12 Dec 2006

Illegally imported Papua skull returned to Indonesia from Australia

11:19 am on 12 December 2006

A culturally significant skull from Papua that was smuggled into Australia last year has been formally returned to Indonesia.

Through its Quarantine service, the federal government seized the Asmat Skull in 2005 after it was illegally imported into the country.

Heritage minister Senator Ian Campbell said the skull was returned because the government was determined to protect important cultural heritage items from other countries.

Senator Campbell says the skull has been painted with what appears to be ochre and displays a braided headband of feathers, a large ornament similar to a boar's tusks and other ornamentation including seeds and beads.

The skull is a reminder of the head hunting practices of the Asmat people of Papua.

Headhunting was once a part of their culture, with the people collecting and displaying the heads of enemies on elaborate carved poles as symbols of the victories of wars between tribes.

The National Museum of Australia conserved and packed the skull for transportation.