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Bioarchaeology and Identity in the Americas$
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Kelly J. Knudson and Christopher M. Stojanowski

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780813036786

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813036786.001.0001

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Cranial Modification among the Maya: Absence of Evidence or Evidence of Absence?

Cranial Modification among the Maya: Absence of Evidence or Evidence of Absence?

(p.177) 8 Cranial Modification among the Maya: Absence of Evidence or Evidence of Absence?
Bioarchaeology and Identity in the Americas



University Press of Florida

Cranial modification is considered a visible and permanent emblem of community identity and embodiment. In the Maya area, head binding is viewed as a normal rite of passage for children; however, the frequency of cranial modification in the archaeological record ranges from 50% to 88% of observable skeletal samples. Are individuals without cranial modification somehow less than fully embodied? This chapter argues that absence of cranial modification does not reflect a lack of embodiment. Specifically, data on Maya souls and child-rearing ceremonies demonstrate that children could potentially lose animating essences through their heads. This is not to say that variation in head shape was not intentionally created or was not a potentially meaningful social index in some Maya contexts; it was. Head binding, however, was first and foremost an attempt to prevent such loss and did not necessarily have to result in a modified head shape to accomplish that goal.

Keywords:   Maya, cranial modification, embodiment, soul

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