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Ghoulish Boutique Volume 51 Number 3, May/June 1998
by Mark Rose

A Manhattan store owner faces up to $600,000 in fines for selling Indian skeletal remains in violation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and animal remains in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

William Stevens, owner of Evolution: Natural History in SoHo, pleaded guilty in federal court in Brooklyn on March 16. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 21; prosecutors are seeking a 12- to 18-month jail term. Under NAGPRA Stevens may be required to pay the costs of repatriating the remains.

A search of the store by agents from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) on September 16, 1997, along with airport seizures and examination of Stevens' records, yielded evidence that he planned to sell or had already sold more than 3,000 endangered and protected mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Gorilla skulls, two ashtrays made from gorilla feet, the arm and hand bones of a gibbon, and bald eagle skulls were among the inventory.

Stevens' records show that on March 20, 1995, he received six human skulls, ten skull fragments, and one mandible on consignment from a Long Island man, agreeing to share the proceeds evenly. Photographs of the bones found at the store were labeled as belonging to Peoria and Seminole Indians. The skulls were priced from $1,000 to $1,400, fragments from $130 to $600, and the mandible at $200. Of two skulls sold, one has been recovered.

The USFW has contacted the Peoria and Seminole tribes, which will be able to make formal claims to the remains once they are listed in the Federal Register. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ilene Jaroslaw and the USFW are investigating how and where the consignor obtained the bones.

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© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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