A Philadelphia school will return the skeletal remains of a Native American man that were discovered in a classroom closet

A school classroom, with desks, a blackboard, and bookshelves.
A school classroom. MILATAS/Getty Images
  • A school in Philadelphia discovered human skeletal remains in a classroom closet over the summer.
  • The remains were later identified as belonging to a Native American man.
  • They are working with the Interior Department and an anthropologist to return them to his tribe.

The School District of Philadelphia said it’s working on returning the skeletal remains of a Native American man to his home tribe after they were discovered in the closet of a high school classroom over the summer.

The “human skeletal item” was found at Central High School, the district said in a statement provided to Insider. Founded in 1836, it’s the second-oldest high school in the US that has continuously served as a public school, rather than private.

“We believe the skeletal remains had been used as a teaching tool” between “the 1850s through the early-to-mid 1900s,” the statement said. “No human skeletal teaching collections have been a part of the School District of Philadelphia’s curriculum for at least a decade or more.”

After the remains were discovered, the district contacted the US Department of the Interior and Kimberly Williams, the chair of Temple University’s anthropology department, to learn how to respectfully handle them. They later identified the remains as belonging to a Native American man.

The district is now working with the Interior Department and Williams to return the remains to the man’s home tribe, which has not been publicly identified.

“This is part of the story of early medicine around the world where the deceased entered collections without their consent from cemeteries and other contexts,” Williams told The Associated Press.

She said remains of indigenous people were often traded due to “an era of inquiry about the differences between the ‘races.’ This is and was unequivocally wrong and unacceptable.”

The district is encouraging all of its schools to search for any other possible human remains that may have been used as teaching items.

In 2018, NPR identified real human skeletons still used as teaching tools in schools across the US.

Earlier this year, work began to return the remains of 10 Native American children who were buried at a cemetery in Cumberland County, which is also in Pennsylvania, to their home tribes, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The children died while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a federally-run boarding school for indigenous children that was open from 1879 through 1918.