The Asmat are an ethnic group living in Papua, New Guinea. These areas of New Guinea are remote and dangerous and the Asmat were a relatively unknown group until the mid-1900s. The Asmat are headhunters and cannibals. In 1770, Captain James Cook and his crew encountered a group of Asmat warriors and immediately fled to their boats and safety. In November 1961, explorer Michael C. Rockefeller, son of Nelson A. Rockefeller, disappeared in Asmat territory while on an art collecting expedition. His fate remained a mystery until author Carl Hoffman in his book Savage Harvest presented evidence that Rockefeller was killed and eaten by the Asmat.
Asmat skulls are typically decorative “Ancestor” skulls, removed from the heads of family members upon their death. The skull is scorched over flames, cleaned, and decorated with beads, shells, feathers, and occasionally paint.
Bipanes (nose decorations made from shell, wood, or bone) are added and often feather headdresses and other ornamental additions are made. These skulls are placed in special areas of the village to honor the lives of loved ones who have traveled to the spirit world.