Becoming Maya: Infancy and Upbringing Through the Lens of Pre-Hispanic Head Shaping

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Abstract:

The cultural modification of the infant's head form through constriction and compression devices constitutes a readily visible permanent body modification that has been employed cross-culturally to express identity, ethnicity, status, gender and upbringing. This work deals with the multifaceted roles and meanings of ancient Maya head shaping, where the practice was deeply rooted and widespread. It is founded on the results of a long-term research of approximately 2,000 skulls from different parts of the Maya World, along with iconographic depictions and ethnohistorical information. Anchored in concepts derived from Mesoamerican biosocial and ideological schemes, I discuss the multifaceted roles of Maya head modification in its 'organo-plastic', procedural and emblematic dimensions and explore the possibility of head shaping being an active means by female caretakers to reproduce ideology and gender.

Keywords: CHILDHOOD; GENDER; HEADSHAPING; INFANCY; MAYA; MIDWIFERY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2011

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