Photo in the News: Skulls Smuggled for Monks' Chalices

India Kolkata bones smuggling picture
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June 21, 2007—No bones about it—this collection of skulls and femurs was part of an international smuggling operation, Indian officials announced Tuesday.

The skeleton stash was headed to Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan, a neighboring Himalayan kingdom.

"During interrogation [the gang] confessed that the hollow human thigh bones were in great demand in monasteries and were used as blow-horns, and the skulls as vessels to drink from at religious ceremonies," investigating officer Ravinder Nalwa told the Reuters news service Tuesday.

Police officers found the bones in Jaigaon, India, on the border with Bhutan.

In April police in Jaigaon had uncovered a human-bones factory and arrested six people. The factory's bones had come from cremation centers on the Ganges River in Varanasi, a Hindu holy city. They were being sold to students of traditional medicine.

Eastern India was once a flourishing center for the export of human skeletons. The government banned the trade in the late 1980s after human rights groups questioned bone-collection practices.

Today, as evidence surrounding the bones continues to surface, police suspect the region could be the center of an expansive underground industry.

—Cori Sue Morris

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