Human trophy collecting

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American sailor with the skull of a Japanese soldier during the Second World war.

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.[citation needed] 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[edit]


Headhunting has been practiced across the Americas, Europe, Asian, and Oceania for millennia.[4] One analysis of the practice in early North American societies linked it to social distance from the victim.[5]

  • For example, groups such as the Scythians collected the skulls of the vanquished to make a skull cup.[citation needed]
  • 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]


In North America, it was common practice before, during or after the lynching of African-Americans for those involved to take souvenirs such as body parts, skin grafts, bones, etc.[6][7]

Trophies of commemoration[edit]

Well, these white guys would sometimes take the dog-tag chain and fill that up with ears. For different reasons. They would take the ear off to make sure the VC was dead. And to confirm that they had a kill. And to put some notches on they guns. If we were movin' through the jungle, they'd just put the bloody ear on the chain and stick the ear in their pocket and keep on going. Wouldn't take time to dry it off. Then when we get back, they would nail 'em up on the walls to our hootch, you know, as a trophy. They was rotten and stinkin' after awhile, and finally we make 'em take 'em down.


Body-snatching may sometimes be conducted in order to retain a body part as a trophy.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Academic American Encyclopedia 10, Grolier, 1997, ISBN 978-0-7172-2068-7, In some cultures head-hunting can be considered a manifestation of the widespread practice of removing parts of the body of a slain enemy — as in scalping or the severing of an ear or nose — for war trophies. 
  2. ^ "The head as trophy or cult object", Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics 6, 1913, p. 534, ISBN 978-0-543-97870-7 
  3. ^ Harold Schechter; David Everitt (4 July 2006). The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Simon and Schuster. p. 290. ISBN 978-1-4165-2174-7. Retrieved 27 January 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Christine Quigley (13 October 2005). The Corpse: A History. McFarland. pp. 249–251. ISBN 978-0-7864-2449-8. Retrieved 27 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Richard J. Chacon; David H. Dye (2007). The taking and displaying of human body parts as trophies by Amerindians. Springer. pp. 32, 33. ISBN 978-0-387-48300-9. Retrieved 27 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (PDF), Short Report, Montgomery, Alabama: Equal Justice Initiative, 2015, p. 14, Public Spectacle Lynchings. Large crowds of white people, often numbering in the thousands and including elected officials and prominent citizens, gathered to witness pre-planned, heinous killings that featured prolonged torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and/or burning of the victim. White press justified and promoted these carnival like events, with vendors selling food, printers producing postcards featuring photographs of the lynching and corpse, and the victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs. 
  7. ^ Sinclair, William Albert (1905). The Aftermath of Slavery; A Study of the Condition and Environment of the American Negro. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company. p. 250. The Nashville (Tennessee) American gives an account of a lynching in Mississippi as follows: "But there was a lynching in that state that for fiendish brutality has not yet been surpassed, even when the victims have been roasted at the stake. It occurred at Doddsville, recently, and these are the circumstances as related by local newspapers: Luther Holbert, a negro, had a quarrel with a white man and, following the usual Mississippi method, they exchanged shots, the negro escaping and the white man being killed. The negro, knowing the penalty for killing a white man in that section, fled, of course, accompanied by his wife, who had had no part in the quarrel. They were captured by the mob and this is what was done to them, according to the statement of an eye-witness in the Vicksburg Herald."'When the two negroes were captured they were tied to trees, and while the funeral pyres were being prepared they were forced to suffer the most fiendish tortures. The blacks were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs. The ears of the murderers were cut off. Holbert was severely beaten, his skull was fractured, and one of his eyes, knocked out with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket. Neither the man nor the woman begged for mercy, nor made a groan or plea. When the executioners came forward to lop off fingers, Holbert extended his hand without being asked. The most excruciating form of punishment consisted in the use of a large corkscrew in the hands of one of the mob. This instrument was bored into the flesh of the man and the woman, in the arms, legs, and body, and pulled out, the spiral tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn.'"" 
  8. ^ Richard J. Chacon; David H. Dye (2007). The taking and displaying of human body parts as trophies by Amerindians. Springer. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-387-48300-9. 
  9. ^ Terry, Wallace (1984). Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans. Random House. p. 26. ISBN 0394530284.  (ISBN 978-0-394-53028-4)
  10. ^ Ellis, Bill (2000). Raising the devil: Satanism, new religions, and the media. University Press of Kentucky. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-8131-2170-3. Retrieved 2011-01-30. [...] a self-confessed robber came forward and admitted the body-snatching [...] leaving the body in the car [...] he took the head home and kept it on his matelpiece as a trophy of his visit [...]