Archaeological discoveries

France returns 24 Algerian insurgent skulls to Algiers

Last updated:2022-07-25

Claimed by Algiers, France was to return 36 skulls of Algerian insurgents killed in the 19th century, during colonization and kept at the Musée de l'Homme. So far, she has handed over 24.

Prehistoric and historical skulls preserved in the anthropological collections of the Musée de l'Homme, in Paris.

Update July 3, 2020: France handed over to Algeria 24 skulls of Algerian resistance fighters - including that of Sheikh Bouziane - killed in 1849. It is possible to see here a desire for appeasement in relations between Paris and Algiers while Algeria is going celebrate on July 5, 2020 the 58th anniversary of its independence.

A new stone in the garden of the great French museums. After his recent speech in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and his favorable opinion on the restitution of African heritage objects, making it a priority for his five-year term, Emmanuel Macron again distinguished himself from his predecessors during his press conference in Algiers on Wednesday December 6, 2017. He indeed announced that he had "acceded to a request repeatedly reiterated by the Algerian public authorities, to have the restitution of the skulls of the Algerian martyrs ". The President of the Republic clarified:“I have made the decision to proceed with this restitution and the text of the law necessary to do so will be taken ". A new episode which confirms the radical change of position of the French State on the very old problem of restitutions - including of human remains - the major French and European institutions generally relying to contest them on “the legal principles of inalienability and imprescriptibility of public collections .

Algerian resistance fighters killed by the French expeditionary force

This declaration from Algiers follows several requests from French and Algerian academics after the discovery in 2011 by the Algerian historian Ali Farid Belkadi of mortuary remains stored in collections at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris. These skulls are those of Algerian resistance fighters killed in 1849 by the French expeditionary force, in southern Constantine, during the siege of the oasis of Zaâtcha, near Biskra.

Restitutions of this order have already taken place in the past, but they have never been voluntary, the authorities and the scientific world having often opposed them. Thus, in 2012, it was following a long legal battle that France was forced to return mummified Maori heads to the national museum "Te Papa from Wellington, New Zealand. And in 2002, the remains of Saartjie Baartman, known as "Vénus Hottentote" had been solemnly returned to South Africa, after the vote of a special law for its restitution - Law n° 2002-323 of March 6, 2002. Algiers, the French President also continued his speech by insisting "that reciprocal gestures be made which allow us to look back on a past which for too long has not passed".