Severed Heads and Sacred Scalplocks

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Severed trophy heads play a prominent role in Mississippian art. Perhaps the most distinctive iconographic trophy motif is the severed agnathous humanlike head of the Braden style. Agnathous heads occur during the Middle Mississippian period as elements of regalia for highly specific Mississippian headdresses as depicted in copper repoussé plates and engraved marine shell cups. We suggest that ritual regalia utilizing trophy motifs served not only as a symbol of success at war but as a metaphor for specific mythic narratives that identify prowess in mortal combat with high stakes gaming with the ultimate triumph of life over death.