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The Identification of a Human Skull Recovered from an eBay Sale

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A human skull seized by the State of Louisiana from an eBay sale is analyzed. Bioarchaeological analyses of age-at-death, sex, and population affinity suggest the individual represented by the skull was a middle-aged Native American female. The presence of intentional cranial modification independently supports the population affinity assessment while confounding the metric analyses. However, no further specificity as to population affinity could be inferred using existing methods and comparative databases. Sedimentological and palynological analyses were attempted to redress this impasse. The presence of fine-grained charcoal, abundant fungal remains, and small angular quartz grains suggestive of burial in loess, as well as the lack of pollen, pteridophyte spores, and microscopic algae, suggest a likely upland burial location from somewhere in the lower Mississippi Valley. The sedimentological and palynological analyses, while not conclusive, show promise for use in future affiliation analyses of human remains recovered during the course of forensic investigations. The results are reviewed within the broader context of the legal debate over the repatriation of human remains.
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Keywords: NAGPRA; craniometrics; eBay; forensic science; law enforcement; palynology; sedimentology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Lands & Natural Resources Section, Civil Division, Louisiana Department of Justice, 1885 North Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70802. 2: School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287. 3: Department of Geology and Geography, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA 30460.

Publication date: November 1, 2009

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