The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Ear removal: Skeletal evidence for trophy taking in the prehistoric Mississippian Midwest


1Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 3Department of Anthropology, Indiana University at Bloomington, 4JPAC/CIL ORISE Fellow

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 3 Add to calendar

Trophy taking and ritualized violence during the Mississippian period, resulting in the removal of scalps, heads, hands, and forearms, has been well documented at Cahokia and peripheral sites. The authors present the first known skeletal evidence for ear removal in pre-European Illinois and Wisconsin. Two individuals, one from the East St. Louis site in Illinois and one from the Aztalan site in Wisconsin, show possible evidence of ear removal, as indicated by cut marks on the temporals near the external auditory meatus and on the mastoid process. The cut marks are too inferior to be associated with scalping styles found at Mississippian sites and do not resemble other modifications seen on individuals from these sites. The East St. Louis individual is an old adult female buried in a prone position while all the individuals interred nearby were supine. The Aztalan individual is represented by an isolated temporal bone recovered from the midden area at the site and is associated with other individuals that show a range of perimortem trauma. Neither individual shows signs of healing, indicating the ears were removed at or around the time of death. This poster highlights trophy ears as a formerly undocumented trophy taking practice amongst Midwestern Mississippians. This practice may have been more common than previously recognized, since the identification of cut marks indicative of ear removal is dependent upon the recovery of well-preserved crania, close inspection of remains, and skeletal evidence of an activity that could be easily performed without leaving a mark.