The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Survival and abandonment of indigenous head shaping practices in the Colonial Andes and Mesoamerica


Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán

Saturday 9:15-9:30, Galleria North Add to calendar

Cranial modification was a widely spread and deeply rooted practice in many parts of the pre-Columbian world, specifically in Mesoamerica and the Andes. The Hispanic conquerors soon suppressed this indigenous custom as part of their colonization strategy of forced assimilation of all non-European sectors. Subsequently, native head modeling was either abandoned altogether or was gradually replaced by alternative head practices. However, within the broader sphere of Hispanic America, specifically the Andes and Mesoamerica, this process did not progress uniformly but operated under divergent circumstances and in different time frames. Here we examine the cultural dynamics operating in the abandonment or replacement of native head practices in Hispanic America. Our study is founded on systematically collected (ethno)historical accounts on the Andes and Mesoamerica and published cranial data of 16 skeletal series from the regions’ colonial period. We conclude that the key to evaluate the colonizer´s reaction to artificial head modifications resides in their visual results, being much more obvious than other, less visible, native traditions and therefore more easily subjected to the pressure from the new dominant social sectors. This is especially true in the Andean cultural sphere with its strong and diverse vault modifications, which openly signaled the ethnic identity and social distinction of their human carriers. In Mesoamerica, where only tabular erect head shapes persisted at the time of contact, it was the Spaniards´ suppression of cradle board use itself that subdued head modification practices, first in the European urban centers and finally also in the native rural hinterlands

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