Childhood lost: Abductions, sacrifice, and trophy heads of children in the wari empire of the ancient andes

Tiffiny A. Tung, Kelly Knudson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


This study examines isolated child skeletal remains from ritual structures at the Wari site of Conchopata (A.D. 600-1000) to evaluate how they were modified into trophy heads and whether the children were sacrificed. The skeletal remains represent at least seven children. Strontium isotope ratios are examined to determine whether children were taken from foreign locales. Results show that the children's skulls exhibit a hole on the apex of the cranium and on the ascending ramus of the mandible, identical to the adult Wari trophy heads. At least one child may have been sacrificed. Sr/Sr demonstrate that two of the four sampled child trophy heads were nonlocal, suggesting that children were occasionally abducted from distant communities, perhaps for sacrifice and certainly to transform some into trophy heads. The similar child and adult trophy heads suggest that the ritual treatment of children was not uniquely designed, at least as it related to their processing, display, and destruction. Furthermore, it is suggested that the child trophy heads were not simply passive symbols of preexisting authority by the head-takers and trophy head-makers. The trophy heads simultaneously imbued those agents with authority-they did not merely reflect it-demonstrating the "effective agency " of the trophy head objects themselves. Finally, we suggest that prisoner-taking and trophy head-making by military and ritual elites served to legitimate the authority of those individuals while simultaneously serving larger state goals that enhanced Wari state authority and legitimated its policies and practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-66
Number of pages23
JournalLatin American Antiquity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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