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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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The Social Lives of Severed Heads

The Social Lives of Severed Heads

Skull Collection and Display in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland

Chapter:
(p.122) 5 The Social Lives of Severed Heads
Source:
The Bioarchaeology of the Human Head
Author(s):

Barra O'Donnabhain

Publisher:
University Press of Florida
DOI:10.5744/florida/9780813035567.003.0005

This chapter on skulls from medieval Ireland integrates three lines of evidence—archaeology, literature and iconography—to show that the severing of heads and their collection and public display in centers of elite social and political power served to negotiate power and difference between competing groups beginning as early as the seventh century ad. This chapter argues that decapitation was used to symbolically transform insiders, as members of a group, into social outsiders through the removal and denigration of their heads and other body parts. This concept expanded with the rise of Christianity and the notion of purgatory, denying privileged status to both the body and the soul of the social outcast.

Keywords:   decapitation, insiders, social outcasts, Christianity, Medieval Ireland, social outsiders

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