Friday, February 8, 2013

Shrunken Head, invader or missionary?

This interesting artifact is found in the Museum of World Treasures' Pre-Hispanic exhibit, Treasures from the Grave, and dates back to the Jivaro culture of Ecuador. Does it look impossibly small to be authentic, at only a few inches tall?

 The Jivaro tribe is most commonly connected to the practice of head shrinking. The Jivaro tribes had a long tradition of tribal warfare and revenge killing, even within closely-related groups. When the tribe killed an enemy, they took the head and shrunk it, therefore taking the spirit of the dead enemy as their own to help defend against sorcery, illness and death.

To shrink the head, they would first remove the scalp from the skull and then fill it with hot rocks or sand. While the stones cooled, the head shrunk to the smaller size of the rocks. The tribe would repeat this process, using smaller stones each time, to eventually shrink the head to the size you see in the Museum.

There are some interesting things about this shrunken head, including that he has no ear, nose or lip piercings. The head also has a full mustache and beard, which strong suggests this man was not native to South America.

With his short haircut, could he have been a European invader or missionary? Come visit the Pre-Hispanic gallery to make your own prediction...


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