Researchers at Western University have confirmed that a tsantasa, or shrunken head, in the collection of the Chatham-Kent Museum is made of real human remains and is not a reproduction.
A release from Western said the research team, which included members of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, was able to verify the authenticity of Tsanta using CT and micro-CT scanning technology.
The verification was “an important step in the global effort toward eliminating and preserving and understanding indigenous history,” the release said.
“This novel scanning approach is an important first step in validating tsantas as the global community shifts its mindset toward indigenous-led repatriation of human remains, art and archaeological artifacts currently held in public and private collections around the world.”
The tsansa in the museum’s collection was donated to the organization by the local Sullman family in the 1940s, when it was purchased from “Peruvian Indians” in South America in the Amazon Basin, according to little information contained in the museum’s original accession record. , called release.
“We really didn’t know anything else about that shrunken head. For things that were assembled in the late 1800s, early 1900s, it’s not unusual at all,” Andrew Nelson, Western Department of Antropology and one of the co-authors of the research paper, published last week in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Travellers would buy these things, they would bring them home and then eventually they would donate them to museums. We really don’t know anything else about it. That was one of the goals of the project, what else can we learn?”
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According to the research paper, ethno-historical sources suggest that ceremonial Tsantes were made to become enemy head war trophies collected after the war and shrunk by the Shuar and Achuar peoples of Ecuador and northern Peru.
The newspaper states that the practice was an attempt to “implicate the avenging soul of the deceased and save the conqueror from spiritual vengeance”.
“By creating contentment, the soul becomes trapped inside the remains because the eyes and mouth are closed, so there can be no unintended effect on life by the power of the spirit. The tsantas were then displayed inside specific houses or on poles, and is not worn, as suggested in the existing anthropological literature.”
According to the paper, commercial production of tsants began soon after the Shuar and Achuar people began trading relations with European settlers and missionaries in the mid-1800s, who acquired the heads as pieces for their private collections. took.
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Santas are common in museums, although it has been a challenge to determine whether any were made from human remains for ceremonial purpose, or animal skins including pigs, monkeys and sloths, and the occasional plug of human hair for the commercial market. is made from. The paper says.
“It quickly became clear that there was a real market for these. So there were some that were just fake, they were being made from animal skins and things like that, and there were others that were, in fact, human. were,” Nelson says.
“There are rumors like this – none of this has really been demonstrated – but there were rumors that they would actually take the heads of people who died in the hospital and make shrunken heads out of them and then sell them with real shrunken heads. .
While researchers were able to determine whether the head at the Chatham-Kent Museum was made from human remains, whether it was the result of a ceremonial purpose or made for the commercial market, it is unclear.
The paper notes that the researchers identified traits suggesting both an authentic ceremonial preparation (“rough cut and double concealment at the back of the skull”) and commercial production (“back incision, the use of modern thread in eye stitching) . Lips.”)
“The final conclusion we come to in the article is that perhaps we need to reconsider this dire dichotomy between the formal and those built for the market,” Nelson says.
“(to) look at more of these and think, what is the extent of variability in terms of how these things are constructed… then you’re starting to talk about variability in cultural practice, and … of an anthropologist In form, that much more interesting.”
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Nelson says that a researcher in Ecuador, María Ordnez, working directly with Shuar in relation to Tsur’s study, is “exploring them … What are they interested in learning more about?” What is their indigenous perspective, what is their oral history about these things?”
“Really the next step is to work with Maria and Schurr to say, ‘What else do you want to know that we can help you with in terms of scanning? They said.
Nelson says they are also in talks with the Pitt River Museum in Oxford, England, which has 10 tsantas in its collection, six of them humans, which were acquired between 1884 and 1936, according to the museum’s website.
Nelson said that although the museum stopped exhibiting tsantas in 2020, the museum continues to conduct research and is working with Schur in determining culturally appropriate ways to show the heads to the public, Nelson said.
The researcher’s article can be read in full on the PLOS One website.
— Matthew Trevithick. with files of
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