The Bodily Expression of Ethnic Identity: Head Shaping in the Chilean Atacama


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:
The Bodily Expression of Ethnic Identity: Head Shaping in the Chilean Atacama

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At birth, parents in many cultures bind the heads of infants to impart a permanent and socially meaningful marker of their child's individual identity. This chapter presents an analysis of crania from cemeteries in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (AD 500–1500) when Atacameños interacted with foreign powers and local exchange partners, and witnessed substantial demographic shifts. One way they acted on and reacted to these changes was the culturally proscribed and permanent alteration of head shape. Results suggest that earlier-phase individuals used modification to affiliate with foreign powers. In contrast, individuals from a later period of social and economic upheaval demonstrate that head shaping was used to consolidate group identity. The reshaping of the head is a long and intimate process, and its presence in this group reflects social stability and the physical manifestation of long-lasting social identities.

Keywords: San Pedro; Chile; cranial modification; ethnic identity

Chapter.  5287 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Prehistoric Archaeology

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