Supply and Demand
In the medical field, obtaining a real skeleton became a necessary tool of the trade, so schools, hospitals, and private practices were trying to buy one whenever they could. The increase in demand, combined with buckling down on using the bodies of people in Europe and the United States lead to seeking skeletons from overseas. In the 1940’s, The Royal College of Surgeons began to collect skeletons from all over the world in order to see if there were any differences in skeletal structure between races. After decades of abuses in the skeleton industry, countries around the world began to create laws to prevent buying and selling human remains, but the industry still finds a loophole.
Unfortunately, nations with extreme poverty are the easiest targets for this kind of abuse. Today, the vast majority of human skulls come from Calcutta, India. Grave robbing still goes on there, as bodies are dug and and sold to buyers overseas. People were even getting murdered by bone sellers.
NPR did an investigation on the issue, and they interviewed a woman who used to work for a company that gathered human skeletons. Her employers were willing to do absolutely anything to get human bones, because each skeleton can fetch upwards of $3,000. They fished dead bodies out of the river whenever someone drowned, and stole bodies out of the morgue on a regular basis. Residents of Calcutta say that they can smell rotting flesh throughout the entire town, and neighbors witnessed human body parts being boiled in giant cauldrons. People knew that when they died, their bodies would be stolen and sold overseas, as well.
Exporting bones is illegal in India, but the local police force in Calcutta does not have the resources to enforce the law. In the instances when the police did actually stop bone smugglers, they were traveling with at least $70,000 worth of bones. It’s illegal to export human bones in the U.S. and Europe, but it’s not illegal to import them. So, even to this day, grave robbers get away with it.