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Trophy-Taking and Dismemberment as Warfare

Strategies in Prehistoric Central California
Valerie A. Andrushko,1* Al W. Schwitalla,2 and Phillip L. Walker3y
Department of Anthropology, Southern Connecticut State University, CT
Department of Anthropology, California State University, Sacramento, CA
Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA

KEY WORDS bioarchaeology; violence; cutmarks; Native American; trauma

ABSTRACT We document evidence for trophy-tak- bone artifacts were also found that appear related to
ing and dismemberment with a new bioarchaeological trophy-taking. These characteristics suggest that tro-
database featuring 13,453 individuals from prehistoric phy-taking and dismemberment were an important part
central California sites. Our study reveals 76 individu- of the warfare practices of central Californian tribes.
als with perimortem removal of body parts consistent Temporally, the two practices soared in the Early/Mid-
with trophy-taking or dismemberment; nine of these dle Transition Period (500–200 BC), which may have
individuals display multiple types of trophy-taking and reflected a more complex sociopolitical system that
dismemberment for a total of 87 cases. Cases span encouraged the use of trophies for status acquisition, as
almost 5,000 years, from the Early Period (3000–500 well as the migration of outside groups that resulted in
BC) to the Late Period (AD 900–1700). Collectively, intensified conflict. Overall, trophy-taking and dismem-
these individuals share traits that distinguish them berment appear to have been the product of the social
from the rest of the population: a high frequency of geography of prehistoric central California, where cul-
young adult males, an increased frequency of associated turally differentiated tribes lived in close proximity to
trauma, and a tendency towards multiple burials and their enemies. Am J Phys Anthropol 141:83–96, 2010.
haphazard burial positions. Eight examples of human V
C 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Dismembering warfare victims and preserving their quent bone modification in central California (Grady
body parts as trophies has occurred for thousands of et al., 2001; Andrushko et al., 2005).
years (Keeley, 1996; Walker, 2000) and throughout the The San Jose discovery, along with later ones at the
world (e.g., Bennike, 1985; Smith, 1993, 1997; Hoskins, sites of CA-CCo-474 in Hercules and CA-ALA-328 near
1996; Frayer, 1997; Mensforth, 2001; Williams et al., Fremont (Estes et al., 2002; Andrushko et al., 2005),
2001; Verano, 2003; Kellner, 2006; Chacon and Dye, prompted us to search for more cases of trophy-taking
2007a; Finucane, 2008; Tung, 2008). Trophy-taking and and for cases of dismemberment without trophy-taking.
dismemberment were common warfare practices for In central California, intensive archaeological work over
indigenous groups throughout pre-Columbian North the past century has in fact produced a wealth of burials
America (Ewers, 1967; Seeman, 1988; Willey, 1990; Owsley, with evidence of cutmarks, missing body parts, and asso-
1994; Milner, 1995, 1998; Leblanc, 1999; Kuckelman et al., ciated perimortem injuries. Unfortunately, most of these
2002; Chacon and Dye, 2007a). Both practices included burial data derive from unpublished cultural resource
the intentional removal of body parts, with one major management projects whose findings have not been syn-
difference—trophy-taking retained the body part for thesized in a regional perspective.
later display (Gifford, 1955), while dismemberment left The present study is the first to synthesize central Cali-
the body part in the burial pit with the victim (Willey, fornia burial data, using a new bioarchaeological database
1990; Mensforth, 2001). Together, these practices served developed by the second author (Schwitalla, 2005). The
as important warfare strategies, the former to provide Central California Bioarchaeological Database (CCBD) is
tangible proof of success and the latter to serve as a a regional compendium of prehistoric cemetery popula-
visual indication of defeat and intimidation to be tions that contains archaeological records from 13,453
witnessed by the survivors (Mensforth, 2007). individuals. The data span 25 counties and almost 5,000
In central California, human trophy-taking and dis-
memberment for many years had only been documented
in the form of decapitation (Krieger, 1935; Wiberg, *Correspondence to: Valerie A. Andrushko, Department of Anthro-
1997)—no reports had confirmed long bones taken as pology, Southern Connecticut State University, 501 Crescent Street,
trophies. This changed in 1998 at the CA-SCl-674 site in New Haven, CT 06515. E-mail:
San Jose, California, when individuals were discovered y
missing their forearms and exhibiting cutmarks on the
distal humerus. Radiocarbon dating of the burials indi- Received 7 March 2009; accepted 12 May 2009
cated a clustering around the Early/Middle Period Tran-
sition (500–200 BC). Drilled forearm elements were also DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21117
recovered at this site. These findings provided the first Published online 19 June 2009 in Wiley InterScience
conclusive evidence of forearm trophy-taking and subse- (

C 2009

years (3000 BC–AD 1880), providing an unprecedented Methods

view of prehistoric warfare practices in the central Cali-
fornia region. The long time depth and wide geographic To document trophy-taking and dismemberment evi-
scope allow us to investigate trophy-taking and dismem- dence from central California, we searched for physical
berment in central California at a level that has previ- evidence related to these practices as recorded in the
ously been beyond reach. CCBD (Schwitalla, 2005). Previous studies have been
Specifically, our study tests two hypotheses developed instrumental in revealing the physical evidence resulting
from the San Jose CA-SCl-674 discovery: 1) Trophy-tak- from trophy-taking and dismemberment (Owsley et al.,
ing and dismemberment in central California were not 1977; Olsen and Shipman, 1988, 1994; Milner et al.,
isolated incidents but instead were practiced as routine 1991; White, 1992; Smith, 1993, 1997; Mensforth, 2001).
warfare strategies over a long period of time; and 2) Tro- The clearest evidence for trophy-taking is the presence
phy-taking and dismemberment patterns in central Cali- of cutmarks on bone adjacent to a missing body part
fornia changed over time with an evident increase in the (Smith, 1997). Cutmarks indicate that the severed body
Early/Middle Transition Period (500–200 BC). To support part was amputated around the time of death when soft
the first hypothesis, we would need to find multiple tissue was still present, especially if the cutmarks
examples of perimortem dismemberment and removal of appear where muscles, tendons, and ligaments would
targeted skeletal elements from several different time have needed to been severed (Hurlburt, 2000). Cutmarks
periods, and would also need to definitively connect are also useful for identifying the taking of soft tissue
these cases to warfare through an examination of trophies such as scalps, because the skulls of scalping
trauma patterns, age and sex distributions, and burial victims usually exhibit a circumferential pattern of
practices. In regard to the second hypothesis, the trophy- cutmarks on the frontal, parietal, and occipital bones
taking and dismemberment cases would need to be (Owsley and Berryman, 1975; Owsley et al., 1977; Allen
temporally patterned and show a statistically significant et al., 1985; Smith, 1995). While trophy-taking burials
rise during the time span from 500 to 200 BC. To help show an absence of targeted body parts, dismember-
interpret our results, we compare the social geography of ment burials are characterized by detached, articulated
prehistoric central California against Southern Califor- body parts in proximity to individuals missing the
nia, a region without evidence of trophy-taking and same parts (e.g., an articulated forearm and hand
dismemberment. distinctly separated from the body) (Willey, 1990;
Mensforth, 2001).
Guided by these previous studies, we documented
MATERIALS AND METHODS osteological data from the CCBD in four main categories:
1) individuals missing specifically targeted skeletal ele-
Materials: The Central California
ments; 2) individuals found with detached and articu-
Bioarchaeological Database lated body parts in the burial pit; 3) cutmarks associated
The CCBD contains information on 13,453 individuals with amputated body parts; and 4) isolated modified
compiled from published and unpublished archaeological human bone mirroring those elements removed from
site reports, osteological and chronological appendices, individuals, possibly representing trophies.
burial records, and NAGPRA inventories. The CCBD While cutmarks provided the most conclusive evidence
records information on age, sex, burial attributes, patho- for perimortem removal of a body part, we also examined
logical conditions, missing and detached body parts, cases of missing or detached body parts without cut-
modified human bone, antemortem and perimortem marks, following Mensforth (2007). This was done in
traumatic injuries, and temporal assignments. The tem- case the site report omitted cutmarks that were present,
poral assignments were based on artifact associations, such as the case of CA-ALA-328 (Andrushko et al.,
obsidian-hydration values, radiocarbon dates, and strati- 2005); or cutmarks were originally present but the bone
graphic superposition at sites with delineated temporal surface had degraded so that cutmarks were no longer
components. Unfortunately, some individual profiles preserved; or the cutting tool had missed bone during
were incomplete due to site reports with limited or soft tissue removal (Hamperl, 1967). Our determinations
absent osteological data. In addition, a second limitation were informed by burial descriptions, photographs, drawings,
of the database was the problem of comparing data col- and skeletal inventories.
lected by numerous researchers. To address this prob- Cases were excluded if there was evidence that the
lem, the data were either originally collected by the missing or detached body parts resulted from post-depo-
authors of the present study, re-analyzed by the authors, sitional disturbance. Post-depositional disturbance
or discussed with the researchers of the original site occurs from animal and plant activity, modern human
reports (when possible). activity from plowing or construction, and geomorphic
For the purpose of the CCBD, the central California processes (such as river action). While any of these activ-
region is defined by Moratto (1984) and includes the San ities could result in the absence or movement of one or
Francisco Bay Area, the Russian River/Clear Lake more body part, there would also be disturbance to the
region to the north, the Central Coast Region to the rest of the body and disarticulation of the skeleton. Evi-
south, the Central Valley Region, and portions of the dence for this type of disturbance includes movement of
Sierra Nevada Region. The central California region the ribs out of anatomical position, rotation of the verte-
encompasses the ethnohistoric tribal territories of the brae, splaying of the pelvic and shoulder girdles, and
Costanoan, Esselan, Salinan, Yokuts, Miwok, Southern loss of the small bones of the hands and feet (Haglund,
Patwin, Nisenan, Pomo, Wintun, Maidu, Paiute, and 1992; Haglund and Sorg, 1997; Roksandic, 2001). Cases
Mono (Holmes, 1900; Kroeber, 1925; Driver, 1961; were thus excluded if such disarticulation of the body
Powers, 1976[1877]). Temporally, the sites range from was documented, or if recent toolmarks from plows or
the Early Period (3000–500 BC) through the Historic- construction machinery indicated modern postmortem
Mission Period (AD 1700–1880). disturbance.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Cases were also excluded if there was indication that head missing from the burial was documented in eight
a missing body part was due to prehistoric cultural prac- cases, while four additional cases involved detachment of
tices such as ancestor veneration. Native Californian the skull which remained in the burial pit in a nonana-
mortuary practices did not usually include the practice tomical position. Four cases were found of a separate tro-
of memento mori, the retrieval of body parts of a vener- phy skull interred with a complete burial, and finally,
ated ancestor (Kroeber, 1922). Moreover, the retrieval of scalping was found in ten cases. Of the ten reported
body parts for ancestor veneration would have typically instances of scalping, five cases showed evidence of heal-
been done sometime after death, which would have ing (Lambert, 2004; Strother et al., 2005), indicating
resulted in postmortem disturbance to the burial and no that individuals occasionally survived these attacks.
evidence of cutmarks (Fenton, 1991). Therefore, as noted Finally, one case was found that suggested disembow-
above, indication of postmortem disturbance was the pri- elment (1/87, 1.1%). This individual from San Joaquin
mary criterion used to exclude ambiguous cases. Yet the Valley, Ca-Mer-215 #23, exhibited an extensive list of
lack of postmortem disturbance alone cannot differenti- mutilations including foot dismemberment, rib cutmarks,
ate trophy-taking from ancestor veneration, since their and a severed spinous process of the 10th-thoracic verte-
signatures may overlap in some cases (Chacon and Dye, bra (Weber, 1978; Pritchard, 1979). The four cutmarks
2007b). Therefore, a comprehensive analysis is required observed on the ribs would have been consistent with an
that incorporates multiple variables including presence attempt to disembowel the individual.
and placement of cutmarks, targeting of specific elements,
and recovery of modified bone representing trophies.
In statistically analyzing the data, since not all tests
involved 2 3 2 tables we chose to remain consistent and
The correlates of trophy-taking and
use the chi-square statistic for all cases. The only excep- dismemberment
tion to this occurred when the temporal difference Altogether, the individuals with evidence of trophy-
between the Early Period and Early/Middle Transition taking or dismemberment (hereafter referred together as
Period was compared (see below). In this instance, there ‘‘trophy victims’’) exhibited distinctive characteristics
were only two cases of trophy-taking in the Early Period. related to warfare (Table 2). First, the remains of trophy
Since the number of cases was fewer than five, the victims were almost three times more likely to be found
Fisher’s exact statistic had to be used. in a multiple burial context (47.9%) than non-trophy vic-
tims (16.1%) (v2 5 52.0, P  0.0001) (Figs. 2 and 3). Sec-
RESULTS ond, the burial position of trophy victims differed signifi-
cantly from other burials. The trophy victims were more
A total of 76 individuals (0.56% of individuals in the likely to be found in haphazard burial positions than
CCBD) showed physical evidence consistent with trophy- non-trophy victims (17.7% vs. 0.85%), a significant differ-
taking and dismemberment (Table 1). Of these 76 indi- ence (v2 5 179.3, P  0.0001). Haphazard burial referred
viduals, 59 (77.6%) showed cutmarks in association with to cases in which the limbs were splayed out and thus
trophy-taking or dismemberment. Nine individuals had deviated from the carefully positioned burial postures
more than one type of perimortem body part removal commonly found in central California (see Fig. 3). The
(e.g., Ca-Ala-613/H Burial 107 with forearm trophy-tak- disposition of the trophy victim sample favored a ventral
ing and perimortem scalping), bringing the total number (downward-facing) position (see Fig. 4), seen in 51.5% of
of trophy-taking and dismemberment cases to 87 (bilat- the trophy victims compared to 41% of non-trophy
eral cases of the same type of trophy-taking or dismem- victims. However, this difference was not statistically
berment were only counted once). significant (v2 5 1.4511, P 5 0.228).
Of the 87 cases, 48 (55.2%) were of the upper limb Age and sex distributions also differed significantly
region. Thirty-nine cases involved the complete removal when comparing the group of trophy victims to non-
of the radius, ulna, and hand (see Fig. 1). In four addi- trophy victims. First, males were more than three times
tional cases, the forearm bones were detached from the more likely to suffer from these practices than females
skeleton but remained in the burial pit. Finally, in five (71% males, 22% females among trophy victims), a stat-
cases the hands were detached from the forearms and istically significant difference given that males and
left in the burial pit. Two of these hand amputations females were nearly equally represented in the non-
came from Ca-SJo-091, where a double-male burial (Bur- trophy group (50.4% males, 49.6% females) (v2 5 20.5,
ials 5-22 and 5-26) was found with the right hands sev- P  0.0001). Second, young adults (18–25 years) were
ered and placed over the individuals’ faces (Hague, most often targeted; this group comprised 50.0% of the
1976). Similarly, two cases of hand dismemberment were trophy victims and only 17.6% of the non-trophy victims,
documented at Ca-CCo-235 in Lafayette, where both a significant difference (v2 5 72.2, P  0.0001).
individuals of a double burial showed perimortem breaks Trophy victims more frequently exhibited additional
to the radii and ulnae, with subsequent placement of the trauma (both blunt-force and sharp-force injuries) than
hands in the ribcage area (Andrushko et al., 2002). all other individuals (27.1 vs. 4.4%, respectively), a stat-
Lower-limb trophy-taking and dismemberment istically significant difference (v2 5 64.7, P  0.0001). In
accounted for 12 of the 87 cases (13.8%). Five of these addition, six trophy victims had multiple projectile trau-
cases involved the complete removal of the tibia, fibula, mas—the first five individuals with three, four, five, six,
and foot. In six additional cases, the lower leg bones and seven points (Ca-CCo-141 #3, Ca-Ala-309 #12-3801,
were detached from the skeleton but remained with the Ca-Col-2 #47, Ca-Yol-13 #17, and Ca-Col-2 #3, respec-
body. Finally, there was one case of foot dismemberment, tively). The sixth individual (Burial 43 from Ca-Col-002)
in which the foot was detached from the body but exhibited 23 embedded obsidian projectile points, four of
remained in the burial pit. which were large, spear-sized blades (Krieger, 1935:
Perimortem removal of the skull or scalp was seen in p 43–44). This phenomenon is known as ‘‘pincushioning,’’
26 instances (29.9%). Complete decapitation with the described by Kelly (2000, p 150) as ‘‘pincushioning the

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

TABLE 1. Central California trophy-taking and dismemberment cases 86
Type of trophy-
Site Burial number Sex Temporal period taking/dismemberment Cutmarks
Ca-Ala-042 0044 Male Middle/Late Period Transition Decapitation Absent
Ca-Ala-309 12-3780 Female Early/Middle Period Transition Scalping-Healed Present
Ca-Ala-309 12-3791 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Absent
Ca-Ala-309 12-3801 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Scalping-Perimortem Present
Ca-Ala-328 347-12-10323 Male Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-328 000-12-8757 Male Middle Period Forearm and lower limb Present
Ca-Ala-328 237a-12-10245A Male Middle Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-328 312-12-10259 Male Middle Period Forearm and lower Present
limb trophy-taking
Ca-Ala-328 346-12-10310 Female Middle Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-329 245 Male Middle Period Forearm trophy-taking Absent
Ca-Ala-343 202 Indet. Middle/Late Period Transition Scalping- Healed Present
Ca-Ala-509 018 Male Middle Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 040 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Ca-Ala-613/H 398 Male Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 429 Female Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 042 Female Middle Period to Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 107 Male Middle Period to Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
and perimortem scalping
Ca-Ala-613/H 263 Male Middle Period to Late Period Scalping- Healed Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 302 Male Middle Period to Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 305 Male Middle Period to Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 332 Male Middle Period to Late Period Scalping- Perimortem Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 367 Male Middle Period to Late Period Scalping- Healed Present
Ca-Ala-613/H 379 Female Middle Period to Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-Cal-14/405 003 Indet. Middle/Late Period Transition Decapitation and dismemberment Present
of left lower limb
Ca-Cal-14/405 004 Female Middle/Late Period Transition Dismemberment of lower limb Present

Ca-Cal-14/405 005 Male Middle/Late Period Transition Decapitation and dismemberment Present
of upper and lower limbs
Ca-CCo-141 23 No analysis Middle Period Decapitation Absent
Ca-CCo-235 11 Female Late Period Dismemberment of Present/Peri-mortem breakage
right and left hands
Ca-CCo-235 13 Female Late Period Dismemberment of Present/Peri-mortem
right and left hands breakage
Ca-CCo-474 022.2 Female Middle Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
and perimortem scalping
Ca-CCo-474 047 Male Middle Period Scalping-Healed Present
Ca-Col-002 06 Female Late Period Decapitation Present
Ca-Col-002 43 Male Late Period Forearm trophy-taking Absent
Ca-Mad-117 67-22 Male Middle Period Scalping-Perimortem Present
Ca-Mer-215 23 Female Late Period Dismemberment of feet and Present/Ribs
possible disembowelment
Ca-Mrn-242 04A; 12-6421 Male Middle Period Decapitation Absent
Ca-Sac-067 01; 81-74-1631 Female Middle Period Decapitation Present
Ca-Sac-099 087 Male Middle Period Trophy skull Absent
Ca-Sac-107 C18B; 12-5611 No analysis Early Period Trophy skull Absent
Ca-SCl-038 144 Male Middle/Late Period Transition Forearm dismemberment Present
TABLE 1. (Continued)
Type of trophy-
Site Burial number Sex Temporal period taking/dismemberment Cutmarks
Ca-SCl-038 140 Male Middle/Late Period Transition Decapitation Absent
Ca-SCl-137 01 Male Middle Period Forearm trophy-taking Absent
Ca-SCl-194 73 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-478 37 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-478 61 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-478 62 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-478 71 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Lower limb trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-478 72 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Lower limb trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-478 84 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0200 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Lower limb dismemberment Absent
Ca-SCl-674 0207 Female Early/Middle Period Transition Decapitation Present
Ca-SCl-674 0076 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0117 Female Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0131 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Absent
Ca-SCl-674 0134 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0146 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0147 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Absent
Ca-SCl-674 0150 Female Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0187 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0206 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0208 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0216 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0241 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0243 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-674 0246 Male Middle Period Forearm trophy-taking Present
Ca-SCl-690 063 Male Middle/Late Period Transition Decapitation and Absent
hand trophy-taking
Ca-SCl-732 064 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Forearm dismemberment Present
Ca-SCl-732 082 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Lower limb dismemberment Present

Ca-SCl-732 088 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Lower limb dismemberment Present
Ca-SCl-806 11 Female Late Period Trophy skull Absent
Ca-SFr-04/H 33 Male Early Period Forearm dismemberment Present
Ca-SJo-091 022 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Hand dismemberment Present
Ca-SJo-091 026 Male Early/Middle Period Transition Hand dismemberment Present
Ca-SMa-023 24 No analysis Middle/Late Period Transition Trophy skull Absent
Ca-Yol-013 10 Male Middle/Late Period Transition Decapitation Absent
Ca-Yol-013 17 Male Middle/Late Period Transition Decapitation and upper and lower limb trophy-taking Present

American Journal of Physical Anthropology


were no cases of trophy-taking/dismemberment in the

Historic Period (AD 1700–1880) (0/586). The 362 burials
lacking a chronological designation were not included in
calculating temporal frequencies.
A temporal pattern also appeared in the type of body
part targeted. In the Early/Middle Transition Period and
Middle Period, the forearm and lower-limb bones were
the most common example of trophy-taking in our sam-
ple (77.6% of all cases), while in the Middle/Late Transi-
tion Period and Late Period, decapitation and scalping
were slightly more common (51.7% of all cases).
The geographical distribution of sites with trophy-tak-
ing and dismemberment cases was widespread in central
California (see Fig. 5). Of the 251 sites in the CCBD, 30
sites (12.0%) in 13 counties contained burials with evi-
dence of trophy-taking and dismemberment. Santa Clara
County had the highest number of sites at eight (2038,
2137, 2194, 2478, 2674, 2690, 2732, 2806) (24.2% of
the county’s sites recorded in the CCBD), followed by Al-
ameda County with seven (2042, 2309, 2328, 2329,
2343, 2509, 2613) (29.2%). Next, Contra Costa County
(2141, 2235, 2474) (12%) and Sacramento County
(2067, 2099, 2107) (7.5%) each had three sites with tro-
phy-taking and dismemberment. Finally, nine counties
had one site with trophy-taking cases: San Francisco
(204/H) (100%), Calaveras (214/405) (33.3%), Yolo
(2013) (20%), Colusa (2002) (16.6%), Merced (2125)
(12.5%), San Joaquin (2091) (9.1%), San Mateo (2023)
(9.1%), Marin (2242) (8.8%), and Madera (2117) (5.9%).

Modified human bone as trophies

This study also identified 33 modified human elements
(human bone artifacts) recorded in the CCBD (Table 3).
A subset of these elements appeared to be related to tro-
phy-taking—a group of eight cut, drilled, and polished
radii and ulnae that were discovered at two sites in the
Fig. 1. Cutmarks on the distal humerus of an individual San Francisco Bay Area (see Fig. 6). These two sites
without forearms. [Color figure can be viewed in the online were relatively contemporaneous, with CA-SCl-674 dated
issue, which is available at] to the Early/Middle Transition Period and Ca-Ala-613/H
dated to the Early Middle Period.
The first discovery occurred at the Rubino cemetery
torso and head of a fallen enemy who is already dead or site in San Jose (CA-SCl-674), where six human forearm
fatally wounded’’ (see also Milner, 2005, p 149). bones (two partial adult ulnae and four partial adult
radii) were discovered modified with drill holes, cut-
Temporal and geographical distributions marks, and polish (Grady et al., 2001; Andrushko et al.,
2005). Four of the bones (two ulnae and two radii) were
Our temporal results revealed that trophy-taking and found in a cache while the other radii were discovered in
dismemberment practices occurred over 5,000 years two separate disturbed contexts. The modifications to
(Table 1), from the Early Period (3000–500 BC) through each bone were uniformly expressed as single drill holes
the Late Period (AD 900–1700), using the chronological and polish with cutmarks on six of the elements. Each
schemes in Bennyhoff and Hughes (1987) and Groza drill hole perforated the medullary cavity, creating a con-
(2002). Within this time span, the frequency of trophy- tinuous longitudinal opening through the entire length
taking and dismemberment victims varied significantly of the bone.
by period. In the Early Period, only two cases of trophy- At the second site of Ca-Ala-613/H in Pleasanton, also
taking/dismemberment were documented, for an overall featuring forearm trophy-taking (Strother et al., 2005), a
frequency of 0.17% (2/1212). In the subsequent Early/ radius and ulna were discovered with modifications simi-
Middle Transition Period (500–200 BC), there was a lar to those found on the Ca-SCl-674 forearm bones. The
dramatic increase in the frequency of trophy victims forearm bones from Ca-Ala-613/H had been defleshed,
(31/1203, 2.6%). This marked increase in trophy-taking polished, and cut, with the proximal and distal ends
and dismemberment from the Early Period to the Early/ removed and the medullary cavity hollowed out.
Middle Transition Period is statistically significant This assemblage of modified human elements shared
(Fisher’s exact, P  0.0001). The frequency of trophy- several notable characteristics. First, the bones mirrored
taking and dismemberment then decreased into the those most often missing from the burials of trophy-
Middle Period (200 BC–AD 700) (23/4592, 0.5%), Middle/ taking victims—radii and ulnae. Moreover, they were
Late Transition Period (AD 700–900) (11/2182, 0.5%), found within cemeteries that exhibited evidence of tro-
and Late Period (AD 900–1700) (9/3316, 0.28%). There phy-taking, dismemberment, and a high prevalence of

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

TABLE 2. Statistically significant burial attributes of trophy-taking and dismemberment victims
Trophy-taking sample Unaffected individuals
Attribute n N % n N % P-value
Double/multiple inhumation 34 71 47.9 1,636 10,137 16.1 \0.0001
Haphazard/unconventional burial 11 62 17.7 54 5,376 \1 \0.0001
Male individuals 55 71 77.5 3,358 6,659 50.4 \0.0001
Young adult individuals 38 76 50.0 2,226 12,616 17.6 \0.0001

Fig. 3. Double burial with individual exhibiting forearm

trophy-taking. Photograph courtesy of Randy Wiberg.

Fig. 2. Double burial with individuals exhibiting lower limb

trophy-taking and foot dismemberment. Photograph courtesy of
Randy Wiberg. DISCUSSION
To reiterate, our study tests two hypotheses developed
violent injury. The presence of cutmarks on the forearm from the San Jose CA-SCl-674 discovery: 1) Trophy-tak-
bones indicated that soft tissue was removed from the ing and dismemberment in central California were not
muscle attachment sites, consistent with perimortem re- isolated incidents but instead were practiced as routine
moval of the elements; also, the retention of the line of warfare strategies over a wide period of time; and 2) Tro-
fusion on two modified radii indicated that these bones phy-taking and dismemberment patterns in central Cali-
belonged to young adult individuals, the same age group fornia changed over time with an evident increase in the
as the majority of the trophy-taking victims. The Early/Middle Transition Period.
chronology of these modified bones is important, since To find support for the first hypothesis, we need to
the bones were found in Early/Middle Transition Period show that trophy-taking and dismemberment occurred
(CA-SCl-674) and Early Middle Period (Ca-Ala-613/H) in several instances over a wide period of time and that
contexts, the time span that featured the highest preva- these instances were related to warfare. Here, our
lence of trophy-taking. Finally, all of the human bone results clearly support both of these inferences.
artifacts appear to be modified for display—a hallmark We found 76 individuals with evidence of trophy-
of trophy-taking—by drilling and hollowing out the taking and dismemberment. These individuals repre-
medullary cavity. sent 30 prehistoric sites and 13 counties in central

American Journal of Physical Anthropology


Fig. 4. Ventral burial with forearm trophy-taking and embedded obisidian point in left rib. [Color figure can be viewed in the
online issue, which is available at]

California, dating from the Early Period (3000–500 cal burial position suggests a differential mortuary treat-
BC) through the Late Period (AD 900–1700). The wide- ment accorded to warfare combatants killed away from
spread nature can further be seen in the type of cases their homeland.
documented, with scalping, decapitation, and forearm Eight modified human bones were also found that
and lower-limb trophy-taking and dismemberment all appear to be trophies. These bones mirror those removed
present. from trophy victims and were modified in ways to facili-
Next, there are multiple lines of evidence that indicate tate display. The modifications, including drilling and
these cases were related to warfare. Trophy victims were hollowing of the medullary canal, may have served to
more likely to exhibit blunt-force and sharp-force trauma prepare the elements for stringing on a cord or garment
in a statistically significant pattern. Since skeletal evi- for inclusion in warfare-related ceremonial rites (Kroeber,
dence of perimortem trauma is one of the most convinc- 1925; Hrdlicka, 1941). The other 25 modified human bones
ing indications of violence and warfare in prehistoric found at central California sites may also be related to tro-
societies (Lambert, 2002), the traumatic injuries of the phy-taking, but their links are less clear.
trophy victims provide support for a warfare-related Ethnographic and ethnohistorical accounts provide
explanation. Six trophy victims also showed multiple even more support for the warfare explanation, indicat-
projectile point wounds, and in one case, an individual ing that dismemberment was common among the tribes
was ‘‘pincushioned.’’ Kelly (2000, p 151) states that of central California (Lambert, 2007). Mission records of
‘‘. . . [pincushioning] is clearly associated with vengeance the Costanoan from Santa Cruz reveal that ‘‘when one of
killing in feud and war. Multiple wounds invariably indi- these [enemies] is killed in battle, they tear his limbs to
cate collective armed conflict, grounded in group respon- pieces’’ (Kroeber, 1908, p 25). Also, historic reports of the
sibility to avenge a death.’’ Salinan Indians, a group located in what is now
A warfare explanation is further supported by the de- the counties of Monterey and San Luis Obispo, note the
mographic patterns and burial practices of the trophy ‘‘custom of cutting off the heads and arms of the enemy’s
victims. These individuals were predominantly young braves, so as to inspire them with valor’’ (Mason, 1912,
adult males—the same demographic group that typically p 180). An ethnographic account of the northern Yokuts
engages in warfare activities (Seeman, 1988; Redmond, describes dismemberment as part of their warfare prac-
1994). Even so, women and old adults were not spared tices: ‘‘The Indians cut off their hands, laid open their
from trophy-taking and dismemberment practices, which breast, tore them asunder, and scattered the remains’’
suggests a form of reciprocal violence involving the social (Driver, 1937, p 135).
substitution of noncombatant individuals (Kelly, 2000; Ethnohistoric accounts also describe how human body
Mensforth, 2001). Burial patterns, meanwhile, reveal parts were displayed as trophies. In one case, members
that trophy victims were more often found in multiple of the Nisenan tribe reportedly displayed a scalp atop an
burials indicative of single events of violence (Kuck- effigy with ropes attached for manipulation, giving the
elman et al., 2002). Trophy victims were also more often appearance of a dancing figure (Beals, 1933). Central
buried in haphazard burial positions, in contrast to the Miwok scalp dances (sule yuse) included singing, danc-
typical burial position of a flexed position on the side or ing, drumming, ridicule of the slain warrior, and tossing
back seen throughout most of central California prehis- the scalp into the air (Gifford, 1955). These ethnographic
tory. The fact that trophy victims deviated from the typi- and ethnohistoric accounts indicate that trophy-taking

American Journal of Physical Anthropology


Fig. 5. Geographical distribution of trophy-taking cases in central California.

and dismemberment were an important aspect of central considered the bravest and most worthy to be given the
California warfare. honor of chief ’’ (Cook, 1962, p 203).
Our second hypothesis focuses on temporal changes in The connection between social mobility and trophy-
trophy-taking and dismemberment, with the results taking has been noted in other North American studies
showing these patterns did change over time. While (Mensforth, 2007). Smith (1993, 1997) argues that tro-
there is little evidence for trophy-taking or dismember- phy-taking emerged as a means to increase social status,
ment in the Early Period, we see a statistically signifi- resource access, and marriage opportunities for Native
cant increase in the subsequent Early/Middle Transition Americans in the eastern United States during the Ar-
Period—over 15 times as frequent. The frequency then chaic Period. Similarly, among the Northwest Coast
decreases through the Middle Period, Middle/Late Tran- tribes, those who participated in trophy-taking were
sition Period, and Late Period to less than one-fifth of known as ‘‘terrifying killers’’ (Ferguson, 1984, p 309), a
the previous period, until the practice eventually disap- standing that conferred compensation in ceremonial
pears in the Historic Period (AD 1700–1880). titles and other privileges.
There are two likely explanations for the proliferation The migration of outside groups presents the second
of trophy-taking and dismemberment in the Early/Mid- explanation for the increase in trophy-taking and dis-
dle Transition Period. First, this time period was one of memberment seen in the Early/Middle Transition Period.
rapid cultural change featuring the emergence of a hier- During this time period, there was a series of migrations
archical social structure. Within this newly formed hier- into the Bay Area of groups that were biologically dis-
archical system, trophy-taking may have functioned to tinct from surrounding groups (Breschini, 1983; Gerow,
increase status by providing tangible evidence of bravery 1993). The chronology of these migrations between 500
and prowess on the battlefield. This suggestion is backed BC to AD 700 matches the timing of the trophy-taking
by ethnohistoric evidence that connects prestige increase (Bennyhoff, 1994), suggesting that population
enhancement and trophy-taking: ‘‘He who possessed a movements may have disrupted intertribal relations and
scalp kept it as a trophy, and he who had the most was escalated occurrences of violent contact (Wiberg, 2002).

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

TABLE 3. Modified human elements from central California sites
Site Modified human element Time period Reference
Ca-Ala-12 Tibia whistle Early Middle Period Rackerby, 1967
Ca-Ala-328 Cut proximal femur Early Middle Period Davis and Treganza, 1959
Ca-Ala-343 098 Modified human tibia Terminal Middle Period Marshall, 2001
with perforations and
red pigment stain
Ca-Ala-613/H 080A; Polished radius shaft with Early Middle Period Strother et al., 2005
cat #115 proximal and distal ends removed
and multiple cutmarks/scrapemarks
Ca-Ala-613/H 080B; Polished ulna shaft with Early Middle Period Strother et al., 2005
cat #105 proximal and distal ends removed
and multiple cutmarks/scrapemarks
Ca-Cal-099 MNI Human femur atlatl Early/Middle Transition Gonsalves, 1955
17 Plate 1;2:3W Period-Intermediate
Middle Period
Ca-CCo-309 Burial 5 Cache of six human modified femora Early Period Price et al., 2006
and one modified fibula in cache
Ca-CCo-548 Modified human calvarium Early Period Schwitalla and
with smoothed edges Fitzgerald, 2009
Ca-Sac-029 157X Worked left human femur Late Period 2A-Late Nelson, 2003
with cutmarks and a perforation Period 2B
Ca-Sac-107 S164a; Partial human calvarium with Early Period Heizer and
(#16641) edges exhibiting cutting, chipping, Fenenga, 1939
and smoothing marks
Ca-SCl-137 #2250 Polished adult human radius Early Middle Period-Late Cartier et al., 1993
Middle Period
Ca-SCl-674 #206 Partial radius with drillhole Early Middle Period- Andrushko et al., 2005
and polished shaft Middle Period
Ca-SCl-674 Partial radius with Early Middle Period- Andrushko et al., 2005
drillhole and polished shaft Middle Period
Ca-SCl-674 #45 Cache of modified partial human Early Middle Period- Andrushko et al., 2005
radii and ulnae (four total), Middle Period
with drillholes, polish, and cutmarks
Ca-SJo-056 53; 12-7016, Human fibula dagger-like Early Period Heizer, 1949
(#L19273) tool with 20 very small circular Haliotis
ornaments at the handle end
Ca-SJo-068 Feature A Partial human calvarium with Early Period Ragir, 1972
Haliotis beads inside the ‘‘skull cap.’’
Ca-SJo-068 024A; 12-7572 Worked human tibia Early Period Ragir, 1972
Ca-SJo-091 100 (No. 03866) Ground human rib fragment Early/Middle Transition Johnson, 1992
Period-Early Middle Period
Ca-SJo-142 16; 12-5677 Human radius whistle Early Period Heizer, 1949
and a long bone needle
Ca-Sol-270 22C; 2-469, 472 Human bone whistle Early Middle Period McGonagle, 1966
Ca-Sol-270 22B; 2-474 Human bone whistle Early Middle Period McGonagle, 1966
Ca-Sol-270 22A; Human bone whistle Early Middle Period McGonagle, 1966

Conflicts likely arose from poaching and trespassing on a lence. In fact, violent trauma was common among the
delineated territory, or for murder and wife-stealing— Chumash—affecting up to 25% of individuals—but most
leading to chronic intergroup aggression, revenge kill- cases were nonlethal and consisted of healed depressed
ings, and trophy-taking (Kroeber, 1925; James and Gra- cranial fractures (Walker, 1989; Lambert, 1994, 1997).
ziani, 1975). These cranial fractures, generally small and round,
We contrast these data to studies from the expansive likely resulted from ritualized club fights like those seen
Chumash area of Southern California which show a dif- among the Yanomamo, Oro-Wari, and other South Amer-
ferent pattern. The Chumash region was chosen for com- ican groups (Chagnon, 1992; Conklin, 2001; Tung, 2007;
parison because it is the only other area in California Walker, 1989). Chumash violence was often regulated,
where large series of skeletal samples have been ana- ritualized, and primarily nonlethal, providing an effec-
lyzed. In Walker’s (1989) study of 744 Chumash individ- tive means to alleviate social tension among individuals
uals, no evidence was found for trophy-taking or dis- (Lambert, 2002).
memberment. Lambert (1994, 1997) also found no evi- Why then was violence more lethal and provocative in
dence for trophy-taking or dismemberment in a study of central California than in Southern California? The an-
1,744 Chumash individuals from the Santa Barbara swer may relate to differences in social geography. The
Channel Islands region. The burial sites examined span Chumash nation featured multi-village polities with a
approximately the same time periods as those sites from collective Chumash identity (King, 1990). In contrast,
central California and show similar demographics. central California was a culturally diverse region with
The lack of trophy-taking and dismemberment among small tribes living close together; these groups func-
the Chumash cannot be explained by lack of overall vio- tioned independently of one another, with distinctive

American Journal of Physical Anthropology


Fig. 6. Modified forearm bones from CA-SCl-674, a site with forearm trophy-taking. [Color figure can be viewed in the online
issue, which is available at]

names, territories, dialects, and customs (Margolin, trophy-taking and dismemberment were prominent as
1978). The cultural attributes of the tribes emphasized warfare activities in central California.
the ‘‘otherness’’ of closely residing groups. From a temporal perspective, results suggest that
The concept of dehumanization is the ultimate link trophy-taking and dismemberment peaked in the Early/
between central California patterns of violence and Middle Transition Period (500–200 BC). During this time
social geography. Trophy-taking and dismemberment period, the social system of central Californian groups
required a view of the enemy as the other—a dehuman- became increasingly stratified, possibly motivating indi-
ization that allowed one to treat an enemy as one might viduals to collect trophies as a means of status acquisi-
butcher an animal. The ability to dehumanize an enemy tion. Migration occurring at this time also likely ampli-
emerges from the inherent ethnocentrism of the ingroup- fied friction and reciprocal violence between tribes.
outgroup bias: ‘‘The more one dehumanizes the out- While trophy-taking and dismemberment flourished in
group, the less they deserve the humane treatment central California, there is no evidence for these prac-
enjoined by universal norms, and hence the greater the tices in native populations of Southern California. Differ-
aggression’’ (Struch and Schwartz, 1989, p 365; see also ences in social geography imply that this was a factor—
Sumner, 1906; Dollard, 1938; Levine and Campbell, with the territorial boundaries and intense tribal inter-
1972; Tajfel, 1982; Staub, 1989; Brewer, 1999; Hewstone actions of central California versus the collective identity
et al., 2002). The ingroup-outgroup bias would have pro- of the Chumash of Southern California. The heightened
liferated in prehistoric central California, where closely cultural differentiation of central California emphasized
residing groups maintained rigid ethnic identities in the ‘‘otherness’’ of closely residing groups and seemingly
opposition to one another. Trophy-taking and dismem- allowed for trophy-taking and dismemberment to mani-
berment would then have been able to occur in situa- fest and thrive.
tions of extreme social tension.
CONCLUSIONS The first and second authors dedicate this article to
Phillip Walker, in memoriam, with respect and grati-
Our analysis of trophy-taking and dismemberment tude. The authors thank the following people for their
indicate that these practices occurred over both a long insight and contributions: Patricia Lambert, Tim D.
time span and wide geographic area in central Califor- White, Robert Jurmain, Clark S. Larsen, Tiffiny Tung,
nia. The cases of trophy-taking and dismemberment are Randy Wiberg, Mark Griffin, Randall T. Milliken,
linked to warfare by three categories: trophy victims Michele Buzon, Anna Engberg, Kate Latham, Diane
exhibiting multiple traumatic injuries and embedded Grady, Christine Marshall, Eric C. Strother, Heather A.
projectile points, a demographic group featuring mostly Price, Colin Busby, Melody Tannam, Ann Peak, Melinda
young to middle adult males (a ‘‘draft-age’’ demographic), Peak, Jerald J. Johnson, William H. Olsen, Robert Cart-
and trophy victims more often haphazardly buried and ier, Lisa Dietz, Denise M. Jurich, Erik A. Whiteman,
interred in mass burials with similar victims. Together Richard T. Fitzgerald, Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, James S.
the evidence suggests a specific suite of practices Nelson, Roger M. La Jeunesse, John H. Pryor, Carolyn
accorded to these warfare victims. In corroboration, Orbann, Tamara Leher, Mitch Keur, Robert Jackson, Re-
ethnographic and ethnohistoric documents relate that gina George, Joan Knudson, Lisa Pesnichak, Randall G.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology


Groza, Greg White, Kimberly Carpenter, and Kenneth recovery, burial removal, and construction monitoring at the
Bethard. The authors gratefully acknowledge Allen Pas- site Ca-CCo-474/H, Hercules, California. Report submitted to
tron, director of the Rubino project, Andrew Gottsfield, CRG Constructors LP, Newport Beach, California.
principal photographer for the Rubino project, and the Ewers JC. 1967. Blackfoot raiding for horses and scalps. In:
Bohannan P, editor. Law and warfare. New York: Natural
entire crew of field and laboratory researchers. Addi-
History Press. p 327–344.
tional thanks are also extended to the editors and anony- Fenton J. 1991. The social uses of dead people: problems and
mous reviewers who provided extremely useful com- solutions in the analysis of post mortem body processing in
ments on this manuscript. Viviana Bellifemine is grate- the archaeological record. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation,
fully acknowledged for research assistance as is Deborah Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York.
Andrushko for editorial assistance. Ferguson RB. 1984. A reexamination of the causes of Northwest
Coast warfare. In: Ferguson RB, editor. War, culture, and
environment. Orlando: Academic Press. p 267–328.
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