The Smithsonian’s ‘Bone Doctor’ Scavenged Thousands of Body Parts
A Smithsonian anthropologist possessed a twisted fascination with death
Word spread among the Alutiiq children in Larsen Bay, Alaska: An anthropologist from Washington, D.C., would pay them 10 cents to find him human bones.
Ales Hrdlicka, a Smithsonian anthropologist, repeatedly traveled to this small community on Kodiak Island in the 1930s to exhume Indigenous graves. In what amounted to industrial-scale pillaging, he and a small team disinterred the remains of about 1,000 people and shipped them back to the Smithsonian's U.S. National Museum, the precursor to the National Museum of Natural History.
"He's thought of, kind of like, as a ghoul," said April Laktonen Counceller, whose Alutiiq grandfather grew up in Larsen Bay and told her stories about Hrdlicka's excavations and the offer to pay dimes for skeletal remains. "They called him 'the bone doctor.'"
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