A shrunken head that was used in the 1979 dark comedy Wise Bloods was recently authenticated and confirmed to have been real human remains.
The head, known as a tsantsa, was a sacred artifact obtained by Mercer University in 1942 after a former faculty member acquired it in Ecuador while serving in the U.S. military, scientists Craig D. Byron and Adam M. Kiefer from the Georgia university revealed in a research paper shared on Heritage Science.
In the film Wise Bloods, the shrunken head was attached to a fake tiny body and became the object of worship from one of the characters.
"The singular artifact in this paper is presumed to be an authentic tsantsa composed of human tissue," professors Byron and Kiefer wrote in their research paper.
The scientists at Mercer University performed countless tests over the years to authenticate the artifact so that it could be returned to Ecuador's government.
"It's a relief to have the specimen out of our possession," Byron toldThe Art Newspaper Monday. "It had 'underground' value; it was illegal to trade or sell; it was the skin from a person's head."
He added, "We had no business holding on to this item. It was a rewarding conclusion to a project hanging around since 2015."
Tsantsas "are cultural artifacts that were made from human remains by certain indigenous culture groups of Ecuador and Peru. Typically, male members of the Amazonian Shuar, Achuar, Awajún/Aguaruna, Wampís/Huambisa, and Candoshi-Shampra," according to the research paper.
The Mercer University scientists added that they are made from the skin "of enemies slain during combat" and were believed to contain "the spirit of the victim and all their technical knowledge and thus were considered to possess supernatural qualities and represent a source of personal power for the owner."
The experts revealed the artifacts became "monetarily valuable as keepsakes and curios during the nineteenth century."
Because of the value placed on the heads, experts had to spend years testing the tsantsa's size, structure, hair, hairstyle and many other factors. They also performed CT scans.
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Over the years, scammers tried to replicate tsantas using animals, synthetic materials or "the heads of European victims," in order to get money for the items, the Mercer University scientists wrote.
"We were able to affirm 30 of the 33 authenticating indicators," they revealed of the shrunken head used in Wise Bloods.
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