The mystery of why ancient South American peoples who created the mysterious Nazca Lines also collected human heads as trophies has long puzzled scholars who theorize the heads may have been used in fertility rites, taken from enemies in battle or associated with ancestor veneration.A recent study using specimens from Chicago’s Field Museum throws new light on the matter by establishing that trophy heads came from people who lived in the same place and were part of the same culture as those who collected them. These people lived 2,000 to 1,500 years ago.Archaeologists determined that the severed headswere trophies because holes were made in the skulls allowing the heads to be suspended from woven cords.
A debate has been raging for the past 100 years over their meaning.
in the Field collection were gathered from the Nazca Drainage of the
arid southern Peruvian coast 80 years ago by noted American
anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber (1876-1960). He also collected
remains of some people buried normally. In some cases, the trophy heads
were buried with their collectors.
Because Nazca is among the
driest places on Earth, said Ryan Williams, a Field Museum curator, the
specimens Kroeber collected were very well preserved. The dead bodies
were naturally mummified and some trophy heads still had their hair as
well as the display cords attached to the skull. The museum also has
several examples of Nazca pottery illustrated with trophyheads; some
of the pots are on display in the museum’s Ancient Americas exhibition.
“Illustrations on some pots
depict warriors and trophy heads,” said Williams. “But there are also
scenes that link trophy heads to agricultural fertility. Mythical
creatures depicted on some pots carry trophy heads as well.”
Researchers speculated that
if trophy heads were spoils of war, they likely would have come from
people who lived somewhere beyond the Nazca area. To test this notion,
scientists took samples of tooth enamel from 16 trophy heads in the
Field collection and 13 mummified bodies buried in the Nazca region.
The results clearly show that donors of the trophy heads were from the
same place as the people who kept the trophies, Williams said. This
conclusion was based on research using modern technology to look for
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