Bones of Contention is the tenth episode of the second season, and the twenty-third episode overall. It was released on December 9, 2005. The murder of a young museum researcher sends the team on the hunt for a killer and a missing ancient skull of vast archaeological significance on Native American lands.
A woman is working in a lab at the Heritage Museum. She heads out for the night with a box. She hears somebody following her and starts to run, however her pursuer catches up to her. The next morning Don and Megan are at the scene where the woman, a researcher named Jenn Abernathy, is dead at the bottom of the stairs. Megan can only see the head wound as potential cause of death at the time. The night watchman, Lopez, is the one who found her. He didn’t see or hear anything else. David looked at security footage from the night, but found nothing. She hadn’t been robbed leading them to believe her attacker was after her specifically, not anything else. A book with mathematical equations is found among her possessions.
At CalSci, Charlie and Larry are having breakfast and are talking about a dinner party that is going to be held at Larry's house. Don joins them. He wants help on the case and hands Charlie the note book. Larry recognises the notes as relating to quantitative archaeology. Charlie also makes note of the carbon dating equations as well. Don knows that she was trying to date something, but doesn’t know what and is reluctant to ask her co-workers as they are potential suspects. Charlie believes he can help to a degree. Larry invites Don to his dinner party.
Megan talks to the medical examiner. She died from the fall, but they don’t know if it was an intentional killing or not. They rule out sexual assault, but the ME does say she had had (what was most likely) consensual sex earlier that day. Don talks to a woman that runs the lab. She is shocked that Abernathy was down in the lab working a 1am.
Charlie is going through Alan’s boxes in the garage. He’s trying to find a book on North American artefacts, but finds some of his mother’s clothes as well. Alan was supposed to give all of it to charity six months before that, but still hasn’t. Alan gets a little defensive.
Megan and David talk to Abernathy's landlord. She was mostly an ideal tenant. They ask about any boyfriends and the landlady informs that Abernathy’s married boss would sometimes drop her off late at night.
Don and Megan catch each other up on what they found out. Megan and David go to talk to her boss, Kenneth Hill about his relationship with her. He plays dumb at first and then admits to the affair. Megan says they could talk to his wife to clear his alibi before asking about Abernathy’s work. She could have been asked to date an item from a private collection, but he didn’t know for sure.
Don and Megan discuss the laws surrounding Native American artefacts. Charlie arrives and tells them that what she wasn't working on something from the museum’s collection. It was an old, new find. She didn’t want anybody to know what she was working on so she worked at night. It was a 10,000-year-old human skull, the oldest remains found for the area. Enough of a motive for murder.
Megan goes to talk to Chief Clearwater and his attorney, Thomas Morris. She tells them about the murder and a bit of what she was working on. She asks them about grave robbers and the black market trade surrounding artefacts and if they can help her by pointing any robbers or sellers out.
Charlie and Larry are working in Charlie’s office when Amita walks in. She is overwhelmed because she had to take on one of her professor’s classes. His notes are a mess much like Charlie and Larry’s offices. This leads them to talk about Alan’s holding onto Margaret’s things.
Megan and David talk to an antiquities dealer who could lead them to the person that owned he skull. Don speaks with an anthropologist about the skull. She uses a program to reconstruct what the person could have looked like. The skull predates the local Native American tribe that has claim there and has characteristics of European ancestry. David ran the names that the dealer gave them and Hill was among them. Megan meets with him. Hill took the skull from the construction site where it had been found so he could have it tested properly even after they were going to give it to the local tribe. He gave it to Abernathy to do the work.
Charlie is snacking at the FBI waiting to talk to Don about Alan. Megan joins them. There was a court case about testing the skull where Hill lost. Charlie points out that nobody can know who the skull is from unless they test it. If it proved to not be from the local tribe then it could open them up to law suits about things like land claims and gaming rights, thus destroying the tribe.
It’s Larry’s dinner party. Larry brings out a canister of liquid nitrogen and the ingredients to make ice cream. They talk about the case. Alan offers to do the dishes and Don takes the opportunity to help him to talk about Margaret’s things. He gets very defensive again and leaves.
Megan interrogates Chief Clearwater. He gets a call – somebody broke into his house. David is on the scene and tells Megan (who just arrived) that it was Hill. He was looking for the tribal records and attacked the chief’s wife. Morris threatens to take matters into his own hands if the FBI can’t do their job properly. The core team tries to figure out where he’s going. He’s looking for the skull or who took it. Megan takes Hill’s notes to Charlie and Larry for help. Megan goes to Morris for more information to help Charlie and Larry with their equations. He refuses. Charlie sees that there are too many locations that Hill could be at, but also that what Hill is doing is all but impossible. It’s a once in a lifetime find regardless of what you do. Don thinks that he may have gone back to the construction site to find more bones. Don and Megan meet David at the site. Hill is desperately working. They arrest him. They can charge him on assault and theft, but not Abernathy’s murder. David has been looking at the tribal records they got off of Hill. Lopez, the night watchman from the museum, is on a list of dis-enrolled members. Don and Megan go and talk to him. He admits to letting the murderer into the museum in exchange for getting his mother’s name back on the tribal roll. Megan and David walk into Chief Clearwater’s office where he and Morris are having a meeting. They tell them that Hill was found as well as Abernathy’s murderer. The chief was the one to kill her. Morris is flabbergasted. Chief Clearwater was tired of everything with the tribe being run like a corporation as it had been since their casino was built. He buried the skull to put it to rest. He is arrested.
Charlie and Larry muse over the skull and the person that it belonged to. At the Eppes’ house Don and Charlie are helping Alan load the boxes into his car. He’s ready to give the items away by himself.
- The same basic title ("Bone of Contention") was used for the "movie within the series" on Bones S07E12.
- Jane Carr and Judd Hirsch both starred in the TV show "Dear John."
- Graham Greene and Rob Morrow were in the series Northern Exposure together.
- Between 14:30 and 14:50 there is a plane change, where three darts in dartboard changes their position.
- (at around 4 mins) As Don is pulling evidence out of the evidence bag there is a model car in front of him with the rear, or "rumble", seat open or raised. It varies between open and closed in subsequent shots.
- The darts Charlie had thrown at the dartboard change position after Amita walks into the room.
[This appears on the beginning of the episode] 18 Million Native Americans, 1492, 350,000 Native Americans, 1900, 206 Human Bones, 2 Truths