Chapter

Cranial Modification among the Maya: Absence of Evidence or Evidence of Absence?

KELLY J. KNUDSON and CHRISTOPHER M. STOJANOWSKI

in Bioarchaeology and Identity in the Americas

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780813036786
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813041865 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/florida/9780813036786.003.0008
Cranial Modification among the Maya: Absence of Evidence or Evidence of Absence?

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Cranial modification is considered a visible and permanent emblem of community identity and embodiment. In the Maya area, head binding is viewed as a normal rite of passage for children; however, the frequency of cranial modification in the archaeological record ranges from 50% to 88% of observable skeletal samples. Are individuals without cranial modification somehow less than fully embodied? This chapter argues that absence of cranial modification does not reflect a lack of embodiment. Specifically, data on Maya souls and child-rearing ceremonies demonstrate that children could potentially lose animating essences through their heads. This is not to say that variation in head shape was not intentionally created or was not a potentially meaningful social index in some Maya contexts; it was. Head binding, however, was first and foremost an attempt to prevent such loss and did not necessarily have to result in a modified head shape to accomplish that goal.

Keywords: Maya; cranial modification; embodiment; soul

Chapter.  6606 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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