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What a pretty skull?

Posted on July 14 2018

What a pretty skull?
As previously discussed in our last post about taxidermy bats for sale, I explained how in our infancy a host of creepy antiques and most unusual oddities came our way quite often, and we were not 100% on the rights and wrongs of the industry, luckily I always have the consideration to step back and question the "too good to be true" aspect when it came to sourcing such interesting artefacts. 

I remember receiving an email with pictures of the most incredible looking skull I had ever seen. This skull was not like your normal run of the mill, it has beads, feathers, stones, decorated to the finest degree. I started researching these skulls and learned that day, this was not the only skull of its kind, this was a Dayak skull.

 So, here is a little backstory on the Dayak and Asmat skulls.


The people known as "Dayaks" were Aboriginal people from Borneo Island. They were habitual headhunters who would take and then preserve the skulls of their victims. The Dayak's believed that the head of their victim contained a certain “life force” and that this power could be harnessed to help the head hunter's village. 

These heads provided the villagers with protection, and amongst many other things would show that the taker of the head was a strong and brave man, thus increasing his status in the village and his potential to marry well. 


An Asmat skull is completely different from a Dayak skull. The Asmat tribes were from Indonesia and collected and worshipped the skulls of their deceased loved ones, their tribe members. Feathers, carved seashell rings, seeds and the deceased's hair, were often used to decorate these beautiful and special pieces. These ornamental human skulls were long looked after and treasured by the tribe and family members. Recently Australia returned a number of authentic Asmat skulls to where they originated in the Papua region of Indonesia, showing the importance the skulls remain to have for the Asmat people.


These days the "trophy skulls" are often added to prestigious oddities and antique collections, they are often a coveted piece, however, more often than not, the 'Dayak" skulls you see for sale are quite simply put, fakes.

When I say fakes, I do not mean resin or plastic, this is much darker than that, these skulls are grave robbed and then very carefully changed into a piece which resembles the highly sought after Dayak and Asmat skulls using techniques to change the patina and age the skull and then add the embellishments and so forth until the desired effect is achieved.

The fake skulls are still few and far between, and in our line of work, we know how to spot them and avoid, like the plague! How do YOU spot on a fake Dayak skull from an original piece? Honestly, it can be quite tricky, and often you would need a specialist, someone who had dealt with the real thing and fakes to be able to decipher the real from the not so real, however we have compiled a small list for pointers when it comes to sourcing a true Dayak skull for your collection.


  • Go through reputable sources, do your homework and make sure the person you are buying from purchased the piece fairly, ask for some background on the piece, provenance as to where did the seller got the skull, who did they buy it from....if the seller can vouch for its selling history IE: "it was bought from the personal collection of Professor X...." then you are most likely on to an authentic piece.  
  • Never purchase a skull from someone desperate to get rid of it, major alarm bells! 
  • If the seller has many of the skulls and is not a reputable collector, it is probably a fake. 
  • Dayak skulls were usually decorated in a similar style to the next, do some research on a true headhunted or trophy skull.
  • These skulls were carved into not cut, if the skull is cut into, it screams fake! 
  • if it is too cheap to be true...... well, you can make your mind up from there.
  • If you receive an email out of the blue from someone you don't know, its fake.
  • ideally, never purchase an item like this online, through social media. A true collector's piece outside reputable sources, like ourselves, should always be purchased in person. 

 Dayak, Asmat and Korwar skulls usually follow the same guidelines. A Dayak skull is often an intricately carved piece, the Asmat a skull with embellishments and the Korwar a piece almost like a totem, with the skull placed at the top of an engraved altar, the Korwar are another ancestory piece, not a headhunted.  

We hope that little bit of information helps guide you when making a purchase, we source authentic antique and art pieces for clients worldwide, so please email us if you would like to go through Decorus Macabre to make your purchase. 


1 comment

  • Rob Hudson: July 15, 2019

    That photo is one skull from the Palmer-Hudson Collection…..good to see it.
    Rob Hudson
    Curator of The Palmer -Hudson Collection

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