These Were People Once book cover with drawing of a human skullHistory Professor Shawn Graham and Adjunct Research Professor Damien Huffer have just published their new book These Were People Once: The Online Trade in Human Remains and Why It Matters.


“An easy read on a difficult subject, its beautiful encapsulations of the tragic lives behind their commodified remains highlight the urgency of the authors’ project and public and commercial responses to it. The grim thread of mistreatment of the dead guides the reader through the labyrinth of Big Tech, how cynical tech companies and equally-cynical users are complicit in each other’s harms.”

 – Samuel Andrew Hardy, Cultural Property Criminologist


People buy and sell human remains online. Most of this trade these days is over social media. In a study of this ‘bone trade’, how it works, and why it matters, the authors review and use a variety of methods drawn from the digital humanities to analyze the sheer volume of social media posts in search of answers to questions regarding this online bone trade. The answers speak to how the 21st century understands and constructs ‘heritage’ more generally: each person their own expert, yet seeking community and validation, and like the major encyclopedic museums, built on a kind of digital neocolonialist othering of the dead.


Danien Huffer wearing a labcoat standing next to a computerDamien Huffer is an osteoarchaeologist and interdisciplinary illicit trafficking researcher. He was most recently Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is one of the cofounders of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online.

Shawn Graham head shotShawn Graham is a digital archaeologist. He is Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of History at Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario. He is also a cofounder of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online.