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Head Extraction, Interregional Exchange, and Political Strategies of Control at the Site of Wata Wata, Kallawaya Territory, Bolivia, During the Transition between the Late Formative and Tiwanaku Periods (A.D. 200-800)


This study focuses on trophy head taking during the transition between the Late Formative period and Tiwanaku period (A.D. 200-800) based on evidence from a dedicatory offering found at the site of Wata Wata, east of the Titicaca Basin. Although trophy-head taking was common in other precontact Andean cultures, evidence of the practice among cultures from this region is usually present only in iconography and not in actual physical remains. We explore the nature of this find and its placement within the trade and ceremonial center of Wata Wata. The three individuals included in the offering underwent various levels of violence at or around the time of death, including beheading, cranial and facial fracturing, defleshingjaw removal, and possible eye extraction. Such violence makes it unlikely that the heads were offered as part of a cult to revere ancestors. We argue that these heads, entombed in a ritual cache and sealed with a capstone, embody a strategic metaphor to remove authority and influence from the individuals, because skulls can be Andean symbols of power in life and the afterlife. The violent acts carried out on these crania may also have been a way to advertise broader changes during this transitional period in the Kallawaya region, a strategic exchange corridor between ecological zones in the Central Andes.

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