© ThinkStockA Northland school has discovered that a skeleton thought to have been plastic was actually real.
Teachers at a Northland school have made the macabre discovery that a skeleton thought to have been plastic was actually real.

The skeleton, made up of a skull and one side of the body, had been used as a teaching aide at Totara North School in Kaeo, the Northern Advocate reported.

Principal Bastienne Kruger was about to use it in a lesson showing how the human skeleton fitted together when she realised it was not plastic after all.

"When we realised it was real we wanted to do right by this poor person, but we didn't know how - so we phoned the hospital, and they suggested we bring it to the police."

Senior Sergeant Peter Robinson of Kerikeri police called in staff from the Historic Places Trust, who determined it was not a pre-European skeleton from New Zealand, but most likely from China or India.

The trust's Northland manager Stuart Park said the polished surfaces suggested the bones had been professionally prepared.

From examining the pelvis it was clearly male and from the fusion of skull bones, an adult.

Mr Park said the 19th and early 20th centuries saw a considerable trade in skeletons from India and China for medical education, making those countries the most likely origin of the bones.