Close To The Bone Is Closer To Home Than You Might Think

Author: C.L. Harmon
Date Published: July 19, 2018

Close To The Bone



The image has sent shiv­ers down the spines of count­less through­out the ages. It has struck in our hearts fear and fright and the real­iza­tion of mys­te­ri­ous shad­ows and spir­its in the dim light. The mere sight reminds us of our mor­tal­i­ty, and that life and death only exist between the years of dust to dust. From black flags on pirate ships to mass graves and hor­ror movies, the images of bones and skulls, in par­tic­u­lar, are imprint­ed in the human psyche.



What was once was taboo and a pro­fes­sion of thieves under cov­er of dark­ness, bone gath­er­ing has become a thriv­ing busi­ness right here in Okla­homa. No longer are their hunch­backs mov­ing about the autumn fog of a moon­lit grave­yard with a shov­el and a burlap sack in which to gath­er a few bones to be sold to med­ical schools. In this mod­ern age, we have Skulls Unlim­it­ed locat­ed in Moore, Okla­homa. Saman­tha Tutor, Direc­tor of Sales & Mar­ket­ing for the com­pa­ny, spent a few min­utes with Unique­la­homa to tell us how bones has become a busi­ness that is noth­ing to pick at.

Skulls Unlim­it­ed Inter­na­tion­al Inc. is the largest dis­trib­u­tor of oste­o­log­i­cal spec­i­mens (Bones) in the world. For those study­ing the struc­ture and func­tion of the skele­ton and bony struc­tures or just inter­est­ed in own­ing a spec­i­men to a skele­ton, Skulls Unlim­it­ed is the place to check out. Who knew that most of the bones for study around the world came from Okla­homa? It’s an inter­est­ing sto­ry of how such an enter­prise orig­i­nat­ed here. It starts with the fas­ci­na­tion of a young boy who found the skele­tal remains of a dog in the for­est near his child­hood home. Unlike many par­ents who would tell their child not to touch the bones, Jay Ville­marette’s father encour­aged him to fol­low his curios­i­ty and even begin col­lect­ing bones. A pas­sion was born that day.

As he grew into adult­hood, his unusu­al hob­by of col­lect­ing skele­tal spec­i­mens grew as well. Fol­low­ing high school, he began sell­ing his bony finds to those who shared his fas­ci­na­tion, includ­ing even sell­ing door to door, Tutor said. By 1986 Ville­marette and his wife Kim were clean­ing skulls in their kitchen and work­ing on a plan to turn the hob­by into a viable busi­ness. After four years of col­lect­ing and clean­ing bones, the two had estab­lished a retail and mail order busi­ness. Two years lat­er they went inter­na­tion­al with Skulls Unlim­it­ed Inter­na­tion­al Inc. Then, with the help of the inter­net, the com­pa­ny then began pro­fes­sion­al­ly sell­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing bone spec­i­mens to med­ical and vet­eri­nary schools and muse­ums world­wide Tutor said.

Through a part­ner­ship with the body donor pro­gram, the com­pa­ny legal­ly acquires human bones and com­plete skele­tons to sell to med­ical pro­fes­sion­als. Tutor stressed that the com­pa­ny does not pro­mote the sell­ing of human bones to the pub­lic because as it is still a sen­si­tive sub­ject, She went on to say that a need for human bones belongs to those learn­ing and sci­ence insti­tu­tions which have legit­i­mate pur­pos­es for hav­ing them. So for those of you who want one as a Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tion, Sor­ry! As for the remain­ing spec­i­mens of ani­mals, the com­pa­ny only uses legal avenues to obtain them. Their web­site states they, do not con­done and will not sup­port the poach­ing of ani­mals or approve of the destroy­ing of an ani­mal sole­ly to gain an oste­o­log­i­cal item.

“Our sup­pli­ers and their sources obtain oste­o­log­i­cal mate­r­i­al from nat­ur­al & preda­tor deaths, road kills, food source by-prod­ucts in exot­ic regions, legal hunt­ing & trap­ping oper­a­tions, and from attri­tion in zoo­log­i­cal gar­dens. You can be assured of, and take com­fort in know­ing that your pur­chase con­serves trea­sures and pro­mote the eth­i­cal uti­liza­tion of lim­it­ed resources,” the web­site reads. Tutor also points out that the bones they receive from their sup­pli­ers world­wide serve a great edu­ca­tion­al need that would be dif­fi­cult to meet if bone sup­pli­ers such as them­selves were not in busi­ness. Many of the spec­i­mens would be lost to the wild or incin­er­at­ed and not be avail­able as teach­ing tools.

Although human spec­i­mens are a part of the busi­ness, most of what they deal in con­sists of ani­mal bones. Their affil­i­a­tions with many zoos allow them to obtain exot­ic ani­mal bones which the com­pa­ny uses to help edu­cate chil­dren about the ani­mals. It uses field trips to its muse­ums and out­reach pro­grams to schools to achieve this objec­tive, Tutor said. She goes on to explain that there has been a shift from skele­tons and skulls being “taboo” items in soci­ety to an updat­ed con­cept that they are sim­ply a struc­ture of nature that does not pos­sess some neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion in and of themselves.

How­ev­er, one does not erase thou­sands of years of super­sti­tion, folk­lore, and well…just creepy fas­ci­na­tion with the dead. So obvi­ous­ly there is still a mar­ket for such items as dec­o­ra­tive items as skulls and skele­tons and for exot­ic ani­mal bones which are not avail­able in real bone. This too is a mar­ket that Skulls Unlim­it­ed has also tapped. They pos­sess over 500 var­i­ous repli­cas which are avail­able to purchase.

But there is more for bone enthu­si­asts. In 2010, the com­pa­ny opened SKELETONS: Muse­um of Oste­ol­o­gy in Okla­homa City to show­case spec­i­mens from Ville­marette ‘s per­son­al col­lec­tion. In 2015 a sec­ond muse­um loca­tion was opened in Orlan­do, FL. These muse­ums allow Skulls Unlim­it­ed to show­case hun­dreds of skull and skele­tal spec­i­mens acquired over the years, but also to pro­vide an insight into the oth­er­wise hid­den work­ings of the ani­mal king­dom. The Okla­homa City loca­tion has 800 spec­i­mens, and the Orlan­do muse­um has 500 spec­i­mens on dis­play. Tutor said that is an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence for chil­dren and adults to see how ani­mals are struc­tured and to inter­act with a part of nature that most nev­er experience.

“The goal of our muse­ums is to serve as an edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence, with the hopes that through edu­ca­tion, an appre­ci­a­tion of the nat­ur­al world will ulti­mate­ly lead to con­ser­va­tion for the future,” Ville­marette wrote on their website.

As with all things in life, even death evolves. Thanks to the inno­va­tions and actions of thinkers like Jay Ville­marette and many physi­cians and schol­ars before him, the days of mid­night Res­ur­rec­tion­ists cart­ing bod­ies and bones from dark ceme­ter­ies has van­ished into the dust. In fact, make no bones about it, it’s some­thing all these peo­ple felt was nec­es­sary deep in their own bones. And so maybe, just perhaps…the old taboos are final­ly find­ing their place among so many oth­ers that time has put to rest in the boneyard.

To learn more about Skulls Unlim­it­ed and the Muse­ums of Oste­ol­o­gy, vis­it their web­site at






C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.


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“It just doesn’t work that way”. We have all heard it and we have all fought against it at one point. But it’s a futile battle we are destined to lose. The elements making up creation are not designed for our personal agenda; it is designed to function the exact opposite. When we finally understand that sharing and providing in unison with creation improves flows and prospers because its very nature is to reciprocate. If you only focus on what you can’t have, all you will ever have is what you can’t have. - C.L. Harmon
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