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How much do you know about the structure of your body? The bones that hold you upright and help you swipe, scroll and text?
Author Brian Switek was already a paleontologist, studying the bones of dinosaurs when he realized that he actually didn’t know much about the 206 (ish, more on that later) bones that comprise his own skeleton.
And he found out more than you might learn in a high school anatomy class.
The trade in human bones is thriving. One of its main platforms? Instagram.
He explains in his book “Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone.”
Here’s an excerpt:
Archaeologists such as Damien Huffer track how human remains are marketed and sold over people’s smartphones, and, with colleague Shawn Graham, he dug into the mechanics of the trade in a 2017 paper called “The Insta‑Dead: The Rhetoric of the Human Remains Trade on Instagram.” As it turned out, the language used to promote and purchase skeletons is very familiar. The general vibe is that of nineteenth‑century archaeology and anthropology, putting the acquisition of specimens above the recognition of those pieces as people. “In the same way those early collecting practices did damage and violence to communities from which the dead were collected,” Huffer and Graham write, “the emergence of social media platforms that facilitate collector communities seems to be replaying that history.” The bones of these people are effectively stripped of their humanity—with little to no information about who they were, where they came from, or how the remains were obtained in the first place—to become, simply, things.
Why don’t we all have the same number of bones? What’s behind the booming trade in human bones? What’s behind our cultural fascination with skeletons — and the afterlife?
Produced by Avery J.C. Kleinman
- Brian Switek Author, "Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone"; @Laelaps
An Excerpt From 'Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone," by Brian Switek
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