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The Bioarchaeology of the Human HeadDecapitation, Decoration, and Deformation$
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Michelle Bonogofsky

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780813035567

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813035567.001.0001

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Getting a Head Start in Life

Getting a Head Start in Life

Pre-Columbian Maya Cranial Modification from Infancy to Ancestorhood

Chapter:
(p.241) 10 Getting a Head Start in Life
Source:
The Bioarchaeology of the Human Head
Author(s):

Pamela L. Geller

Publisher:
University Press of Florida
DOI:10.5744/florida/9780813035567.003.0010

The pre-Columbian Maya possessed a penchant for irreversible alteration of their bodies. This chapter takes a closer look at the ancient motivations behind and meanings encoded in cranial shaping. In the wake of conquest, Christianization and colonialism effectively eradicated this practice, and its social significance faded with time. Historical Western accounts and modern scientific inquiries have subsequently represented intentional cranial shaping as deforming or pathological. Using a life course approach informed by social theories about identity, this chapter argues that the Maya modified infant crania to instigate a process of becoming. Specifically, individuals' shaped heads may have marked a special, pre-ordained status connected to familial position and/or occupational activities. Cranial shaping among the Maya clearly occurred regardless of socialpolitical or economic position, based on the inclusion of shaped crania of both commoners and nobles who occupied house ruins and minor and major centers in the Three Rivers region of northwestern Belize.

Keywords:   cranial modification, pre-Columbian Maya, social Identity, habitual activity, socialization, hexis

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