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Trophy Heads or Ancestor Veneration? A Stable Isotope Perspective on Disassociated and Modified Crania in Precontact Central California

  • Jelmer W. Eerkens (a1), Eric J. Bartelink (a2), Laura Brink (a1), Richard T. Fitzgerald (a3), Ramona Garibay (a4), Gina A. Jorgenson (a5) and Randy S. Wiberg (a6)...

Few items in the archaeological record capture the imagination more than human heads separated from their bodies. Such items are sometimes assumed to indicate warfare practices, where “trophy heads” display power and fighting prowess. Other times, they are interpreted as representing ancestor veneration. Isolated crania are not uncommon in the Early period (ca. 4500–2500 B.P.) in Central California. Some anthropologists interpret them as trophy heads, but isotopie analyses at CA-CCO-548 suggest an alternative interpretation. Strontium isotope analyses on one modified cranium produced values consistent with local individuals, and both headless burials and people buried with extra skulls overlap in carbon and nitrogen isotopes. Further, teeth from two individuals who were buried with extra skulls suggest both were weaned at early ages (before age 2), much earlier than other individuals at the site. Together with contextual information, we argue that the isotopie data are more consistent with the hypothesis that extra skulls and headless burials represent ancestor veneration rather than trophies, shedding new light on Early-period societies in Central California.

Existen pocos elementos en el registro arqueológico que capturen la imaginación tanto como lo hacen las cabezas humanas separadas de sus cuerpos. En algunos casos, se asume que estos elementos indican antiguas prácticas de guerra donde las “cabezas trofeo” fueron utilizadas para demostrar el poder y la destreza en la lucha. En otros, éstas han sido interpretadas como una representación de la veneración a los ancestros. Los métodos isotópicos proveen una línea de evidencia independiente que puede ayudar a los arqueólogos a entender tales hallazgos. Los cráneos aislados no son infrecuentes en California Central en el Período Temprano (ca. 4500–2500 a.P.) y han sido interpretados por algunos antropólogos como cabezas trofeo. Nuestros análisis isotópicos en CA-CCO-548 sugieren una interpretación alternativa. Los análisis de isótopos de estroncio sobre uno de los cráneos modificados produjeron valores consistentes con individuos locales y ambos, enterratorios sin cabezas y gente enterrada con cráneos extra, se superponen en los isótopos de carbono y nitrógeno. Además, los dientes de dos individuos que fueron enterrados con cráneos extra sugieren que ambos fueron destetados a edades tempranas (antes de los 2 años), mucho antes que otros individuos en ese sitio. Nosotros argumentamos que los datos isotópicos, junto con la información contextual, son más consistentes con la hipótesis que los cráneos extra y enterratorios sin cabezas representan la veneración a los ancestros más que los trofeos, lo cual arroja nueva luz sobre las sociedades del Período Temprano en California Central.

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American Antiquity
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