The practice of displaying human remains as trophies is one that has been present in the Americas since the Archaic period. There are multiple forms of trophy collection, including headhunting and scalping. Any part of the body can be used in trophy collection; it is not limited to the skull. This practice includes fingers, skins, feet and other body parts that may not appear in the archaeological record. Headhunting is defined as the obtaining of a head as an act of warfare or ritual with the intent to display the remains in part (without skin) or whole (with skin). The present thesis examines the practice of collecting human remains for display as trophies. Specifically, I investigate the display of severed curated body parts obtained from individuals. There is a focus on the display of skulls, in which the scalp was intentionally removed before being displayed. Cultures such as the Maya used the collection of skulls to demonstrate dominance over other groups in the area. They performed small raids to obtain captives who were then sacrificed for various ritual ceremonies. The act of scalping and the collection of shrunken heads in Central and South America is also examined. This study examines why cultures collected human remains and how they treated them by looking at the archaeological record as well as ethnographic sources. I also consider how warfare led to the rise of complex societies and the role trophy collection had in this process.


Kardulias, P. Nicholas




Archaeological Anthropology


head hunting, scalping, archaeology, south america, central america, skull

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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