Origins of Scalping Revealed the Term Paper

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The history of Indian and European scalping)

Another factor that should be considered in the discussion of the origins of European scalping traditions is the evidence in etymology. There is evidence of the prior knowledge and use of scalping in the original usage and understanding of the word ' scalping'.

The noun "scalp" (from a Scandinavian root) existed in English long before the seventeenth century. It had two meanings of different ages. The older meaning was "the top or crown of the head; the skull or cranium," and the more recent one was the skin covering that upper part of the head, "usually covered with hair." But in 1601, Holland's edition of Pliny added a third meaning from a literary acquaintance with the "Anthropophagi" (Scythians) near the North Pole, who wore their enemies' "scalpes haire and al, instead of mandellions or stomachers before their breasts."

Axtell 29)

Researchers have also remarked that there are many similarities with European methods of torture and mutilation among the North American Indians.

Jaenen 125) While this may not conclusively prove that the practice of scalping originated in Europe, it does suggest the possibility of the introduction of scalping into North America. There aspect is further expanded on in the following section.

5. The importation of Scalping

One of the strongest pieces of evidence which indicates that the practice of scalping was imported to America by Europeans, is that earlier reports of the colonization of North America state that that there was initially very little evidence of scalping among the Indians.

However the reports of the incidence of scalping increased in relation to the Indians exposure to the European colonists. There were no reports for example of any scalping "... among the Micmacs during the early contact period;"

Jaenen 122) However, as colonization of the region increased it was found that at the start of the eighteenth century there was a significant increase in the number of scalping incidents..

There are doubts, however, that the practice was universal prior to the seventeenth century; if that is the case, the relationship between contact and the spread of scalping, if any, requires examination. It has been argued that, contrary to general supposition, the practice of scalping in the early exploration period was confined to an area stretching along the interior waterways from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes and down to the Lower Mississippi Valley where it became absorbed in practices of human sacrifice. According to this interpretation, it was unknown to the Atlantic coastal tribes, to the northern tribes, and to most of the tribes of the Prairies and the Pacific region.

Jaenen 122)

This above quotation strongly suggests that the occurrence of Indian scalping increased with the increase in exposure to the European culture.

Not only is it highly possible that scalping is of European origin and was brought to America, but there is also extensive evidence which supports the view that the Europeans settlers actively increased the prevalence of scalping.

One aspect which definitely encouraged the increase of scalping after its introduction to the continent was the introduction of steel. "...knives and hatchets made it much easier to take trophies." (ibid)

However, a major factor which increased the occurrence of scalping was directly initiated by the European colonists, in that they encouraged scalping by offering rewards.

Most sources are agreed that paying bounties for taking scalps was an important factor in spreading the practice. The New Englanders were probably the first to pay the Amerindians for scalps and it became a commonly acknowledged policy in most of the colonies from 1689 onwards.

Jaenen 127)

The above quotation contradicts the popular perception of the colonists as being morally opposed to scalping as a savage and unsupportable custom. There is also evidence that both the French and English themselves used scalping as a method after 1690. "There is also some evidence that after 1690 the French and English themselves resorted to scalping. "

Jaenen 128) clear and damning proof of the European involvement and legitimatization in the practice of scalping was the Scalping Proclamation of 1756. In this proclamation the governor of Pennsylvania offered 130 pieces of eight for the scalp of Indian men over twelve years of age and 50 pieces of eight for a woman's scalp. Because it was impossible for those who paid the bounty to determine the victim's sex - and sometimes the age - from the scalp alone, killing women and children became a way to make easy money.


Amazingly, this proclamation is still on the books and the Canadian government. (BRITISH SCALP PROCLAMATION: 1756)


In the final analysis, the proof that scalping originated from Europe and was an imported practice rather then indigenous to North America is overwhelming. It supersedes the meager proof and conjectures of archeological finds, which suggest that scalping was evident in pre-Columbian America. Even if this archeological and anthropological evidence is taken into account, it is not sufficient to explain the increase in scalping knowledge and occurrences after the coming of the Europeans. Therefore, taking into account the long European tradition and knowledge of scalping, the evidence would suggest that scalping was an import from Europe. This view is also supported by the fact that, contrary to popular belief, the Colonial authorities encouraged the practice of scalping and even took part in it as well.

The view of the American Indian as a "savage" in popular literature and the media is contradicted by numerous experts in the field. There is therefore every reason to assume that the European colonists were not as innocent and moral as depicted in the popular mind and media. This also leads to the assumption that that the Indians were not as savage or immortal as they are often portrayed. The following quotation points to the fact that the assertion that the Indians was barbarians capable of hideous acts like mutilation and scalping is simply historically not defensible; and that the English and French were often the " savages"

To help restore the balance, it ought to be pointed out the degree of cruelty and barbarism that was tolerated in French society at the time should also be taken into account. Only then can a more impartial judgement be made of the Frenchmen's lurid denunciations of aboriginal viciousness. Literary and historical works that give details of the barbaric tortures, experiences in captivity, ambushes and raids of the Amerindians should be balanced against details of the barbarism of European judicial torture, the horrors of its galley fleets and prisons, the monstrous treatment of slaves, the unbelievable cruelty and irrationality in dealing with witchcraft and sorcery, the brutality of warfare ravaging the European countryside, and the great fear of the populace as soldiers, even supposedly friendly troops, entered a town or village. Even the Iroquois in their greatest fury against New France did not fall into the drunken orgies and wholesale rape of captive women that might be expected of a French conquering army at that time.

Jaenen 120)


Ancient Evidence Similar to Indian Scalping Found in China's Hinterland. May 19, 2005.

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Daniel, Dr. Glyn, and Tamara Talbot Rice. The Scythians. New York: Frederick a. Praeger, 1957.

Dickason, Olive Patricia. The Myth of the Savage, and the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas. Edmonton, Alta.: University of Alberta Press, 1997.

Dematte, Paola. "Longshan-Era Urbanism: The Role of Cities in Predynastic China." Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific 38.2 (1999): 119. Questia. 21 May 2005

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Examples of falsification of history. May 20, 2005.

Jaenen, Cornelius J. Aspects of French-Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries Aspects of French-Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.

Scalp. Absolute Astronomy Reference. May 20, 2005.

Scalp2. May 20, 2005.

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The history of Indian and European scalping. May 20, 2005.

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There is also evidence of similar scalping customs in other countries such as China. "Five skulls with special cutting traces, dating back to around 4,000 years ago, were found in China's remote areas, suggesting that ancient Chinese, similar to the American Indian, participated in the practice of scalping. " and" "By comparison, the traces on the two skulls found in Henan are more analogous with the traces left…

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