Where do we end up after we die? Probably no one expects a 21-year-old TikTok star to wall up. Jon Pichaya Ferry of New York (@jonsbones) has half a million followers and twenty-two million likes at the time of the release of this material with short videos that he makes in the warehouse of his business with the same username and in which he presents human remains that can be purchased through his webshop.
The videos are human osteological also educates his followers, who can often see Chonk, Ferry’s cat at TikTok, and also buy merchandise products. But the success brought by TikTok has resonated sharply, questioning the legitimacy and moral implications of the JonsBones business, which was launched in 2018. Ferry insists that his childhood interest in osteology began with his work to change the stigmatized environment surrounding human bone trafficking. He claims their business, which they do with eight part-time co-workers, is completely legal and only bones prepared for medical purposes can be found in their offerings.
Its collection includes spines, skulls, arm and leg bones, ribs, and even finished skeletons, from fetal age to adulthood.
Prices are extremely variable, with a rib for as little as $ 18 and an exhibit skull with signs for educational purposes available for as little as five to six thousand dollars. When determining the price, the condition or rarity of the bones counts; the bones of a child who dies at the age of five are paid far more than the remains of an adult.
The bone trade attracts mainly anthropologists, collectors, artists, but Ferry’s customers often include universities, civilian investigative agencies, or search dog trainers. On average, they buy twenty to eighty bones a month from JonesBones.
Not the business, only the method is new
Trafficking in human bones is not a new thing, but in the last few years the topic in the United States has come up again came before the eyes of the public interest, as museums began to make transparent and publicize where the skeletons in their collections came from. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology for example he takes care of the repatriation and reburial of the bones of former black slaves.
The poorer people came from, the more likely their remains were to fall into the hands of collectors, the To the Washington Post Shawn Graham, a professor at Carleton University in Canada. However, this does not mean that someone has offered his bones of his own choosing for medical, educational purposes; true, to know this, the Index also reported a few years ago about the school principal who exhibited his own skeleton at a school after his death because he didn’t have the money to buy it.
In an interview with the Post, Ferry said he buys and passes on bones made exclusively for educational purposes, prepared and verifiable at some level. He claims the anatomically prepared bones he buys and sells are spectacularly different from those that come from a grave robbery or other questionable place. According to the young man, the same pieces are usually added back over time that he once sold.
However, it is almost impossible to determine the origin of the bones with complete accuracy. Most of them come to Ferry from inheritance or the cellars of purchased houses, but before they became medical targets, it can be assumed that the remains lay in a grave from which they were illegally removed. However, identifying bones is an unrealistic idea, cremation is extremely expensive, and plastic replicas of the human body for medical education are not as good as real bones, Ferry says, so despite urging activists, he has no plans to liquidate his business.
Criticizing history is easy, but finding a solution to the problem that arises is already a much more difficult challenge
Says the head of JonsBones, adding that he understands the moral issues that arise, because most of the time people think of someone as a morbid, dark thing to trade in human remains.
Determining the size of the global bone trade is almost impossible, even according to experts. Centuries ago, it emerged from illegality, for example, by illegally exhuming the remains of native peoples in the United States and later robbing the cemeteries of slaves and the poor. When laws began to ban, and corpses offered to science were used more for autopsy purposes, those who needed a skeleton turned to Chinese and Indian suppliers instead of local sources. Sixty thousand skeletons a year arrived in the United States from the two Asian countries, according to the Chicago Tribune, until 1985, when India banned the export of human remains by law. True, smuggling has not stopped since then, and the main source of skeletons still India.
Under U.S. federal law, native Americans are required to return the remains to a tribe or descendants who claim them. A few states, such as Tennessee, Georgia, or Louisiana, prohibit trafficking in human remains through local regulations, but the vast majority of states allow the practice.
Regulation in the online space is similarly variable.
There are interfaces such as eBay (from 2012), Etsy (from 2016) and Facebook (from 2020) that clearly prohibit the sale of human body parts and remains in their advertising policies, but there are no such regulations at all for several interfaces.
Advertisers and pages play a constant cat-and-mouse chase if they are banned from one place and appear elsewhere, such as in private groups.
Ferry does not sell through TikTok, just showcases its offerings and makes educational videos, such as showing how bones move when the arm is moved, or how the condition of the chin and teeth helps determine how old a person was at the time of death. However, the internet community, with the tomb robber who overthrew himself on Tumblr and Facebook in 2015 (Boneghazi) draws parallels with JonsBones videos. Ferry he claims, it is precisely this negative prejudice that you want to avoid by talking openly about the subject, and the bones in your collection are said to come from a reliable source.
Nor, however, can you best determine or influence what happens to the bones after you sell it. As a buyer, as a seller, he follows a confidentiality agreement, but as a seller, according to the buyer’s needs, he shares all the information he gained when he got into the collection, which he passes on. He also tries to teach people how to handle leftovers properly.
Professor Graham, on the other hand, says what Ferry claims doesn’t make sense. The use of the remains for educational purposes would require a context that can be provided by the place of origin of the bones, and this can only be provided for residues from an ethical source. People who offer their remains for scientific purposes take part in a consensual procedure, at the end of which the appropriate organs take care of the earth’s remains in a specified way.
What JonesBones does is a moral minefield disguised as education and art with the way it treats human remains as objects. Graham said people whose bones are now on offer at a webshop and are seen by millions through TikTok probably never agreed to do this to their bodies after they died.
(Cover image for Jon Pichaya Ferry / JonesBones / TikTok)
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