On day two of our adventure in Lima, Peru, we were exposed to the fascinating history of various different cultural practices performed by a variety of Peruvian nations. One of the most intriguing of these practices that we learned about is cranial trepanation, in which the skull of the human being is intentionally deformed. This process is performed during early infancy when the skull is the most pliable.
While visiting the Museo Nacional Arqueología, Antropología y Historia de Perú in Lima, we learned about this practice of the pre-Incan Paracas nation (750 BC-100 AD). The museum displays skulls that have undergone three different types of cranial trepanation. These variations employ a variety of methods and result in a different head shape. One type, called tabulate modeling, utilizes a wood panel placed at the nape of the neck and projected upwards; a rope keeps the wood panel steady. It results in an elongated skull that extends upwards. The second type of modeling we saw is trepanning, which also produces an elongated skull. The third type is bilobular results in a heart-shaped, rounded skull that is produced by a very specific method of wrapping cloth.
Researchers strongly believe that this process was used in the Paracas culture as a means to delineate the social status of an individual. However, very little else is known, such as what does each separate shape say about the individual’s specific status? Our tour guide Fernando Benaducci Otayza (who was INCREDIBLY knowledgeable and passionate about Peruvian history!) had the opinion that head binding must have been performed on people of lower classes because it is an incredibly painful process (so, punishing?) with various neurological repercussions. I am encouraged to think the opposite, though simply because the process of head-binding requires a lot of planning and attention for an extended period of time; it makes more sense to me that this time could only be afforded to those of a higher social standing. After all, “beauty is pain” is a cultural saying that has reached just about every corner of the world.
However, the intrigue isn’t so much in whether or not I am “right” or the tour guide is “right”, it’s in the mere fact that there is an elaborate cultural process that dramatically changed the lives of the Paracas people and continues to baffle us to this day. -Sarah
On our second day in Lima we went to several fascinating museums, spending most of the day at the Museum of National Anthropology and Archaeology and the Larco Museum. Our extremely knowledgeable and well-versed guide, Fernando Benaducci Otayza, particularly enjoyed explaining the gritty details of how two Incan warriors from competing communities would fight each other and the humiliating and brutal death the loser would suffer. Since I’m the only male in our group, he used me as the example for the defeated warrior throughout the day at each of these displays.
Both warriors wore extravagant outfits and began their fight with a warrior dance. What I found most surprising about their rules of engagement was that they wore helmets and if one fighter’s helmet was knocked off, that meant his opponent won. The loser was then stripped nude, tied up and taken into the winner’s village, displayed to his people before being killed and defaced in some extremely gnarly ways. As Fernando detailed this process to our group as if it was happening to me, they found it funny at first, until he got into how the losers were grotesquely murdered and their body parts mutilated for practical uses and/or touted as trophies.
The faces of Sarah and Haley immediately switched from laughing to shock and terror when Fernando gleefully talked about the loser being decapitated, his head being shrunk and put on a belt with other heads, the heart being cut out and either offered sacrificially or eaten, and more. After hearing about how the winner would remove the skin from the loser’s back and make a drum from it, we saw one of these drums, as well as the knives the warriors fought with, their armor, and even a couple of shrunken heads. These artifacts really grabbed my attention for their craftsmanship and the hardcore violence associated with them. I’ve been bewildered by shrunken heads since learning about them from Ripley’s Believe It or Not as a child, so I especially got a kick out of seeing the ones on display here.
Dominican naturalist, photographer, and professional guide Miguel Landestoy visited KU Herpetology for several days in early June to view specimens and records from the late Albert Schwartz. Miguel is working to track down some of Schwartz's most unusual discoveries and came to KU primarily to familiarize himself with a few species that are particularly well-represented in Schwartz's material, but rare elsewhere. Check out Miguel's photos on Flickr.
Shortly before leaving for Peru, the team visited the Spencer Museum of Art for a art and science discussion with Curators Steve Goddard — a 2011 Peru trip alum — and Casey Messick.
My name is Hannah K. Boyd. I will be a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. I am broadly interested in the diversity of organisms and their behaviors. During this study abroad program, I will carry out an inventory of click beetles (Elateridae) at different places in the Amazon rainforest and Andes mountains. I wrote several grants for my research proposal and I hope to prepare an article for a scientific publication with my findings.
My name is Haley Fetters Crouch, and I will be a senior at the University of Kansas, studying Industrial Design with a concentration in Anthropology. I try to design by playing with tradition, immersing in different cultures, manipulating regional materials, helping others and bringing people together. I plan to use KU’s Study Abroad program, Field Biology of Amazonian Peru, to research the natural materials used by Andean indigenous communities and develop my undergraduate thesis project that can help create a sustainable product made from Peruvian materials that can benefit an impoverished community.
My name is Alex Lamb and I am a junior at KU. I grew up in Prairie Village, KS. I study film and journalism at the University of Kansas and am a movie reviewer and filmmaker. I live my life with a sense of adventure and try to explore the unknown, the unusual, and anything I think would make a good story. I am documenting the study abroad program Field Biology of Amazonian Peru through photos, video and audio and will be assembling a documentary/multimedia project from everything I capture in Peru about the environments, the research, the culture, and our experiences.
My name is Sarah Hirschey and I am a rising senior at Wesleyan University studying Earth and Environmental Science with a concentration in Geochemistry. I am very interested in learning about the interactions between humans and their environment and interactions between biotic and abiotic ecologies. During my study abroad in Peru, I plan to expand my knowledge of these interests by studying phytotelmata and the biotic and chemical environments the plant creates for other organisms.
My name is Paige Emilia Miller and I will be a junior at the University of Kansas, studying for a BSc in Biochemistry with a concentration in vector-borne diseases. I will be participating in all the activities of KU’s Study Abroad program, Field Biology of Amazonian Peru, as well as carrying out a survey of mosquito diversity in the Kosnipata Valley. I hope my findings and specimens will develop into a publication. Beyond KU, I am considering joining the Peace Corps and attending graduate school.
I am Caroline Chaboo, a faculty-curator in the Biodiversity Institute with research interests in biodiversity and leaf beetles. I am the course leader for this field program in Peru and this will be my 8th visit to Peru. Although the group is visiting places I have explored before, the program remains exciting because of our team is different each year. The individual expertise, interests, and perspectives of each individual enhances all our experiences. I am excited for our new adventures together.