Shrunken Head DNA Proves Horrific Folklore True

Kahila Bar-Gal

The genetic make-up of a shrunken head has been obtained for the first time.

  • The DNA analysis reveals that the head is authentic and belonged to an Afro-Ecuadorian man.
  • The genetic evidence suggests many myths about head-hunting were true.

A remarkably well-preserved shrunken head has just been authenticated by DNA analysis, which provides strong evidence that anecdotal accounts of violent head-hunting inSouth 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.”


Kahila Bar-Gal is a senior lecturer in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also a faculty member within the university’s department of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

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