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Keywords:

  • Ritual;
  • Andes;
  • Huari;
  • Body Mutilation;
  • Violence

Abstract

Human trophy heads from the Wari site of Conchopata (AD 600–1000) are examined to evaluate if recently deceased persons or old corpses were used to make trophy heads and determine if the modifications are standardized. Similarly styled trophy heads may suggest state oversight that ensured uniform modifications, while different styles may suggest that various factions or kin groups prepared them to their own specifications. Other studies often interpret trophy heads as either enemies or ancestors; so, this study addresses that debate by documenting aspects of their identity as revealed through demographic, paleopathological, and trauma data. Results show that “fresh” bodies, not old corpses, were used to make trophies, as evidenced by cutmarks indicating intentional removal of soft tissues. Trophy heads are remarkably standardized; 89% display a hole on the superior of the cranium, apparently a design feature that displays the trophy head upright and facing forward when suspended by a cord. Of the 31 trophy heads, 24 are adolescents/adults and 7 are children, and of the 17 sexed adults, 15 are male and 2 are female. This suggests that adult men and children were favored as trophies. Among 19 observable adult trophy heads, 42% exhibit cranial trauma, suggesting that violence was common among this group. Complementary data on Wari iconography shows warriors wearing trophy heads and Wari deities holding captives and trophy heads. Thus, it is likely that captives (or just their heads) were taken in battles and raids—either secular or ritual—and eventually transformed into trophy heads. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.