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Keywords:

  • bioarchaeology;
  • violence;
  • cutmarks;
  • Native American;
  • trauma

Abstract

We document evidence for trophy-taking and dismemberment with a new bioarchaeological database featuring 13,453 individuals from prehistoric central California sites. Our study reveals 76 individuals with perimortem removal of body parts consistent with trophy-taking or dismemberment; nine of these individuals display multiple types of trophy-taking and dismemberment for a total of 87 cases. Cases span almost 5,000 years, from the Early Period (3000–500 BC) to the Late Period (AD 900–1700). Collectively, these individuals share traits that distinguish them from the rest of the population: a high frequency of young adult males, an increased frequency of associated trauma, and a tendency towards multiple burials and haphazard burial positions. Eight examples of human bone artifacts were also found that appear related to trophy-taking. These characteristics suggest that trophy-taking and dismemberment were an important part of the warfare practices of central Californian tribes. Temporally, the two practices soared in the Early/Middle Transition Period (500–200 BC), which may have reflected a more complex sociopolitical system that encouraged the use of trophies for status acquisition, as well as the migration of outside groups that resulted in intensified conflict. Overall, trophy-taking and dismemberment appear to have been the product of the social geography of prehistoric central California, where culturally differentiated tribes lived in close proximity to their enemies. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.