The machine trying to explain what it sees.

The Bone Trade

There is a thriving online trade in anatomical, ethnographic and archaeological human remains that makes ready use of new social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Etsy, and until recently, eBay. The “fetishization” of the ‘exotic’ dead that underpins this trade by its very nature transforms pieces of the body into material culture: curios, commodities or objets d’art. This practice has deep Colonial-era roots, but today’s e-commerce and social media platforms have only expanded collectors’ reach and made participation open to anyone with interest and spare finances. The sheer volume of materials being produced, shared, and sold can be overwhelming for a small team to study. The market moves so fast.

Can we teach machines to identify from photographs alone patterns in the ‘visual rhetoric’ that signal materials for sale? Can ‘licit’ materials be discerned from ‘illicit’? Are there geographical patterns? Can we trace materials back to a source?

Led by Shawn Graham and Damien Huffer; Funded by SSHRC

Project website

X Lab

The Virtual Cultural Heritage Informatics Lab.