Shrunken Heads

staticgirl

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#1
I can't find a thread on shrunken heads so apologies if there is one out there...

Shrunken Head DNA Proves Horrific Folklore True

A remarkably well-preserved shrunken head has just been authenticated by DNA analysis, which provides strong evidence that anecdotal accounts of violent head-hunting in South America were true.

The study, published in the latest issue of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, marks the first successful effort to unveil the genetic make-up of a shrunken head.

"The shrunken heads were made from enemies' heads cut on the battlefield," co-author Gila Kahila Bar-Gal told Discovery News. "Then, during spiritual ceremonies, enemies' heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy's spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge."

Kahila Bar-Gal is a senior lecturer in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also a faculty member within the university's department of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

For the study, she and her colleagues used DNA testing and other techniques to examine the authenticity and possible cultural provenance of a shrunken head displayed at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. The head remains in an incredible state of preservation, with the deceased man's hair, facial features and other physical characteristics intact.

Many shrunken heads are forgeries, with some 80 percent suspected to be fakes. The late 19th through the 20th centuries saw a rise in manufacture of such fakes for profit.

The shrunken head at the Israeli museum, however, turns out to be legit.

"The shrunken head we studied was made from a real human skin," Kahila Bar-Gal said. "The people who made it knew exactly how to peel the skin from the skull, including the hair," she added, mentioning that it was also salted and boiled.

The researchers determined that the skin belonged to a man who lived and died in South America "probably in the Afro-Ecuadorian population." The genes reveal the victim's ancestors were from West Africa, but his DNA profile matches that of modern populations from Ecuador with African admixture.

According to the scientists, he was probably a member of a group that fought the Jivaro-Shuar tribes of Ecuador. These tribes also lived in Peru during the post-Columbian period, and were thought to make ritual shrunken heads out of their enemies.

Although Kahila Bar-Gal said the DNA could not pinpoint the exact age of the shrunken head, the scientists estimate the individual was killed between 1600-1898 A.D. The early date marks the entry of Africans into the region, while the latter date was when the last major nomadic populations of hunters and gatherers in Ecuador were thought to have existed.

Accounts of what happened to shrunken heads after the post-battle spiritual ceremonies vary. There are accounts that the Jivaro-Shuar warriors kept the shrunken heads as "keepsakes or personal adornments," even wearing them at certain times. Leonard Clark, who traveled to the region in 1948, however, said that he saw a shrunken head, called a "tsantsa," used in a ceremony and then stuffed in an old earthenware pot that was placed in the thatched ceiling of the house.

"Robbed of its soul, the savagely beautiful trophy no longer had any spiritual value," Clark wrote in a 1953 account.

Chuck Greenblatt, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Hebrew University's Hadassah Medical School, told Discovery News that "the ancient DNA techniques employed by the authors are appropriate and I have no doubt as to the authenticity of their results."

Kahila Bar-Gal hopes other museums will consider having certain objects genetically tested, as the method can reveal authenticity and uncover important historical information that may not otherwise be available.
http://news.discovery.com/history/head- ... 10614.html
 

JamesWhitehead

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#2
I thought we had a shrunken-head thread but all I could find was this especially horrid one about war trophies - definitely not for the squeamish:

Necklaces of Ears and Other War Trophies.

I looked into the topic of shrunken head in Australasia, when I was writing about Hitchcock's Under Capricorn:

Under Capricorn, Underrated?

In fact, the trade in these smoke-blackened Maori tattooed heads called Mokomokai had been outlawed by Bourke's predecessor Governor Darling in April 1831. His proclamation was used against the middlemen in Sydney, which decreased the trade but also drove it underground. As late as 1837, on Kapiti Island, it was possible for traders to select a slave and have him killed to order. This hints at a solution to the mystery of Sam's wealth, the approach of the head-seller and Sam's violent reaction: he would be in danger of breaching the terms of his emancipation by continuing in the recently-forbidden trade.

Head-hunting does not appear to have been a part of Australian aboriginal culture but hideous accounts exist of the genocidal activities of military governors in Tasmania, where some 5,000 aboriginal inhabitants were hunted down and killed over a seventy year period in the so-called Black War. By 1869, just one, alcoholic native Tasmanian who went by the name of Killy Billy remained. "As a joke" he had been presented to the visiting Prince Albert at the Hobart Regatta. When Billy died, a surgeon from the Royal College of Tasmania "entered the dead house, skinned his head and removed the skull, substituting another. Under his coffin draped with Union Jacks and a possum skin, his face was a mound of blood."

My main source for the above seems to have been:

Christian Palmer & Mervyn L. Tano: Mokomokai: Commercialization & Desacralization, International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management Denver, Colorado, n. d.. but c 2001, viewed as online pdf document, July 2006
[/URL]

An html version is available free online here


Grim reading. :(
http://web.archive.org/web/20121011223554/http://www.btinternet.com/~j.b.w/under_capricorn.htm


06.11.2017. Dead Links changed to archived article and thread on trophy-hunting.
 
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escargot

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#4
Saw a TV programme about those t'other night. They were most,er, popular in Victorian times.
There's a short story by I think Roald Dahl where a bloke acquires one and is cursed somehow, and his head shrinks, and the shrunken head swells to normal size.

Twist: the shrunken head reveals itself to be
that of, not a fierce Polynesian warrior but a 14 year-old European-looking red haired freckled youth.
 
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EnolaGaia

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#5
This short Smithsonian video illustrates an anthropologist's project to emulate South American practices and shrink a head himself.

NOTE: Relax - he uses a pig's head ...


Here’s Exactly How Shrunken Heads Are Made
A scientist’s visit to a Shuar elder in Ecuador reveals the secrets of the ceremonial tradition of head shrinking. Now the scientist has set himself a gruesome goal to do it himself.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/vide...e-nature+(Science+&+Nature+|+Smithsonian.com)
 

Frideswide

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#8
They aren't very emsmallened?

(do we have a thread on the repatriation of human remains?)
 

EnolaGaia

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#10

EnolaGaia

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#12
I wonder if I can include being turned into a shrunken head in my will.
Trafficking in (real) shrunken heads is prohibited by law in many places. I can't find any general summary or overview of statutes pertaining to shrunken heads.

The process is not all that complicated, but it takes some days to perform and it involves defleshing the deceased's head. I suspect this last bit renders the practice vulnerable to all sorts of prohibitions.

On the other hand ... I suppose it's no more destructive than what would happen if the corpse were bequeathed to a medical school. This would suggest some variation on a medical / scientific donation procedure might make it feasible.
 

EnolaGaia

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EnolaGaia

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#14
The purpose of taking the heads as trophies and preparing them isn't just for the sake of having trophies. The heads are involved in a series of celebrations / rites intended to prevent the deceased's spirit from causing harm or exacting revenge. This series of events can last up to around a year.

Here's the part I found surprising ...

Once the ritual series is completed the heads are of no interest or relevance and may be given away or even discarded.

Upon returning from a raid and over the course of a year, the raiding party and the warrior who took the tsantsa will be celebrated through parties and feasts that last several days ...

After this celebration, the warrior's obligation to his deceased to exact revenge is fully satisfied.

It is here that the tsantsa, what was once a prized and magical possession, loses all of its value and significance. Once the feasts and celebrations are completed and the dead are appeased, the shrunken head becomes meaningless and may be discarded. In some cases, they become toys for children in the family, but more frequently after Europeans arrived in the area, they were used for currency in trade. It was demand for tsantsas among white settlers that led to an escalation of intertribal warfare and a counterfeit shrunken head trade.
SOURCE: https://people.howstuffworks.com/shrunken-head4.htm


Surprisingly, despite the amount of care and diligence that went into the preparation trophy and feasts, immediately following the final celebration, the heads were often discarded with relative indifference to the children or eventually lost in surrounding swamps.
SOURCE: http://www.stormfrontfilms.com/shrunken_heads.htm


After the head is done, the warriors and the rest of the tribe partake in more victory feasts, the last of which may happen up to a year after the battle it celebrates. Once these rituals are complete, the shrunken head has served its purpose for the warrior. Its significance was in the process of its creation, and not the final product. The tsantsa is usually then discarded in a river or in the jungle, or given to a child in the warrior’s family or village as a toy.
SOURCE: http://mentalfloss.com/article/33607/how-are-shrunken-heads-made


The process of producing the shrunken head ended with a celebration and a feast. Once these rituals were complete, the shrunken head had served its purpose for the warrior. Its significance was in the process of its creation, and not the final product.
https://www.ancient-origins.net/unexplained-phenomena/shrunken-heads-jivaro-001797
 

escargot

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#15
They aren't very emsmallened?
I am wrong and you are right; they are a collection of, er, heads rather than shrunken heads. That's what you get for looking at Reddit in bed straight out of the shower after a brawly 6-2 shift.

However, my post has woken up the old thread so it's not a total waste of time!
 
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