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Is it legal to purchase a real human skull / bones

Posted on October 17 2023

Is it legal purchase a real human skull

Is it legal to own a real human skull/bones in the UK? This is my most commonly asked question. The short answer is yes, as long as they are either ex medical, from before the 1980’s ban, or they are over 100 years old, which classifies them as archaeological remains. However, before you go and purchase human bones offered for sale online or in oddity and curiosity shops, of which there are many, you need to know a few things.

There are many online articles by reporters and bloggers that will give you so-called or genuine facts based on their research, not to mention potentially misinformed or even biased opinion. However, I have had personal experience purchasing human bones for around 15 years now, and it is my job to know the ins and outs of buying and selling real human bones. So, let me share with you a little of what I have learnt over the years dealing in real human skulls and bones.

So, which human bones are legal to buy? There are broadly two different types of legal human bones. Firstly there are ex-medical human bones. These are bones/skeletons used throughout history in the medical industry for teaching, training etc before and up to the overall ban around the late 1980’s. This doesn’t mean that if human bones look medical they actually are technically legal. It is worth knowing that you can still buy modern ‘medical’ real human bones that still come out of places like India. They are not legal to buy and sell. 

At this point, I feel it is very important to note that, when I say ex-medical human skulls and bones, it doesn’t include bodies donated to science as it currently happens now. These bodies used as cadavers for medical teaching and research are either returned to the families for burial or cremated after.

The real human bones for purchase that I am referring to are vintage or antique human bones, once acquired by the medical industry from a number of sources. These sources include countries where people couldn’t afford to bury or deal with their dead, yes, it’s not a very nice history. Other bodies were those of prisoners, patients from asylums and generally sources where there were no relatives to claim the bodies. Even from a family that just could not afford to bury or deal with their dead.

Below Examples of good quality Ex-medical human skulls

The second type of human bones for sale, which it is technically legal to own in the UK, are archaeological pieces. In other words, non medical human bones over 100 years old. It is assumed that these bones will have no living relatives to object to their use. Unfortunately these types of legal human bones, in my opinion, create a very grey area, which many sellers take full advantage of.

Below examples of skulls to be Cautious of if you see them for sale
Real human skulls, are they legal to own

I have personally seen real human skulls for sale at tattoo conventions as archaeological pieces when, in fact, they are nothing more than grave robbed skulls acquired from European mausoleums and other locations where human remains can be easily accessed above ground. They look old and therefore they are called ‘archaeological’. These are real human skulls that look dirty and old, due to the staining that results from the rotting process. Without dating, a 1980's grave robbed skull can look like a 150-year-old skull. Ancient bones are completely different and have a very different quality to them.

Below examples of skulls to be Cautious of if you see them for sale

Real human skulls, are they legal to own

That is why I no longer deal in archaeological non-medical pieces. Even if they are over 100 years old they can still be grave robbed, and that’s a business I want nothing to do with.

Below examples of skulls to be Cautious of if you see them for sale
Real human skulls, are they legal to own


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