The ancient human skull purchased by a federal Conservative candidate in northern B.C for her boyfriend’s birthday came from a popular oddity shop.
Claire Rattée, a Kitimat resident and tattoo artist, is running in the next federal election to represent Skeena-Bulkley Valley.
Recently APTN News reported Rattée purchased a human skull from the 1700s for her boyfriend, Oliver James Brown.
The skull is of European descent, claims Rattée, something she says can be proven from an online receipt.
But the gift itself still has some people perplexed.
“It’s a strange gift,” said Rudy Reimer, a professor in the department of archaeology at Simon Fraser University.
“[But] I am aware these items are on sale in various parts of the world.”
Documentation – an online receipt
Celebrating his gift from Rattée, Brown took to Facebook to share news about his birthday present.
(Oliver Brown’s Facebook post about his “first real human skull” from Conservative candidate, Claire Rattée. Photo: Facebook)
In the post Brown wrote, “My birthday present came today my first real human skull and its from the 1700s!”
The Facebook post was from February 2019.
In a previous phone interview, Rattée claims the human skull is of European descent, and necessary as a “good reference for art.”
Both Rattée and Brown are tattoo artists and own a studio in Kitimat.
(Professor Reimer of Simon Fraser University thinks buying a skull seems morbid and strange. Photo courtesy: Rudy Reimer)
Professor Reimer believes there is no need to purchase an authentic skull for such purpose.
“There are these casts that are not real, and are based on real human anatomy that one could look at,” says Reimer.
“In this day and age, having the rationale about needing an authentic skull, I find a little odd.”
(Federal Conservative candidate Claire Rattée and supporters on Canada’s Day. Photo: Facebook)
Since the article was published, APTN asked Rattée’s campaign manager, Chelsea Bossence, if Rattée could share the documentation about the ancient skull.
After several attempts to view the documentation, Bossence provided an online receipt via email from SkullStore; a Toronto-based oddity shop, where Rattée purchased the human remain for her boyfriend.
On the receipt it reads, “Human Skull, European C x 1” and was shipped to a Kitimat address.
Rattée purchased the skull earlier this year for just under $1K.
The documentation – the receipt – shows no other descriptive information about the skull.
Ben Lovatt, owner of SkullStore wrote to APTN in an email that a receipt is provided along with any other information on his website.
“A provenance document would actually be a serious piece of research,” says history professor Shawn Graham at Carleton University and a trained archaeologist.
“It would show who owned or previously where it came from, the whole ownership history and the archeological dimension to it.”
APTN asked Bossence if Rattée has such detailed document, and wrote the skull was purchased from a reputable vendor following all appropriate criteria, and considers this matter closed.
Both Graham and his colleague, Damien Huffer, a professor who has extensive osteological training has serious concerns about where this skull may have come from.
(Carleton University History professor Shawn Graham says a proper provenance document would be a serious piece of research, not a receipt, for a human remain. Photo courtesy: Shawn Graham)
“Looking at the skull in the photo, it looks like the skull is flaking a bit which point to it being in alternating, wet, dry conditions, or freezing and thawing [conditions],” says Graham.
Graham also notes what looks like tool marks on the skull suggesting the skull may have come from the black market.
“The person may have lived in the 1700s, but the skull looks like it came on the market recently.”
Although he cannot determine conclusively based on a photograph, Graham has reason to doubt the skull has been sitting in a collection somewhere.
Skull purchased by Rattée likely an ‘orphan skull’
The Toronto oddity shop where Rattée purchased the skull from, SkullStore, sells everything from a child’s shrunken head to a Dayak tribal skull – all of them selling in the thousands of dollars.
(Bob Lovatt, owner of the oddity shop SkullStore, says when looking at a human skull it is like looking into a spiritual mirror. Photo courtesy: SkullStore)
In an email statement, Lovatt wrote his store has become a respected leader in the oddities collecting community, and would never keep anything illegal.
The European skulls from his store are “a simpler instance of orphaned remains coming from archaeological estates and defunct institutions,” wrote Lovatt.
Lovatt explains most of his skulls are ones from “retired medical professionals and the damaged/unloved specimens in the basements of the professional’s family or academic institutions.”
After looking at a photo of Rattée’s purchase from APTN’s story, Lovatt believes the skull was one of his orphaned, European skulls.
Such skulls have minimal information wrote Lovatt.
(A Dayak tribal skull for sale at SkullStore, worth $5,750K. Described as “a real, contemporary, human skull carved by the Dayak peoples of Borneo.” Photo courtesy: SkullStore)
No one is calling for repatriation for these remains, Lovatt continues, adding these “skulls belong in respectful homes” and “could have been people we’d have known personally.”
Lovatt wrote he would never keep or endorse selling Indigenous remains from North America.
“Human remains are human remains, and wherever their skull or anything like it come from, there should be some reverence for the dead,” says Reimer.