I never realized there was doubt about the tales of vicious headhunting tribes in South America until I read this Discovery News item. Apparently, they’ve just gotten around to DNA-testing a well-preserved shrunken head to verify that yep, it’s real:
“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 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.
So. An Israeli veterinary professor has validated the Afro-Ecuadoran head preserved by the Shuar tribe.
That’s an interesting post-life story.
[via Archaeological News]