovered there’s a market for nearly all imaginable kinds of remains – Tibetan Buddhist paraphernalia such as drums and flutes made from human bone, mummies, so-called “trophy skulls,” World War skeletons, etc. are all coveted to one degree or another. Collectors want a piece of authenticated history. It really is the story the sells the skeleton.”

For more on Huffer’s visit, see :http://carleton.ca/fass/2015/researching-the-red-market-in-the-digital-age/

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