Marquesan Trophy Skulls

Frédérique Valentin and Noémie Rolland

in The Bioarchaeology of the Human Head

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780813035567
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813041766 | DOI:
Marquesan Trophy Skulls

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The motivation behind the collection and decoration of skulls deriving from ancestors and enemies in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia changed following European contact in the eighteenth century. Based on a review of documents, illustrations and artifacts, this chapter determines that skulls—once curated for their soul essence after decomposition of the bodies of relatives and chiefs and worn as trophies by victorious warriors—became “made to order” curios for an expanding European market. These skulls, collected almost exclusively from the island of Nuku Hiva by nineteenth-century European explorers and mariners, are described as deriving from war enemies caught outside the community; they also have archaeological referents recovered from domestic as well as burial sites. This work is central to the question of whose skulls were collected and why and help to inform our understanding of past cultural practices.

Keywords: ancestors; Marquesas Islands; French Polynesia; trophy skulls; decorated skulls

Chapter.  7943 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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