Getting a Head Start in Life

Pamela L. Geller

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:
Getting a Head Start in Life

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  • Prehistoric Archaeology


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The pre-Columbian Maya possessed a penchant for irreversible alteration of their bodies. This chapter takes a closer look at the ancient motivations behind and meanings encoded in cranial shaping. In the wake of conquest, Christianization and colonialism effectively eradicated this practice, and its social significance faded with time. Historical Western accounts and modern scientific inquiries have subsequently represented intentional cranial shaping as deforming or pathological. Using a life course approach informed by social theories about identity, this chapter argues that the Maya modified infant crania to instigate a process of becoming. Specifically, individuals' shaped heads may have marked a special, pre-ordained status connected to familial position and/or occupational activities. Cranial shaping among the Maya clearly occurred regardless of socialpolitical or economic position, based on the inclusion of shaped crania of both commoners and nobles who occupied house ruins and minor and major centers in the Three Rivers region of northwestern Belize.

Keywords: cranial modification; pre-Columbian Maya; social Identity; habitual activity; socialization; hexis

Chapter.  6836 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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