Here at 3B Scientific we supply replica skeletons to our clients in the medical and educational sectors. However, one of our customers has taken the business of bones to a whole new level…
When you see skeletons of people and other animals in class or a museum, they’re replicas, right? Well, yes… sometimes!
Skulls Unlimited owner Jay Villemarette, along with wife Kim, runs a business like no other: it supplies real bones and skeletons to the educational, medical and research communities as well as to the enthusiasts market.
He explains: “The evolution of Skulls Unlimited started when, at age seven, I found a dog skull in the woods near my home. When my father saw my interest, he encouraged me to find and collect other skulls, thus making it a life-long hobby.
“As I grew, so did my skull collection. After graduating high school, I collected and sold skulls in my spare time while working as an auto body technician. As sales grew, my wife Kim and I began to clean skulls in our kitchen.”
Indeed, Kim is clearly a very understanding spouse: she continued to support Jay’s passion for skulls as he built his business... even when he used to boil them on the kitchen stove!
Today, the family and their small band of employees, which includes their four kids, also supply replica birds eggs, casts of animal footprints, recreations of early hominid skulls, and museum-quality replica claws and teeth.
This team from Oklahoma have worked on some pretty extraordinary items – everything from a Barbary Lion to a 40-foot Humpback Whale. They say that “no animal is too large, no request too unusual”.
Of course, the stand-out items are the genuine human skulls, and these can fetch up to $1,850.
Currently, the company seems to be sold out of real human skeletons, and they acknowledge that such specimens are becoming more difficult to find. Naturally, you can’t just go and dig up a corpse to get hold of the bones. Skulls Unlimited obtain theirs only from legal and ethical sources such as medical establishments.
So what does it take to create a display skeleton from human or animal bones? The process involves a number of stages, including stripping and boiling, and they can seem pretty gruesome. “Everything we do is bloody, gory; this is not work for the squeamish,” Jay says.
Carcasses are skinned and flensed (a word originally used to describe removal of blubber from whales but now meaning the stripping of any flesh from a carcass). Once this is done, Jay calls in his special operatives in the form of Dermestid beetles. These little bugs are some of nature’s best decomposers, helping to dispose of carcasses and return nutrients back to the soil.
At Skulls Unlimited their role is to pick the bones clean of flesh to prepare them for further processing. Museums have been using this technique for decades. Finally, each specimen is degreased and whitened using a chemical process to preserve it.
At this stage the expert articulators step in, painstakingly reconstructing the skeletons so that the bones fit together correctly and can be displayed accurately. Some of the company’s best work is on show at its own Museum of Osteology near Oklahoma City, where you’ll find over 300 skeletons displayed, telling the story of the form and function of the skeletal system.
Jay isn’t looking to retire anytime soon but says that, when he does “I’m sure I will one day become a specimen in my own museum!”