Human trophy collecting

The practice of human trophy collecting involves the acquisition of human remains. The intent may be to demonstrate dominance over the deceased, such as scalp-taking or forming necklaces of human ears or teeth, or to commemorate the deceased, such as the veneration of the relics of saints. It can be done to prove ones success in battle,[1] or to show off one's power to others.[2] Murderers' collection of their victims' body parts have also been described as a form of trophy-taking; the FBI draws a distinction between souvenirs and trophies in this regard.[3]

While older customs generally included the burial of human war trophies along with the collector, such items have been sold in modern times.[4]

Trophies of dominance

Groups such as the Scythians collected the skulls of the vanquished to make a skull cup.

Headhunting has been practiced across the Americas, Europe, Asian, and Oceania for millennia. The practice continued up until the 20th century in the Balkans, and occurred on a smaller scale during World War II and the Vietnam War. About 60% of the bodies of Japanese soldiers recovered in the Mariana Islands and returned to Japan lacked skulls.[4] One analysis of the practice in early North American societies linked it to social distance from the victim.[5]

Trophies of commemoration

  • The Aghori Hindu sect in India collects human remains which have been consecrated to the Ganges river, making skull cups, or using the corpses as meditation tools.
  • Tibetan Buddhists employ the kangling, a trumpet made from a human thighbone


Body-snatching may sometimes be conducted in order to retain a body part as a trophy.[6]

See also


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