The scientific analysis, reconstruction and cross cultural comparison of human trophy items from the Americas.

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Liberal Arts

Degree Name

Bachelor in Arts


The modification of human body parts into trophy items is a practice common across the ancient world. They have been recovered in the Americas from the Northeast Coast to the Andes. The form of processing and functional significance of each item varies. The most commonly known are symbolic, associated with ritual sacrifice or warfare, although human trophy items have also been recorded in ancestor veneration and legitimacy of the ruling class. The item that motivated this study is an omechicahauxtli, an object specific to Mexico that refers to a musical rasp. This thesis reports on an omechicahuaxtli recovered from a Postclassic shaft and chamber tomb in Jalisco. Artistic representations of rasps are known from this region. To date, this appears to be the only West Mexican omechicahuaxtli recovered from an archaeological excavation and systematically analyzed. The rasp is broken, possibly assisted by a sacrificial 'death' prior to interment. The comparison of this object to other notched musical instruments from the region demonstrated that this rasp was unique in that it presented with wear patina at higher levels than other rasps. At least 23 notches are visible with varying distance, depth and polish. Microscopic analysis of the notches was undertaken to examine how the musical rasp was manufactured and used. This analysis identified tool striations and extensive wear patina, demonstrating the rasp was not just a symbolic object, but had extensive use prior to inclusion in the funerary context, thus providing insight into prehistoric ritual world of West Mexico.