Through the years, many skeptics have thought of the myth of the shrunken head as a circus stunt and carnival attraction. Many people never really believed that it was possible, or that anyone actually did shrink the decapitated heads of their enemies. Instead, skeptics chose to believe that these artifacts were merely a macabre "snake-oil" of sorts, made to stir the imagination and charm the coin from the pockets of the unwitting.
Although head-hunting has been a common practice in many parts of the world through the centuries, head-shrinking is only known to have been practiced in the northwestern region of the Amazon rainforest. The process is fairly well documented, but the idea of an actual shrunken-head has been thought to be fraudulent by many. While most have proven to be forgeries, as many as 20% of those traded are thought to be genuine. Trade for goods such has guns and even cash have fueled shrunken-head trade since the 1800's. Import to the U.S. was mad illegal in the 1940's.
While many people have accepted that there is at least some truth to the head-hunting mythology of the Amazon, others remained skeptical. Today, we have genetic proof that the "shrunken-head" is a legitimate phenomenon, making mythology more literal than imaginary.
A remarkably well-preserved shrunken head has just been authenticated by DNA analysis, which provides strong evidence that anecdotal accounts of violent head-hunting in South America were true.
The study, published in the latest issue of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, marks the first successful effort to unveil the genetic make-up of a shrunken head.
"The shrunken heads were made from enemies' heads cut on the battlefield," co-author Gila Kahila Bar-Gal told Discovery News. "Then, during spiritual ceremonies, enemies' heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy's spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge."
More at link: http://news.discovery.com/history/head-hunting-dna-analysis-110614.html