Volume 48, Issue 3 (May 2003)
Mummified Trophy Heads from Peru: Diagnostic Features and Medicolegal Significance
Several forms of mummified human trophy heads were produced by prehistoric and historic native groups in South America. This paper describes the diagnostic features of trophy heads produced by the Nasca culture of ancient Peru. A growing interest in these mummified heads among collectors of Pre-Columbian art and antiquities has led to their illegal exportation from Peru, in violation of national and international antiquities laws. Requests from the Peruvian government to protect its cultural patrimony led the United States in 1997 to declare these heads as items subject to U.S. import restriction, along with six other categories of human remains. Despite such restrictions, Nasca trophy heads continue to reach private collectors outside of Peru and thus may be encountered by local, state, or federal law enforcement officials unfamiliar with their characteristic features and origin. The objective of this paper is to describe the features that allow Nasca trophy heads to be identified and distinguished from other archaeological and forensic specimens that may be submitted to a forensic anthropologist for identification.