Is that shrunken head really human? Combining imaging methods yields clues

Bir <em>tsantsa</em>3D rendered image of a micro CT scan of the shin or shrunken head.”/><figcaption class=

Enlarge / 3D rendered image of a micro CT scan tsansaor shrunken head.

Andrew Nelson, CC-BY 4.0

We rarely have time to write about every great science story that comes our way. That’s why, this year, we’re releasing a special Twelve Days of Christmas post series every day from December 25th to January 5th, featuring an overlooked science story in 2020. verify if there are any shrunken heads (if they’re lucky) are real in museum collections.

In Tim Burton’s 1993 animated film nightmare before christmas, there is the scene where a little boy receives a shrunken head as a Christmas present from Jack Skellington. He doesn’t get along well with the child or his family. But there was a time in the early 20th century when these spooky objects were in such great demand by Western collectors that it triggered a lucrative market for counterfeit items. Many museums around the world count shrunken heads (known as these). if they’re lucky by the Shuar people), but how can curators determine whether these items are genuine? According to an article published in the journal PLoS One in August, some advanced imaging methods can help.

The practice of head hunting and making shrunken heads has been documented mostly in the northwestern parts of the Amazon rainforest, as well as in some tribes such as the Shuar in Ecuador and Peru. Accounts conflict regarding specific details of the manufacturing process. But if they’re lucky typically created by removing skin and flesh from the skull of the skull through an incision behind the ear, and then discarding the skull. The nostrils were filled with red seeds and the lips were pricked. The skin was then boiled for 15 minutes to two hours in water saturated with tannin-rich herbs so that the oil and grease would float upward. This caused the skin to contract and thicken. The head was then dried with hot stones and turned back into something resembling human features, and eyes were stitched up. As a final touch, the leather was rubbed with charcoal ash, and sometimes beads, feathers, or other embellishments were added for decoration, apparently to keep the vengeful spirit from escaping.

traditionally completed. tsantas According to the authors of the August newspaper, it was displayed on poles inside homes that were unworn, contrary to what one might read in current anthropological literature. Shrunken heads were a popular collector’s item among Victorian monks, Europeans, and American explorers who were eager to bring back exotic items for their private collections. Eventually, a commercial market developed as the practice became more widely known after 1860. if they’re lucky They were usually made from animal skins (usually pigs, monkeys or sloths), although some were made of human heads collected from corpses in morgues. Manufacturers nevertheless claimed that their goods were genuine.

Lauren Eylul Poeta and co-authors of the Western University in London, Ontario, if they’re lucky It is of commercial origin, now held in collections around the world, and there are few reliable methods by which to determine its true origins. Curators often relied on visual inspections or CT scans for authentication. But the Poet take meat. Note that four key features are poorly resolved using standard CT scanning: suture, eye anatomy, ear anatomy, and scalp anatomy. So they decided to combine CT scanning with high-resolution micro CT scanning (an approach known as correlated tomography) to see if they could improve the resolution of these features.

The team used a tsansa It was purchased from the collection of the Chatham-Kent Museum in Chatham, Ontario from a local family who purchased it by the museum in the 1940s while exploring the Amazon basin. The only note of origin was that it came from “Peruvian Indians” and there was no conclusive evidence that Chatham was. tsansa It was a real article. Using a machine at the Archaeological Museum of Ontario, the researchers performed a clinical CT scan of the entire object and two micro-CT scans, one of which is a high-resolution scan of the entire head and the other of part of the scalp.

Poeta and colleagues, Chatham’s tsansa It is made from real human remains, although it cannot be determined whether it was made for ceremonial or commercial purposes. The use of rough cut and double concealment on the back of the skull is consistent with the previous one, but modern thread was used to sew the cut, eyes and lips, suggesting commercial production. “In fact, defining the distinction between ceremonial and commercial production may be more difficult than is commonly believed; if they’re lucky It probably exists on a spectrum rather than a/or dilemma,” the authors wrote.

More can be learned by subjecting if they’re lucky known source of correlated tomography imaging. The authors concluded that while traditional CT scanning remains useful for recreating a basic visualization of these fascinating artifacts – allowing researchers to examine them closely without risking harm from processing them over and over – micro CT scanning can identify whether a particular object is present. if they’re lucky It is made of human materials and provides higher resolution details for certain features.

DOI: PLoS ONE, 2022. 10.1371/journal.pone.0270305 (about DOIs).

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