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Holiday shopping can be such a nuisance. Any conscientious shopper knows the travail: sifting through catalogs, slogging through shopping malls, and fighting with crowdsall just to track down the right gift. Like that special book, that perfect tie, or that choice set of human bones.
And the game just got harder for local shoppers looking to regale loved ones with a nice angular thigh bone or a rotting human skull: A merchant in Chevy Chase, D.C., recently yanked his human relics inventory after discovering that its sale is prohibited under District law.
Chevy Chase Antique Center graces the east side of Wisconsin Avenue about four blocks south of Brooks Brothers and Saks Fifth Avenue. The store’s glass display cases sparkle with antique silver and other curios. In Octoberjust in time for the Halloween rushthe shop also displayed a collection of human bones for sale.
One lot of the bone collection consisted of two partial human skulls, decorated with little silver skulls around the edges and lined with more beaten silver. One of the skulls was ornately carved with a dragon motif. The first lot also included a human thigh bone, decorated with beaten silver.
Another lot in the collection was a complete human skull, also decorated with silver. The complete skull was represented in the display case by a photograph. Store employees said they could bring in the item for inspection by a prospective buyer.
The first lot of bones was priced at $5,600. The complete human skull was $2,500. We said you could buy human bones. We didn’t say they were cheap.
Store employees, including clerk David Healy, said the bones came from Tibet. The gruesome tableau was labeled “Folk Relics from Tibet.”
Healy said he hadn’t noticed many inquiries about the bones. “If the right person comes through the door, it moves,” he said. “That’s the antique business.”.
Store owner Eric Unterberg said, “The human skull is a ritual vessel from the 19th century.” Since the stock at his store is provided on consignment or by dealers who rent space in the glass cases, Unterberg said he knew little about the other human bones.
But wouldn’t you know, the bone bazaar was too good to continue.
A D.C. law called the “Prohibition of the Buying and Selling of Human Body Parts Act of 1984” bars the sale of human bones. The law prohibits the sale or offering for sale of “any portion of a human body, including, but not limited to, organs, tissues, eyes, bones, veins, and arteries.” Hair and blood sales are allowed.
Violations may be punished by a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in jail.
Apprised of the law by Washington City Paper, Unterberg responded, “We are going to take it right off the sales floor,” he said. “We weren’t aware of that code section. We will certainly conform to that.”
Unterberg volunteered that the bones “were offered to us for their archaeological interest.” He added, “It’s not macabre.” Hmmm. Wilson Dizard III