Real estate and property law

Thrift store donation of 3 human skulls puts spotlight on state law concerning skeletons in closets

An unusual donation at a Seattle-area thrift-store bin earlier this month shocked some but has created positive publicity about the need to comply with a state law, officials say.

Three human skulls, two from clinical specimens for education use and the third a Native American child, apparently from long ago, were dropped off by an unknown individual at a Goodwill store in Bellevue, reports the Seattle Times.

Under Washington law, human remains must be returned to the family, if known, Allyson Brooks told the newspaper. She serves as the director of the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

“When we get Native American remains we try to identify the tribe,” she said. “When we can’t do that we notify tribes that have interests in Washington and we let them collectively decide what to do with them. They often designate one tribe to take responsibility for them.”

With clinical specimens, she checks to see if educational institutions can use them.

Although the Goodwill donation could be a first, it isn’t that unusual for people to have skulls and skeletons in closets or other storage areas they don’t know how to deal with, said Kathy Taylor, a King County forensic anthropologist.

At least three other sets of bones have been turned in to Brooks’ office since the three skulls hit the headlines.

“I know people were shocked that these skulls were donated to a Goodwill, which is something we haven’t seen before,” said Brooks. “But ironically in the end they are getting the respect they deserve and are coming to us, which is much better rather than going in the trash. These are someone’s ancestors.”

An earlier Seattle Times story provides additional details.

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