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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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Marquesan Trophy Skulls

Marquesan Trophy Skulls

Description, Osteological Analyses, and Changing Motivations in the South Pacific

(p.97) 4 Marquesan Trophy Skulls
The Bioarchaeology of the Human Head

Frédérique Valentin

Noémie Rolland

University Press of Florida

The motivation behind the collection and decoration of skulls deriving from ancestors and enemies in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia changed following European contact in the eighteenth century. Based on a review of documents, illustrations and artifacts, this chapter determines that skulls—once curated for their soul essence after decomposition of the bodies of relatives and chiefs and worn as trophies by victorious warriors—became “made to order” curios for an expanding European market. These skulls, collected almost exclusively from the island of Nuku Hiva by nineteenth-century European explorers and mariners, are described as deriving from war enemies caught outside the community; they also have archaeological referents recovered from domestic as well as burial sites. This work is central to the question of whose skulls were collected and why and help to inform our understanding of past cultural practices.

Keywords:   ancestors, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, trophy skulls, decorated skulls

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