A Californian man who allegedly sold what he claimed was the 200 year-old skull of a Hawaiian warrior on eBay has been charged with a federal crime that could see him jailed for up to five years if convicted. Jerry David Hasson, 55, of Huntington Beach, California, was charged on Wednesday with a single count of violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act in connection with running one of the most bizarre auctions ever conducted online.
In February 2004, Hasson placed the skull of "200-year old warrior" who "died on Maui in the 1790s" up for auction on eBay, with bidding starting at $1,000 and an immediate purchase price of $12,500, according to prosecutors. As part of the auction, Hasson claimed to took the skull as a souvenir from a guarded excavation site located on Kaanapali Beach on Maui in 1969. Hasson stated that the skull and other skeletal remains on beach were those of Hawaiian warriors who fought with or against Hawaii's legendary King Kamehameha.
The auction reached the attention of a member of a Native Hawaiian organisation known as Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai’i Nei (Group Caring for the Ancestors of Hawaii). A member of the organisation warned Hasson that selling the skull was a violation of federal law. The "tomb raider" was told to abandon the sale and return it to the Native Hawaiian organisation for ceremonial reburial. Hasson unwisely ignored this advice.
Later an undercover agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs contacted Hasson and negotiated purchase of the skull. During negotiations leading up to the sale Hasson revealed that he realised that selling an antiquity might be illegal, so he arranged a roundabout way of flogging the item. The agent was given the skull as a "gift" after purchasing a collector's edition of a comic book (worth approximately $20) for $2,500.
Hasson's account of the find, as reported in an affidavit by the undercover investigator, makes for fascinating reading. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reports that Hasson claimed to the investigator that he evaded guards and sneaked into the site one night with some friends. There he dug into the sand and found part of a leg before continuing his excavation and finding the skull.
The affidavit quotes the would-be Indiana Jones as saying "right next to this skeleton, there were some warrior artefacts ... like hatchets and stuff like that, but I was afraid to take those things, I left those in the sand." Ancient hatchet or human skull? We know which we find scarier.
Alas, poor Yoricka
Here the already outlandish tale takes a delicious twist.
Subsequent examination of the skull revealed that it did date back over 200 years. But a recognized expert in the identification of Native Hawaiian remains at the University of Hawaii's Department of Anthropology concluded that the skull was that of a woman, who was approximately 50 years old at the time of her death. So it's hardly likely to be that of a warrior unless Hawaii harboured an Amazon race of pensioner warriors in its pre-history or a crack black magic squad - in which case a federal rap is the least of Hasson's worries.
Hasson will be summoned to appear in US District Court in Los Angeles over coming weeks to face a single charge of violating archaeological protection laws punishable on conviction by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. The skull will be reburied once it is no longer needed as evidence, the Honolulu Star Bulletin reports. ®