scalping

scalping, taking the scalp of an enemy. The custom, comparable to head-hunting, was formerly practiced in Europe and Asia (Herodotus describes its practice by the Scythians, for example), but it is generally associated with North American natives, although many such groups did not take scalps. Most anthropologists believe that scalping was a native practice that aboriginal North Americans did not borrow from Europeans. To some, the scalp was not merely a trophy; it bestowed the possessor with the powers of the scalped enemy. In scalping, a circular cut was made around the crown of the head and the skin raised at one side and torn off. The scalping of a living person was not always fatal. In their early wars with Native Americans, colonists of North America retaliated by taking scalps and heads themselves. Bounties were offered for them, which led to an escalation of intertribal warfare and scalping.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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