Skip to main content

Hair-raising Antiquity

March 2023
1min read

In “Who Invented Scalping?” an article in our April, 1977. issue, James Axtell argued that—contrary to recent revisionist notions—Europeans did not teach the Indians how to scalp. The Indians, he said, had learned it all by themselves and had practiced it long before Europeans inflicted themselves on this innocent continent. Additional evidence to support Mr. Axtell’s theory has since come to us from Douglas Owsley and Hugh Berryman, anthropologists at the University of Tennessee, who furnished us with the photograph above and a description of what happened to the skull’s former owner:

“The human skull shown in the picture is that of an adult male American Indian who was scalped. The bones of this individual [who died in about A.D. 1300] were recovered during an archaeological excavation of the Arnold site in Williamson County, Tennessee. … Cuts in the bone (visible in the photograph) extend across the forehead in the approximate location of the hairline. Two or three strokes with a sharp stone knife were all that was required.

“In the historic period, and likely the prehistoric as well, certain tribes in the southeastern United States considered the scalp symbolic of an individual’s soul. Loss of the scalp had supernaturally dangerous consequences to the victim’s eternal future unless his death was avenged by friends and relatives.”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "June 1977"

Authored by: The Editors

Saving Hundred-Year-Old Buildings

Authored by: E. M. Halliday

The granite was tough—but so was Gutzon Borglum

Authored by: The Editors

A Last Link with the Living Frontier

Authored by: John Brooks

Corruption, Yesterday and Today

Authored by: Rodman W. Paul

From Poverty and Persecution to Prosperity and Power

Authored by: James Wesley Baker

and how, a decade after the Revolution, a melodramatic rescue attempt, involving a grateful young American, went awry

Authored by: Spencer Klaw

Of herbal medicine, a “doctor” named Samuel Thomson, and a sure cure for almost everything…

Featured Articles

The world’s most prominent actress risked her career by standing up to one of Hollywood’s mega-studios, proving that behind the beauty was also a very savvy businesswoman. 

Rarely has the full story been told about how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.