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JonsBones: Where Are The Bones From?

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

[Image by Peter Novotny from Pixabay]

A recent uproar on TikTok has flamed after being sparked by rising concerns from many about a creator under the handle: JonsBones, a company that collects and sells Human remains, bones. Jon Ferry, the face and founder of the company, has been receiving backlash from users on the platform and has been frequently challenged by other creators, to publicly show imminent proof of the “responsibly sourced human” remains that he and his company claim to be “ethical”. Since then, Jon and his company have continued to come under fire for their shady behaviour in response to the concerns raised about his possession of Indigenous human remains. From blocking other TikTok Creators who have called him out, to making an Alt account to follow them and watch what they say about him, this piece will be touching on very sensitive topics and issues that Jon and his company, JonsBones, have bluntly disregarded.

The JonsBones Company:

The New York based company, JonsBones, claims to be the “leading provider of medical human osteology”. According to Tim D. White and Pieter A. Folkens, in The Human Bone Manual, 2005:

“Human Osteology is the science that deals with human skeleton recovery and interpretation”.

To put simply, Human osteology is “the study of the structure and function of bones”.

However, there is only one ‘Osteologist’, Rhiannon, who only has an Undergraduate, a BA in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, on a team of five other designers. This is a major red flag as detailed by TikTok creator, StephTheArcheologist. Why would you have a company that is dedicated to making “Osteology more accessible for everybody” yet almost every single person involved is not actually qualified for that specific field. The very same ‘Osteologist’ had their staff profile blurred (though all staff profiles but Jon’s have mysteriously disappeared from the company site), essentially concealing their identity which lends one to infer that they do not want to be associated with the company. This, again, raises another red flag. If this company is “ethical” and is through and through moral, why would the only somewhat qualified person in the field of focus want to try and distance themselves from the company itself? Additionally, it turns out that Rhiannon does not even physically touch the remains and only analyses them through photographs.

On the site there is a page called: ‘Sell to Us’. On this page, as pointed out by StephTheArcheologist, Jon and his company fail to mention that they are looking to purchase “only medical human remains”. After clicking the first ‘continue’ button, there is the line: ''paper work is not required and neither is a license”. This is extremely alarming. Why would you not keep some form of documentation of who is providing the bones and get a background check on the seller and even the remains themselves? Is that truly what professional Osteologists do?

So, Jon, “Where are the bones from” and “Who do they belong to”?

These are yet to be definitively and clearly answered by Jon and his company. Yet, from his TikToks many have been able to highlight that he is in possession of Indigenous bones, those of the Dalit and the Sámi.

The Dalit Remains:

In one of his most recent Tiktoks, Jon states that the “bones typically come from China, Russia and India'' with the latter being the “largest supplier”. He then proceeds to elaborate that there was a “government funded program” in India that “allowed individuals to donate their bodies to science” and how this was mostly done by the “lower castes, the Untouchables”. According to Minority Rights:

"in legal and constitutional terms, Dalits are known in India as scheduled castes” where they were “outcast communities […] forbidden to join in the religious and social life of the community and were confined to menial tasks that were viewed as polluting, such as animal slaughter and leatherworking”.

Jon goes further to say that the remains are collected, cleaned and initially sold in India to big companies and organisations which he then goes on to list. The Dalits were treated terribly, from the forced sterilisations under the guise of “family planning programs” that were funded by the Department for International Development (DfID) “and many others”, Dr Kalpana Wilson, to the discrimination they faced and continue to face today.

India has been “the world's primary source of bones used in medical study, renowned for producing specimens scrubbed to a pristine white patina and fitted with high-quality connecting hardware” (Wired). However, “a large number of these models are stolen from graves in Calcutta, India” (NPR). Stolen and sold on a black market for the selling of human remains was outlawed by the Indian government in 1985. A prominent seller of bones from India is the firm known as ‘Young Brothers’.

As the Dalit were mostly encouraged to “donate” their remains for the name of science and given what we now know about the trade of human remains in India, it is not surprising that many believe that some of Jon’s bones are of Dalit origins.

The Sámi remain:

On his site, now removed, Jon had listed a remain under the name of: ‘Sámi Medical Skull (0154)’ for $1,850. The accompanying description went on to include a derogatory term: ‘Laplander’. A TikToker of Sámi descent, The_northernskald, questioned Jon about where he got this particular skull from. The_northenskald stated in their TikToks that Jon’s possession of this remain is “highly disgusting and disrespectful to Sámi people '' and that it is “illegal” to own Sámi remains. StephTheArcheologist has also stated that the Sámi skull that Jon had listed for sale had actually “gone missing” and that the Sámi have been looking for it. Another creator, Adrian Angelico (acrtic_melody), uploaded an informative TikTok about the history of the grave robbing of Sámi burial sites and the immoral selling of said bones “for science”.

The Sámi were subjected to discriminatory genetic and ‘scientific research’ that resulted in the total violation of their autonomy as a people as well as being dehumanised. Sámi women were forcibly sterilized under the guidance of the Statens Institut for Rasbiologi:

“a Swedish governmental research institute founded in 1922 with the stated purpose of studying eugenics and human genetics. It was the most prominent institution for the study of "racial science" in Sweden”, (Wikipedia).

They were also exposed to “Ethnographic photography” to be “photographed naked and anatomically measured by scientists” and were even placed, theatrically, in human zoos.

The atrocities that the Sámi have been through just for one of their skulls to be sold for just under $2,000 is enough to make anyone, with true humanity, understand the dire lack of morality that is the company of JonsBones.

Legality Vs. Morality:

Unfortunately, in the US, “there are no U.S. Federal laws prohibiting [the ownership of] human bones but a few states have made their own exceptions”, (Morbitorium). It is a bit ironic that the places that JonsBones do not ship to are the same places, in the US, where the selling or possession of human remains is illegal. Time and time again it has been brought to the forefront that just because something is legal that does not mean that it is moral or ethical.

The United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples article twelve declares that:

“States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned”.

Therefore, Jon being in possession of a Sámi skull, suggests that he is in the wrong and that his company is not as “ethical” as claimed, in response to the declaration stated above. As of right now, this issue is being taken to the Sámi parliament for the Sámi people to be able to retrieve the skull in Jon’s possession.

Jon has decorated his place with bones hanging like decorative pieces and has been profiting from this. He has been continuously doubling down on the clutch that “it is legal” to sell human bones. He has been blocking those asking him questions and trying to have a discussion with him about why what he is doing is morally wrong yet, has been following them back on an Alt TikTok account: Skulls and Bones. From the giveaway, highlighted by Laura ni Conchobhar on TikTok, where the prizes were literally human remains, to the sudden disappearance of listings and the staff profiles from the company’s site, it is becoming more and more apparent that what Jon is doing is not truly as “ethical” or “reasonably sourced” as claimed on his site because if they were, why has he gone to such extents to try and cover his track? Why is he now trying to “re-examine” the Sámi skull to “check” that it is truly of Sámi descent which his company should already know? Why has he not come out publicly and shown proof of exactly where he gets these remains from, who they belong to and if there was consent given instead of leaving us questioning which Indigenous remains he has hanging from his mantle.

The history of the selling of human remains is drenched in immense immorality and lack of humanity that no matter how “legal” the practice is, it will never be truly ethical to disrespect the dead, rob their graves, slap a price tag on their bones and ship them off to be sold to whoever, anywhere.

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