Airport security agents made a macabre discovery Wednesday after they examined the contents of a broken pot in a carry-on bag: shards of a possible human skull and teeth.
They may have been good luck charms unwittingly purchased in Cuba.
The bones were found about 3 p.m. at a security checkpoint at Terminal 1 in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said Mike Jachles, spokesman for the Broward Sheriff's Office. Officials could not confirm whether the bones were actually human.
"We have to wait and see what the medical examiner says," Jachles said.
Two sealed pots were in carry-on baggage with two women who were headed to Baltimore on an AirTran flight. One pot broke open during the inspection process, and Transportation Security Administration officials found it contained dirt, rocks and what appeared to be pieces of a human skull and teeth, Jachles said.
"It's very likely they had no knowledge of what was in the pot," the spokesman said of the travelers.
The second pot remained intact. Both pots were taken for evaluation by the Medical Examiner's Office, and the Department of Homeland Security was set to handle the investigation.
The women, whose names haven't been released, said they bought the pots at a religious shop in Cuba earlier in the week. "They were told it would ward off evil spirits," Jachles said.
Officials would not speculate whether the bones were part of any specific religious ritual.
Late Wednesday, BSO homicide detectives interviewed the women, who stayed at the airport to answer detectives' questions.
"They're cooperating," Jachles said. "They're voluntarily staying behind to speak with the detectives."
Jachles indicated charges against the women may be unlikely. "They're not even suspects," he said. "They're not even being detained."
It wasn't the first bones case at Fort Lauderdale's airport.
In February 2006, a Miramar woman who was a Vodou priestess was arrested after a skull was found in her carry-on while she went through customs upon her return from Haiti.
The skull, about a year old, belonged to a male and was to have been used in religious rituals to repel evil spirits, federal authorities said.
Federal law makes it a crime to import human remains for medical or educational purposes without a death certificate.
Body parts used for religious purposes are restricted under federal law and seized.
The woman, Myrlene Sevre, was originally charged with smuggling a human head without proper documentation, failing to declare the skull to customs, and transporting hazardous materials.
Initially facing up to 15 years in prison, Sevre was sentenced to two years' probation and a $1,000 fine.
Jachles said Wednesday's find didn't appear to be linked to any religious ceremony.
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