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Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

7 December 2006

Illegally imported Asmat skull returned to Indonesia

The Australian Government today formally returned to the Indonesian people an illegally imported Asmat skull seized in 2005, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, announced today.

Senator Campbell said the Asmat Skull was being returned under the Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

“The return of this important cultural item is an excellent example of the Australian Government helping protect important cultural heritage items from other countries,” Senator Campbell said.

“Australia and Indonesia are committed to working together to conserve and protect some of the world’s most important cultural heritage objects.

“The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service seized the decorated skull of the Asmat people from Papua in January 2005 when it was brought into Australia.

“This unique object has been painted with what appears to be ochre and displays a braided headband of feathers, a large ornament similar to boars’ tusks and other ornamentation including seeds and beads.”

Head hunting was a part of the culture of the Asmat people of Papua who preserved the skulls of ancestors. They collected and displayed the heads of enemies on elaborate carved poles as symbols of the victories of wars between tribes.

Senator Campbell thanked the National Museum of Australia which provided extensive assistance with its conservation and appropriate packing for transportation.

The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 regulates the export of cultural heritage objects from Australia.

The Act includes provisions that allow the Australian Government to respond to official requests from foreign governments to return a nation’s cultural heritage object that has been illegally exported.

Other cultural heritage objects seized through the Act include 10,000 Chinese fossil fuel pieces which were returned to the Chinese Government in September 2005 and Ancient Egyptian funerary artefacts, which were returned to the Egyptian Government in July 2005.

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