Presentation Title

An Overview of Forensic Trophy Skull Analysis in Montana

Authors' Names

Katherine Jackson

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Abstract/Artist Statement

Retaining a skeletal element, especially a skull, whether it be for ancestor veneration, social memory, or as a trophy, is a very common practice throughout human history. Keeping a cranium can reflect a lot of information about cultural beliefs concerning death, war, and victory at specific points in time. It is more common than one might think to come across these “trophy skulls” in archaeological and forensic contexts. Most often, they come to us, as Forensic Anthropologists, through a Medical Examiner’s lab, usually under questionable or unknown circumstances. Forensic Anthropologists specifically apply archaeological methods and techniques to modern, skeletal human remains and forensic casework. This poster reviews three separate cases of “trophy skulls” in Montana, including the findings of the biological profile analyses and the attempts to reconcile police reports and oral histories in order to reconstruct the life histories of the unknown individuals. The biological profile consists of an estimation of sex, age, ancestry, and any observable trauma or pathology. These methods are commonly used by Forensic Anthropologists to aid law enforcement in identification and repatriation. Unfortunately, “trophy skulls” are rarely positively identified due to a lack of provenience and background information, as well as a generally long period of time since death. The term of “trophy skull” is also approached from an anthropological viewpoint and an argument made for changing the terminology associated with these remains in an effort to better describe the likely circumstances of their creation. This review and discussion are important because the concept of “trophy skulls” is not commonly discussed or analyzed, and people are often not aware of the common occurrence of retaining skeletal elements. It is important that people gain a better awareness and understanding of this practice so that it is recognized and reported in the future. It is also important to discuss what happens to these remains once they are recovered, considering that a positive identification is unlikely to occur.

Mentor Name

Kirsten Green Mink

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Feb 22nd, 5:00 PM Feb 22nd, 6:00 PM

An Overview of Forensic Trophy Skull Analysis in Montana

UC North Ballroom

Retaining a skeletal element, especially a skull, whether it be for ancestor veneration, social memory, or as a trophy, is a very common practice throughout human history. Keeping a cranium can reflect a lot of information about cultural beliefs concerning death, war, and victory at specific points in time. It is more common than one might think to come across these “trophy skulls” in archaeological and forensic contexts. Most often, they come to us, as Forensic Anthropologists, through a Medical Examiner’s lab, usually under questionable or unknown circumstances. Forensic Anthropologists specifically apply archaeological methods and techniques to modern, skeletal human remains and forensic casework. This poster reviews three separate cases of “trophy skulls” in Montana, including the findings of the biological profile analyses and the attempts to reconcile police reports and oral histories in order to reconstruct the life histories of the unknown individuals. The biological profile consists of an estimation of sex, age, ancestry, and any observable trauma or pathology. These methods are commonly used by Forensic Anthropologists to aid law enforcement in identification and repatriation. Unfortunately, “trophy skulls” are rarely positively identified due to a lack of provenience and background information, as well as a generally long period of time since death. The term of “trophy skull” is also approached from an anthropological viewpoint and an argument made for changing the terminology associated with these remains in an effort to better describe the likely circumstances of their creation. This review and discussion are important because the concept of “trophy skulls” is not commonly discussed or analyzed, and people are often not aware of the common occurrence of retaining skeletal elements. It is important that people gain a better awareness and understanding of this practice so that it is recognized and reported in the future. It is also important to discuss what happens to these remains once they are recovered, considering that a positive identification is unlikely to occur.