Updated Nov 1, 2021 - News
Skull found at Philadelphia high school prompts districtwide search
A general view of the School District of Philadelphia offices on December 31, 2015. Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images
The exterior of the School District of Philadelphia offices on December 31, 2015. Photo: Paul Marotta/Getty Images

The School District of Philadelphia is asking high school principals and other officials to search for skeletal remains in their buildings after the discovery of a human skull at Central High School.

Driving the news: The school district announced the finding of the "human skeletal item," believed to have belonged to a Native American male, on Friday. The district told Axios that a staff member originally discovered the skull in June.

  • Now district officials are working with the Department of Interior and Temple University to repatriate the remains.

What they're saying: District officials said the skull was likely used as a teaching tool from the mid-1850s to the early to mid-1900s.

  • The district said it hasn't used human skeletons in lessons for at least a decade.
  • "Despite the fact that this individual is long deceased, they were an individual who was a member of a community," Kimberly Williams, chair of Temple's Anthropology Department, said in a statement.

The big picture: Mishandling of Indigenous remains isn't uncommon in American history, especially in the context of forced residential boarding schools.

Of note: Researchers in the 19th century used to collect skulls and conduct experiments to promote white supremacy. The trade and selling of crania propelled the practice.

Zoom in: The city has already had to grapple with the discovery of human remains this year.

This past May, the city revealed its discovery that in 2017, Thomas Farley, the former health commissioner, ordered a separate set of MOVE bombing victims' remains to be cremated without notifying family members.

What's next: The school district asked high school principals to conduct surveys of any skeletal teaching collections within their schools by Nov. 5, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that a single MOVE bombing victim's remains were determined to have been housed at the Penn Museum, according to an independent investigation completed in August.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Philadelphia stories

No stories could be found

Philadelphiapostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Philadelphia.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more