SCALPING



       I'm gathering information on this practice.

     I'm sure you've heard it before: the North American indigenous people were taught this practice by the evil Europeans. The tendency to romanticize the "noble red skin" has led to claims that they certainly never practiced scalping before Columbus.  Well...this revisionist history isn't quite accurate.  Archaeological evidence conclusively proves that the practice existed in all parts of North American before Columbus. However,  there is also little doubt that the early Europeans encouraged this behavior in both their own people and that of the native peoples, but it appears that the European settlers learned the practice from the indians even though scalping is not restricted to New World indigenes.

    One paper concerning this question is quoted below:

The anterior portion of a skull discovered at the Rygh Site (1600-1650 A.D.) by an amateur archaeologist, now a part of a private collection, is highlighted to show an area of disfigurement in the outer table of the frontal bone. The smooth, slightly raised, anterior and lateral margins of the defect present the appearance of reactive new bone formation at the periphery of an area of resorption of the outer table. All affected portions of the bone are smooth, indicating post-injury remodeling. The inner table of the frontal bone was not remarkable. Radiographs were not diagnostic and gave no clues to ex plain the cause of this abnormality. The oval shaped pattern of the defect suggests that the injury affected the pericranium and was limited by this membrane. A direct blow to the head with injury to the bone's outer table and the pericranium, complicated by hematoma formation must be considered. However, the most likely possibility as cause for this injury to the bone several years prior to death of the individual, is that of non-lethal scalping.

The effect on a person subjected to non lethal scalping is influenced by a number of factors that include the physical condition of the individual, the quantity of blood lost, the consequences of accompanying trauma, and the plane of dissection through which the scalp is removed. If the scalp is avulsed in the plane between the pericranial soft tissues (galea aponeurotica and pericranium), healing is more rapid and infection is less likely, due to protection by the pericranium. If scalping includes the pericranium or if it is injured during the process, the bone's surface is exposed, predisposing to infection. Osteomyelitis and meningitis are predictable complications.

Controversy exists today as to the antiquity of scalping in the Americas, and whether this practice antedated or was introduced by invaders from Europe. In two national publications within the past seven years, the origin of scalping in North America has been discussed, inconclusively. An article in a popular syndicated Sunday suppliment carried by many newspapers in the United States was entitled, "Don't Blame the Indians for Scalping." It was reported that, "Scalping began when the Dutch colonists offered cash for scalps of hostile tribesmen they wanted cleared out of the New York and New Jersey area." It contended that scalping was brought here from Europe and had not been practiced prior to European invasion (95). In another publication a reader responded to an article relating to scalping at Wolstenholme Towne in 17th century colonial America (169), "I thought scholars were in agreement that scalping was a European practice, introduced to the Indians during the French and Indian War. Is there, in fact evidence to support Indian practice of scalping as early as 1622?" (155).

Conclusive evidence exists in human skeletons from the Upper Missouri Basin that scalping was prevalent in this region both before and after European intrusion. In addition, scalping was not limited to the dead corpse. In pre-1492 Crow Creek skeletons para-mortem scalping as part of the massacre was apparent in 271/315 (66%) identifiable frontal bones (Ch 1, Table 1.4). In addition, in this same skeletal cohort residua of scalping antedating death was in two skulls (360,361). In the Larson village (1785 A.D.) para-mortem scalping cut marks were on 17/71 (23.9%) of the massacre victims, and evidence of ante- mortem or paramortem scalping was on 5/621 (0.8%) of the cemetery skulls. Deitrick did not find evidence of scalping in skulls from the Mobridge (MO-1, MO-2) or the Leavenworth Sites (89).

Other historical and archaeological references corroborate the Upper Missouri River Basin findings that not only did scalping antedate European contact in the Americas but also the act was not limited to the dead body. Both in the North American aborigines and in European settlers, non-lethal scalping with long term survival has been reported (30,63,232). Bruesch (63) discussed non-lethal scalping in Tennessee during the 18th century:

"In March of the same year (1777) Frederick Cavlit was badly wounded and nearly the whole of his head was skinned. Doctor Vance was sent for and staid several days with him. The skull- bone was quite naked, and began to turn black in places, and, as Doctor Vance was about to leave, he directed me, as I was stationed in the same fort with him, to bore his skull as it got black, and he bored a few holes him- self, to show the manner of doing it. I have found that a flat pointed straight awl is the best instrument to bore with, as the skull is thick, and somewhat difficult to penetrate. and, The scalped head cures very slowly, and if this kind of flesh [proud flesh] rise in plac- es, higher than common, touch it with blue- stone water [copper sulphate], dress it once or twice a day, putting a coat of lint over it every time you dress it, with a narrow plaister of ointment. and, It skins remarkably slow, generally taking two years to cure up."

 

More quotes:

Excerpt from article, "Origins of Scalping":

Troy Case, a North American archaeologist who has written extensively about scalping, found the practice to have been quite common during prehistory. But, he notes, solid evidence for scalping did not emerge until the 1940s. And it was not until the past few decades, with the advent of more sophisticated dating techniques, that scalping was unequivocally demonstrated to have had a pre-Columbian origin.

Caseís conclusion is based on an exhaustive osteological study of nearly 1000 skulls from the American Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest. The largest sample came from Crow Creek Canyon, located on the northern Plains and dated to the mid-fourteenth century. The site contains evidence of a large-scale massacre involving a minimum of, incredibly, 486 individuals. The bones of men, women, and children were found strewn in an area roughly 7 meters square and 1 meter deep. Nearly every skull exhibited evidence of scalping, as well as other bodily mutilations. Characteristic lesions to the frontal and parietal parts of the cranium and distinct cut marks encircling the calvarium were clearly evident. Case surmises that "it is possible that this deposit was the work of people from the same village or tribe rather than that of the raiders, but a massacre of such size would probably leave few individuals to dispose of this large quantity of remains in such a manner. Therefore, the more likely explanation is that those responsible for these peoplesí deaths were also responsible for their internment." 8

Similarly gruesome was the cache of four skulls uncovered at the Vosberg site in the central Arizona mountains, dated to circa AD 1050-1250. Here, as at Crow Creek Canyon, all skulls exhibited the characteristic circular lesions associated with a scalping event.9 At the Fay Tolton site in South Dakota, moreover, four individuals, including a young child, were found on the floor of an earth lodge. They had been scalped and apparently left as they had died, without receiving any kind of mortuary treatment.

Caseís sample also provides evidence that scalping was an equal opportunity offense. His study found that roughly 40% of the victims were female and 60% were male.10 In fact, the scalps of females were highly prized among some known ethnographic groups, and frequently considered an even greater sign of valor than the taking of a scalp on the battlefield. Among the Creek, for example, such grisly trophies indicated great courage and skill on the part of the scalp-taker because it meant he had to penetrate all the way into an enemy camp without being detected. Nor were infants spared, as the Fay Tolton site demonstrates. Case states, "Just as being a woman was no protection from scalping, being a child also appears not to have always been a deterrent to becoming a victim of this custom. The youngest prehistoric victim of scalping found in this study was a child between the ages of five and seven years, and another was a subadult between 13 and 15 years old."11
His studies have been corroborated by several other archaeological investigations conducted by various scholars. In Burnett County, Wisconsin, a skull, which was carbon-14 dated to AD 490-580, was uncovered from the Spencer Lake Mound. It contained a series of shallow cut marks circumscribing the crown down through the periosteum (fibrous covering of the bone) in the hairline area. These wounds are consistent with wounds related to the removal of the skin (scalping). Like the skeletal material investigated by Case, this individual was killed and scalped hundreds of years before European contact. Likewise, evidence of scalping comes from the famous Moundville site in Alabama, an immense complex of huge earthen mounds that supported a society of several thousand people, as well as numerous Hopewellian burial mounds in Ohio. The Skulls unearthed from these sites show distinct and unambiguous marks made by the scalping knife.

Additional evidence for scalping comes from the written descriptions of the earliest European travelers--individual explorers who witnessed Native American cultures in something like a "pristine," aboriginal condition. When the French explorer Jacques Cartier journeyed down the Mississippi River in 1535, he encountered several Indian groups that proudly displayed the scalps of defeated enemies.12 Perhaps even more telling was the account of French artist Jacques Le Moyne who, in 1564, traveled to Florida and spent some time among the Timucua Indians. In one of his famous paintings, Le Moyne depicts the torture, scalping, and killing of enemy warriors. "They hung the bones and the scalps at the end of their spears, carrying them home in triumph," Le Moyne reported.13 The painting even shows Timucuan warriors drying the scalp of a defeated enemy over a fire. There are many more similar descriptions from other early European observers, easily verifiable and readily available to any researcher willing to delve into archival material.

In light of such evidence it is clear that, contrary to historical revisionists, Europeans did not teach scalping to the Native Americans; in fact, the opposite is true. Scalping was a practice that Europeans learned from the Native Americans. It was a practice, moreover, that Indians practiced long before whites arrived. Nor was it a practice that was limited to parts of eastern North America, as some scholars have suggested. Archaeological evidence clearly demonstrates that scalping was widespread throughout prehistoric North America, ranging from the eastern seaboard to the southwestern states.

Notes:
Fields, William. The Myth of Scalping, in Central States Archaeological Journal, July 1999, p. 153.
Ray, Randy and Mark Kearny. The Great Canadian Trivia Book (Toronto: Hounslow Press, 1996, p.207.
Farb, Peter. Manís Rise to Civilization: The Cutlural Ascent of the Indians of North America (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978, p. 115).
Hoxie, Frederick. Indians in North America (New York: Harlan Davison, 1988, p. 824).
Young, Henry J. "A Note on Scalp Bounties in Pennsylvania," in Pennsylvania History, 24, 1957, p. 209.
J.C.B., Travels in New France, by J.C.B., Sylvester K. Stevens, et. al., eds. (Harrisburg: The Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1941, p. 68.
Ibid, pp. 67-68.
Case, Troy. An Analysis of Scalping Cases and Treatment of the Victimís Corpses in Prehistoric North America, in Journal of North American Archaeology, June 1998, p. 27.
Ibid, p. 32.
Ibid, p. 45.
Ibid, pp. 45-46.
Axtell, James. Who Invented Scalping, in American Heritage, April 1977, p. 97.
Ibid, p. 98.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
     Links

Scalping in ancient China

Wikipedia article