Authentication of Museum-Curated Tsantsas Utilizing Next Generation Sequencing Technology


The Shuar, native to Northern Peru and Southern Ecuador, prepared shrunken heads to serve as trophies following battle, in response to their cultural beliefs. Authentic shrunken heads (tsantsas) were prepared in a precise manner and exhibit key morphological characteristics. Forgeries, including primates and inauthentic human preparations, were marketed to tourists and private collectors to profit from the "savage" image surrounding the Shuar. Inauthentic shrunken heads were prepared in a non-traditional manner; however, key morphological characteristics may be present highlighting the need for DNA analysis to provide further discrimination. Species identification was conducted to identify a head as human, sloth, or primate. Genetic markers were analyzed using next generation sequencing to determine the provenience of the shrunken heads, as a means of authentication, since forgeries are often European, while tsantsas are of South American ancestry. Maternally and paternally inherited DNA was also analyzed to determine the potential relatedness amongst authentic tsantsas, due to the taking of women following battle. This method of analysis can be applied more broadly in forensic science to cases involving the identification of human remains and the illegal sale of antiquities on the black market, threatening cultural preservation.

Cite this Record

Authentication of Museum-Curated Tsantsas Utilizing Next Generation Sequencing Technology. Courtney Mower, Anna Dhody, Kimberlee S. Moran, Shanan S. Tobe. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429101)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15534