Beth Meyer didn’t think people would be freaked out by displaying a real human skull at the antiques store she helps run. She thought it would be fun for Halloween at a shop already filled with oddities.
Meyer, a managing partner at Paradise Vintage Market in North Fort Myers, Florida, put the skull out for sale in September and thought little of it – until an anthropologist walked into the store Saturday.
The anthropologist had a professional opinion for Meyer and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office: Not only was the skull very real, but it was also very old and possibly from a Native American person, according to an incident report from the sheriff’s office obtained by the Washington Post.
“It’s been very exciting,” Meyer, 61, said Monday.
While Florida law says it is a first-degree misdemeanor to sell human remains, sheriff’s deputies have made no mention of a law being broken. The sheriff’s office even wrote a Facebook post announcing the discovery that begins with: “In a twist of not-so-humerus events …” before adding the case was “not suspicious in nature.”
Deputies said Saturday that the remains are now with the local medical examiner’s office, which will test the skull to find out more. But it appears that deputies accept the anthropologist’s belief that the skull on display for Halloween is from a Native American person.
Meyer knew the skull was real but told deputies she was “unaware of the skull being a Native American,” according to the incident report.
Whether these are Native American remains matters for many reasons. Among them is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law enacted in 1990 that sets out strict processes to stop the free sale of such remains. The federal law also demands the remains return to the proper lineal descendants, Indian tribe officials or traditional religious leaders.
Skulls apparently crop up. A Goodwill store in Arizona received a donation of a skull earlier this year.
In the Florida case, when the anthropologist first saw the skull, she told deputies “she knew it was from a Native American, which is illegal for someone to sell,” according to the incident report.
Meyer said she didn’t know she was buying the skull when she and her business partner purchased a storage unit from a sick man in September 2022 – just before Hurricane Ian destroyed swaths of southwest Florida.
Meyer said she thought she was buying rocks, which is her specialty.
“There was just a lot of weird stuff and books but no rocks,” she said. “I was disappointed.”
She found the skull while going through the boxes in April because the store moved into a new location. She knew it was real because she often deals with fossils, bones and plaster casts. It wasn’t until September that she remembered the skull and decided to display it in the store as the spooky season approached.
Meyer said she priced the skull at $4,000.
“I put such a high price on it that I figured no one would buy it,” she said.