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Recently identified features that help to distinguish ceremonial tsantsa from commercial shrunken heads

Houlton, TMR and Wilkinson, C (2016) Recently identified features that help to distinguish ceremonial tsantsa from commercial shrunken heads. Journal of Cultural Heritage. ISSN 1296-2074

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This is an anthropological investigation into a collection of 65 shrunken human heads, to determine if new characteristics can be identified to facilitate the differentiation between ceremonial tsantsa and commercial shrunken heads. Ceremonial tsantsa refers to shrunken heads mummified as war trophies within the ancient traditions and rituals of the Amazonian Shuar, Achuar, Awajún/Aguaruna, Wampís/Huambisa and Candoshi-Shapra (SAAWC). Commercial shrunken heads are comparatively modern objects constructed specifically for the collector market of the past. Low earning individuals in South and Middle America, outwith the SAAWC culture, who had access to corpses and appropriate medical or taxidermy provisions, produced these for trade purposes. These heads were made in abundance and do not present the same historical value or heritage as ceremonial tsantsa. The relevance of an accurate provenance for heads may directly impact museums, with regard to identifying the authenticity of a specimen and how they should handle any potential requests to return such artefacts to their cultural homes. Complying with current anthropological standards, a total of 6 ceremonial tsantsa and 36 commercial heads were identified. Greater confidence is prescribed to the assignment of commercial heads as their morphological appearance is at odds with the highly standardised presentation of ceremonial tsantsa. Many indicated that the processor had access to modern resources such as gloves and fine suturing equipment, which were not typically available to the SAAWC. Since traders sometimes closely replicating ceremonial tsantsa when shrinking and decorating heads for trade, limited certainty can be prescribed to this category. Minor deviations in ceremonial design resulted in 23 heads being defined as ambiguous in origin. Each head was examined by manual inspection, infrared reflectography (IRR), CT and microscopic hair analysis, with ten new differentiating characteristics identified. © 2016.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Embargo requested: Not known
Uncontrolled Keywords: 2101 Archaeology, 2102 Curatorial And Related Studies, 2103 Historical Studies
Subjects: C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CB History of civilization
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Art & Design
Publisher: Elsevier
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2016 10:28
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2021 13:01
DOI or ID number: 10.1016/j.culher.2016.01.009
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/3436
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