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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2010 Jan;141(1):83-96. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21117.

Trophy-taking and dismemberment as warfare strategies in prehistoric central California.

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Department of Anthropology, Southern Connecticut State University, CT, USA.


We document evidence for trophy-taking and dismemberment with a new bioarchaeological database featuring 13,453 individuals from prehistoric central California sites. Our study reveals 76 individuals with perimortem removal of body parts consistent with trophy-taking or dismemberment; nine of these individuals display multiple types of trophy-taking and dismemberment for a total of 87 cases. Cases span almost 5,000 years, from the Early Period (3000-500 BC) to the Late Period (AD 900-1700). Collectively, these individuals share traits that distinguish them from the rest of the population: a high frequency of young adult males, an increased frequency of associated trauma, and a tendency towards multiple burials and haphazard burial positions. Eight examples of human bone artifacts were also found that appear related to trophy-taking. These characteristics suggest that trophy-taking and dismemberment were an important part of the warfare practices of central Californian tribes. Temporally, the two practices soared in the Early/Middle Transition Period (500-200 BC), which may have reflected a more complex sociopolitical system that encouraged the use of trophies for status acquisition, as well as the migration of outside groups that resulted in intensified conflict. Overall, trophy-taking and dismemberment appear to have been the product of the social geography of prehistoric central California, where culturally differentiated tribes lived in close proximity to their enemies.

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