Transfer-station worker discovers skull near Seattle
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Aug. 16 — A worker at a transfer station in Island County, Wash., thought he’d found a plastic human skull in the garbage and placed the interesting find atop a nearby pole.

Then things got even more interesting.

After a citizen saw the skull on display and complained, the county’s public works staff investigated — and called in the coroner.

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop verified that the skull — a cranium, actually, since it was missing its jawbone – was real. A serial number was written on it, indicating that it was a “teaching model” used in medical offices or schools, Bishop told the Whidbey News Times.

The skull appears to belong to a “smaller-stature female,” Bishop said. After further investigation, the skull will be returned to Island County, which is about 40 miles north of Seattle. It will then be buried in an unmarked grave.

“I don’t care where it came from, it’s still a person,” Bishop told the newspaper.

Steve Marx, the county’s assistant director of public works, said officials are investigating the incident and deciding whether to discipline the employee or provide additional training to the transfer station workers. The county is also drafting new procedures that will clarify what solid-waste workers should do when suspected human remains are found in the garbage.

“It should be treated like it was a homicide scene,” Marx told the News Times.

For the past two decades or so, teaching models of skeletons have been made of synthetic materials. Before then, real bones were used in medical schools and offices. Many came from India, which banned the export of human remains in the 1980s, Bishop said.

Teaching model occasionally end up in the trash, he told the paper, although it is illegal to throw human remains in the trash.

Bishop urged citizens to call his office if they have human remains to dispose of and to not throw them away or “try to hawk them at a yard sale,” the newspaper reported.

“We want to make sure they are dealt with in a respectful manner,” Bishop said.

Contact Waste & Recycling News editor John Campanelli at or 313-446-6767.

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