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Facebook investigates private groups selling human remains

Facebook is investigating new charges that people are using private groups to sell and solicit human remains, including skulls, fetal remains and even a mummified six-year-old child dated to the 1700s.

While Facebook has a policy that explicitly bans the ‘buying or selling of human body parts or fluids,’ some users appear to have gotten around the prohibition by taking advantage of the site’s private groups feature. 

Many of the remains listed are claimed to have come from archeological or historical sites around the world, with one seller saying they looted a human skill from catacombs in Sousse, Tunisia, which was offered for $550.

The private groups were discovered by LiveScience, which spent 10 months investigating the listings and cataloging the range of items offered for sale or requested by other users.

Legal experts warn that these practices are also criminal under both US and international law, as well as a threat to governmental and academic efforts to preserve historical artifacts at archaeological sites around the world.

‘It is doubtful that any person, even those donating their remains for science, ever wanted to be or expected to be a personal curio for an individual,’ Ryan Seidemann and Christine Halling, from the Office of Louisiana’s Attorney General in the Lands & Natural Resources Section Civil Division, jointly told LiveScience in an email.

‘Even more clear are the human remains that derive from tombs or burials. Those people intended for their remains to stay in their burial space.’ 

‘Violation of this intent for the purposes of seeking to privately own or possess the remains is both a legal and an ethical violation.’ 

The investigation documented a wide range of different listings, including one user who was attempting to sell a mummified six-year-old child for around $12,247 (11,000 Euros), claiming they dated back to the 1700s.

One seller listed a human skull for $1,300, claiming it had come from a ‘young teen female,’ but offered no other information on its origin.

A separate listing described an elongated skull claimed to have come from Peru, on sale for $10,500.

It appeared potentially similar to elongated skulls discovered in Peru in 2014, believed to have come from a 2,000 year-old group of hunter gatherers that practiced artificial cranial deformation.

The process typically involved tying cloths or wooden bracing devices around a young child’s head to force it to grow into an elongated shape.

Still another user listed fetal remains preserved in a jar for $2,350, which they claimed was a ‘retired medical specimen.’

Another seller listed an ‘almost full-term’ fetus for $6,495, claiming that its mother had ‘wanted this specimen to live on via preservation and to stimulate curiosity and further education about the human body.’

In recent years, similarly illicit markets for human organs and remains have quietly emerged on eBay and Instagram, prompting new fears that social media and online marketplaces might help popularize what was once an exceedingly rare practice.

Facebook hasn’t made any official announcements about its investigation into the private user groups, but three have already been shut down for undisclosed reasons.

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