Human skull donated to Goodwill

Originally published at: Human skull donated to Goodwill | Boing Boing


There’s two of them??? /s

Your other right!


Mirror universe.


Mirror universe, and the writing is legible. That means this was owned by DaVinci!


Yorick! That’s where you’ve been.


Mix-ups like this happen when your illiterate henchperson confuses the “Donate to Charity” box with the “Bury in an Unmarked Grave” box. We need to make sure our public schools are fully funded and fully staffed. Reading is fundamental, people.



I pride myself in providing my myrmidons with comprehensive training tailored to their individual needs and interests. As, in fact, are their uniforms.
It’s an immense reward in itself to watch them improve themselves intellectually and move from, say dredging the moat to, say coming up with an original design for a new doomsday machine.




I listened to a talk by a fellow researcher doing affiliated projects for the WWF. Stable isotope analysis. They could tell from oxygen isotopes where elephant teeth came from. And by came from, I mean a geographic location with an accuracy of, if my memory serves me right, around 100 km. In that talk, they also told us that the technique generally also works on human teeth, but location was somewhat of a problem since many people nowadays a) change location to early, and to frequent, for a clear signal and b) drinking water often is transported for rather long distances. Since there are people who insist on preparing formula with bottled water even in regions where the tab water is A-OK, the situation becomes somewhat muddled sometimes.

However, I’m always puzzled that people don’t throw some science around when someone finds something interesting and wants to know more about its origins in time and space. Stable isotopes are just one example.

ETA: oh, I forgot to mention - the colloquium where said talk was given was in 2008. And the WWF was already using the technique, and wanted to do something similar with rhino horn, but had a hell of a time getting the material for that.


… I thought American Gods got canceled :thinking:

Yeah, we use stable isotope analysis all the time in archaeology. It’s what’s behind the story every time you read in the newspaper something like "woman found in grave [from time period long ago] excavated in [your home city] was actually born in [country far away].

Usually that is done with tooth enamel because it is very hardy and survives the taphonomic conditions of burial better than bones. Because it also grows in layers, it’s even possible nowadays to micro sample it and get a live story of movement. Of course there are problems with the method, such as incomplete comparison materials, and isotope signatures of different regions being similar if they have the same geology. Plus, it’s not quite clear how much the profile changed over time. Since it’s based on bedrock geology, it shouldn’t really, but one never knows how much other factors play in, including diet and the diet of one’s diet.

It’s actually not too expensive. Probably less than $100 for a single sample including extraction.

As for why it’s not used more often in forensics? I would guess the fact that forensic scientists aren’t overly familiar with the method, since most of the time finding out a rough region someone comes from isn’t really helpful for them.

ETA: Example price list:


Honestly I don’t see much of a mystery here. I can imagine a sequence of events like this:

  • person digs up old skull in their back garden or at a work site or something. Stumbling across old graves happens all the time and doesn’t mean there has been a crime.

  • person decides to keep skull because of its striking appearance due to the glass eye

  • person eventually dies or is moved to a home due to old age

  • heirs clean up person’s home, find skull, don’t know what to do, put it in a box with other things they’re donating to goodwill


Thanks, especially for the reminder that people really, really, REALLY should try to communicate with people from other fields more. I, for one, need to have a chat with the nice lady from the zoology lab on the next floor to see if I can learn something about how to use isotope analysis in determining human impact on riverine vegetation…

Interestingly, in case of the elephants, I thought they used oxygen isotope signatures. I tried to look it up, and found info on hydrogen, and combined it with other isotopes.

However, IF I remember correctly, they used oxygen in teeth enamel as a proxy for distance to the sea, which - combined with the geography of watersheds, tributaries and rivers.

Also, my statement that they could pinpoint the location with high accuracy seems to be an overstatement. I can’t find anything supplying my claim right now.
Here’s a short report with references:

Here’s some popsci on the matter: Combatting Illegal Wildlife Trade one Atom at a Time | IAEA

Here’s another interesting report on combining genetic markers with isotope markers, in case of wood:

And on lizards’ origins:

Fascinating stuff, and still weird this seems not to be in the standard repertoire for human remains …


Wile E Coyote Scare GIF


Hey Dan! How’s it going?

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