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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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PRINTED FROM FLORIDA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.florida.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University Press of Florida, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in FLASO for personal use.date: 29 July 2021

Heads as Memorials and Status Symbols

Heads as Memorials and Status Symbols

The Collection and Use of Skulls in the Torres Strait Islands

(p.51) 2 Heads as Memorials and Status Symbols
The Bioarchaeology of the Human Head

Heather Bonney

Margaret Clegg

University Press of Florida

This chapter utilizes ethnographic reports and physical studies of skulls from the Torres Strait Islands to differentiate a decorated skull of a relative from a head collected as a trophy. Ethnographic accounts of mortuary and headhunting practices included skulls of relatives naturally defleshed using termite mounds, as well as heads of men, women and children severed from their bodies using bamboo knives. Heads of relatives were kept as memorials and used in divination. However, heads from neighboring islanders within the Torres Strait Islands were collected during raids as trophies and status symbols, then naturally or manually defleshed and used as objects of trade between the islands. Physical studies found that skulls reported as relatives and trophies were both painted and decorated, although there was no evidence for decapitation on any of the crania or mandibles examined (the vertebrae were not present). There was, however, evidence of termite activity—independently supporting reports of termites used as natural defleshers.

Keywords:   trophy skulls, ancestors, Torres Strait Islands, decorated skulls, memorials

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