Goodwill Will Take Almost Any Donation, Except Your Old Skulls

Jul 10, 2014

Aut-3715: “Two human skulls prepared for clinical use that were donated to a Bellevue, Wash., thrift store. A third, older skull (not pictured) from a Native American child was also donated.”
Aut-3715: “Two human skulls prepared for clinical use that were donated to a Bellevue, Wash., thrift store. A third, older skull (not pictured) from a Native American child was also donated.”
Credit King County Medical Examiner's Office

It was certainly a surprise for some employees sorting through the piles of donations at a Goodwill located in Bellevue, Washington.

Last month, three human skulls were discovered amongst the bags of clothes, toys and other items being given to the thrift shop by anonymous donors.

“Normally, we don’t get human remains as a donation,” said Katherine Boury, a spokeswoman for Goodwill in the Seattle area. “So we had to call around to a number of local resources to figure out the best organization to pass them on to. We wanted to make sure we found the best place to identify them to get them back to their rightful owners. ”  

As it turned out, the best place to receive the unusual gift was the King County Medical Examiner’s office. There, forensic anthropologist Kathy Taylor was able to immediately determine some pertinent facts about the three skulls.

“When I first saw them it was clear that two of them were clinical specimens,” said Taylor.

But she said the third skull was definitely not like the others. It happened to be the very old, fragile remains of a Native American child.

“There are some cultural artifacts, including the wear on the teeth that really speak to the fact that this is a Native American,” Taylor said.  “Based on the dental development, we can say that this is a child under the age of 10.”

Taylor says it’s important to repatriate the remains of the child back to its tribe, because that’s the law in Washington state.

“I’m always surprised to find Native American remains in the possession of private citizens, because that’s not right. They should not be circulating among private citizens. They need to be repatriated to the tribe and they need to be cared for appropriately.”

Taylor says any background information they can get on where the child’s skull came from and how it came to be in the previous owners’ possession will help the state return the remains to their rightful tribe.  

The King County Medical Examiner’s office wants anyone with information about the donated skulls to contact them, without fear of penalty. That number is 206.731.3232, extension 1.

According to King County Public Health spokesperson Keith Seinfeld, there’s only been one call so far, and it hasn’t been helpful. 

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