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


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:
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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