Close To The Bone

CL HARMON

 

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 skullsunlimited.com

 

 

 

 

 

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