Authors: Charlier Philippe
We present here a complete forensic procedure for the analysis of shrunken heads from the Jivaro or Shuar tribes of South America (tsantsa). This methodology is based on the examination of pieces referred to our forensic laboratory for anthropological expertise, and data from both anthropological and medical literature.
A list of 14 original morphological criteria has been developed, based on the global aspect, color, physical deformation, anatomical details, and eventual associated material (wood, vegetal fibers, sand, charcoals, etc.). Such criteria have been tested on a control sample of 20 tsantsa. Further complementary analyses are described such as CT-scan and microscopic examination.
Tsantsas, i.e. shrunken head processed by the Jivaro tribe, living southeastern Ecuador and northern Peru, are a non-negligible part of human artifacts conserved in anthropological and ethnological institutions; they may be involved in such repatriation processes in a short term.
Three successive steps of shrunken head authenticity procedure may be separated:
List of all 14 macroscopic criteria is:
< 2 hours/sample when only macroscopic examination
Hair microscopic examination may be useful for distinguish human and other animals ones, human medulla being physiologically less than one third width of shaft, amorphous and mostly not continuous; due to post-mortem modifications arising during the shrinking of the head, new digital technologies may be particularly useful, such as the use of objective color measurement and image analysis techniques.
Routine DNA analysis may also be important for confirming or excluding human origin of the piece. Usual DNA extraction and amplification techniques are then carried out after careful and limited skin sampling: digestion with proteinase K and DTT, extraction with phenol and chloroform, quantification, amplification and electrophoresis.
Shrunken head (tsantsa): A complete forensic analysis procedure. P. Charlier, I. Huynh-Charlier, L. Brun, C. Hervé, and G. Lorin de la Grandmaison. Forensic Science International 222 (1-3) 399.e1 - 399.e5 doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.06.009
Charlier Philippe, Laboratory of Medical and Forensic Anthropology (AP-HP, UVSQ), Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France
Correspondence to: Charlier Philippe ([email protected])
Source: Protocol Exchange (2013) doi:10.1038/protex.2013.076. Originally published online 24 September 2013.