The mainly nameless and faceless dead: an exploratory study of the illicit traffic in archaeological and ethnographic human remains


This paper represents an exploratory study of what is known about the current global trade in human remains, and in particular, specimens from archaeological or ethnographic contexts, regardless of which source countries they derive from and where they are destined. The paper is in four parts. In Part 1, we explain how the analysis of human remains forms an important component of archaeological research, and why looting activity at burial sites prejudice this research. In Part 2 we review the existing and relevant archaeological, ethnographic and criminological literature on the subject while in Part 3 we describe our own research into the online trade in human remains, both licit and illicit. To assess the current global prevalence and distribution of public and private dealers in human remains, keyword searches on common search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing), and online sites like eBay and Amazon were conducted. In Part 4 we draw some conclusions about our research and point in particular to various policy and law reform issues which require further consideration and study.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Nathan Charlton and Rhonda Chappell for their moral support and assistance in uncovering numerous online case studies. The authors would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback.

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Correspondence to Damien Huffer.

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Huffer, D., Chappell, D. The mainly nameless and faceless dead: an exploratory study of the illicit traffic in archaeological and ethnographic human remains. Crime Law Soc Change 62, 131–153 (2014).

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  • Cultural Property
  • Source Country
  • Human Remains
  • Auction House
  • World Archaeological Congress