Headhunting – the practice of removing the head of a corpse after killing its owner and then preserving it or at least the skull – is far more common throughout human history than one might suspect, occurring on every continent (except Antarctica, as far as we know) and still practiced in a few cultures in modern times. While the usual reason was to demonstrate conquest and promote beliefs that controlling the head was a way to control and enslave an enemy in the afterlife, a new discovery of a large cache of mummified trophy heads in Peru has turned that theory on its – you guessed it – head.
The story of these mysterious heads begins in the Vitor Valley of Southern Peru, an area whose human history predates writing, so artifacts and remains are crucial to solving the history of the La Ramada culture who it is believed were the head hunters … and possibly more. Recent excavations in the area, led by Peruvian bioarchaeologist and University of Chicago researcher Dr. María Cecilia Lozada, uncovered 27 burial pits dating back to about 550 CE. The 13-foot-deep (4 meters) pits contained the remains of around 60 people, including women and babies, and ceremonial artifacts and textiles. However, the most unusual discovery in the pits were six trophy heads.