The genetic signature of a shrunken head
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The making of ritual shrunken heads, or tsantsas, was a common practice among the Jivaro-Shuar tribes of Ecuador and Peru during the post-Columbian period. The raising interest in the tsantsas in the late nineteenth through the twentieth century caused an increase in manufacturing of forged shrunken heads for profit. In the current study, we examined the authenticity and possible cultural provenance of the shrunken head displayed at the “Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv” using macro- and microscopic criteria together with DNA analyses. DNA analyses have revealed that the shrunken head represents a human male individual with a genetic profile compatible with an African ancestry and resembling that of modern South American populations.
KeywordsShrunken Head Authenticity evaluation Ancient DNA Short tandem repeats Mitochondrial DNA Sex identification
Hypervariable region 1
Polymerase chain reaction
Short tandem repeat
We would like to thank Ms. Hagit Shorek from the “Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv” for giving us an opportunity to study the shrunken head museum item and Dr. I. Aizenberg from The Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for providing the sloth hair samples.
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