Heads that Speak: Dividuals and Trophies from the Eastern Woodlands Archaic

Author(s): Amber Osterholt; Christopher Schmidt

Year: 2016


The removal of human body parts after death is a diverse practice with many cross-cultural nuances. Trophy taking is just one means of body part removal. Among the hunter-gatherers of the late Middle and Late Archaic (6,500 - 2,600 B.P.) of the US Eastern Woodlands, heads were common trophies, though any body part could be taken. A survey of over 20 sites shows that post-cranial trophies were often handled and kept for long periods of time. Trophy heads however, were utilized for a short time before being disposed of, often as grave goods. While related to warfare practices during the Archaic Period, trophy taking is infrequent and not every individual killed was a trophy victim. This suggests that the taking of trophy heads in the Archaic Period is more particular than victims of warfare. The power and meaning of trophy heads are examined from a position that incorporates the partible body and notions of dividuality, which underscore the ways trophies retain the identity of the individual to whom they belonged. Thinking about trophies in this way contextualizes the meanings that trophies may have had during the Archaic Period and the ways they were used to traverse group and individual identity.

Cite this Record

Heads that Speak: Dividuals and Trophies from the Eastern Woodlands Archaic. Amber Osterholt, Christopher Schmidt. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403813)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -104.634; min lat: 36.739 ; max long: -80.64; max lat: 49.153 ;