Auctioneers Vanderkindere have decided to cancel the planned auction of three 19th century human skulls that originated in Congo. The firm has now issued an apology, while there are growing calls for the sale of human remains to be banned by law.
The auction was planned to take place in Brussels using the international website of auctioneers Drouot. The skulls were to be auctioned between lots consisting of paintings, jewellery, fur coats, furniture and other antiques, but courted widespread criticism.

Auctioneers Vanderkindere have now apologised for the planned sale of the Congolese skulls that are linked to the Belgian colonisation of Central Africa.

"We in no way support the suffering and humiliation that people were subjected to during the colonial period" they said in a statement.

The photo of the skulls and accompanying information have been removed from the website. One of the skulls features a text in French signed by Louis Laurent, a Belgian doctor who worked for military operations in Congo. He explains he removed the skull from a tree in the village of "Bombia", where human sacrifices had been laid in 1894.

Comment: Other travellers of the time reported seeing such sacrifices.

A second skull was described as belonging to a cannibal from Bangala, while the third was said to possess a forehead jewel and belong to an Arab chief named Munie Mohara.

It was the French magazine Paris Match that brought the planned auction to greater public attention.

The auctioneers are not divulging who owns the skulls but had estimated they could fetch up to 1,000 euros.

Researcher Nadia Nsayi says the sale of human skulls is unacceptable: "In July Belgium adopted legislation allowing the return to Congo of stolen works of art. The announced sale of Congolese skulls shows that Belgium needs a legal framework allowing the return of human remains, brought to Belgium as booty by colonials, to their families and communities in the former colonies".