The skull and crossbones ballot box from Yale’s Skull and Bones society was supposed to go on sale at a Christie’s auction yesterday. At the last minute, however, the ballot box and the black book with pictures and names of 50 19th century members were withdrawn from the sale.
Christie’s statement said only that another party had claimed title to the lot. We don’t know who that other party is or what the grounds are for the claim.
The sale was controversial from the start. The World Archaeological Congress condemned the sale of human remains as inherently disrespectful, and pointing out that if that skull and the two femurs were Native American remains, it’s actually against the law.
The World Archaeological Congress is concerned about the cultural origin of the remains being offered for sale, as well as the affront to human dignity resulting from the sale of human body parts. “WAC asks Christie’s to cease trafficking in human remains and requests that all possible measures be taken to discover the cultural origin of this individual,” stated WAC President Claire Smith. “We cannot overlook the possibility that it may be a skull of a American Indian, and the sale should be stopped in order to determine if federal laws apply.”
WAC also requests that US law enforcement investigate this proposed sale. If these remains are found to be Native American, then WAC urges Christie’s to comply with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and/or applicable state laws. Regardless of the origin of the remains, WAC urges Christie’s to act in accordance with standards of human decency and withdraw these remains from the auction.
I don’t know if this appeal had anything to do with the withdrawal of the lot. Christie’s wording indicates someone else claimed to own the items, including the book and pictures. It might just be a cover story to avoid controversy, of course, and they’re not exactly forthcoming with details.