This presentation summarizes ongoing research occurring within the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded The Bone Trade Project (https://bonetrade.github.io/). In general, this project is beginning to identify and map the online human remains trade across various social media and e-commerce platforms. As a summary presentation, I will highlight key points of methods from the digital humanities and machine learning used to investigate how this collecting community functions, what we can ‘remotely’ know of their complex morals and ethics, how they negotiate a complex legal landscape, and from which populations the human remains trafficked possibly originate. The examples given will be discussed in the context of how and why counteracting the human remains trade is relevant to the preservation of global cultural heritage, questions of possible medico-legal import, and the concerns of descent communities.


About the presenter

Dr. Damien Huffer was most recently a postdoctoral fellow (2017 – 2019) within the Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory, Department of Archaeology & Classical Studies, Stockholm University. From 2014 – 2016, he held the Stable Isotope Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute/Division of Anthropology, and he received his PhD in Osteoarchaeology in 2013 from the ANU. As a co-founder of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online and an interdisciplinary antiquities trade scholar, he works to raise public awareness about the existence and complexities of the ‘niche’ market that is the traffic in human remains as but one component of archaeological and criminological research into the global traffic in cultural heritage. This research forms the core of his current collaborative work using digital humanities and machine learning methods to improve what is known about how the informal and organized networks that facilitate these trades via social media and e-commerce platforms operate, form community and avoid detection.


In addition, his current research also looks to the Colonial-era past to understand collecting practices in the present. Geographically focused on Southeast Asian and Pacific collections, this research involves conducting non-destructive osteological and taphonomic analysis of 18th to early 20th century culturally modified human remains held in Western museums, in conjunction with archival research, to illuminate aspects of collecting history not otherwise documented and simultaneously provide data relevant to law enforcement when faced with questions of the provenience and authenticity of modified crania seized in transit.


Please be aware that we are still operating under Covid-19 regulations during public events.  For those who will be attending, you will be asked to check in via QR code as a condition of entry. Those who are feeling unwell, who have travelled in from overseas or a Covid-19 hotspot in the last 14 days or have been in contact with Covid-19 positive persons, are asked not to attend the seminar. Hand sanitizers will be provided for attendee use at venue​.

About Archaeology Working Papers

The Working Papers in Archaeology seminar series provides a forum for dissemination of archaeological research and ideas amongst UQ archaeology students and staff. All students are invited to attend the series and postgraduate students, from honours upwards, are invited to present their research. The aim is to provide opportunities for students, staff and those from outside UQ, to present and discuss their work in an informal environment. It is hoped that anyone interested in current archaeological directions, both within and outside the School and University, will be able to attend and contribute to the series.