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taking the scalp of an enemy. The custom, comparable to head-huntinghead-hunting,
practice of taking and preserving the head of a slain enemy. It has occurred throughout the world from ancient times into the 20th cent. In Europe, it flourished in the Balkans until the early 20th cent. The practice often has magico-religious motives.
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, 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.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a martial practice that existed among a number of peoples in which the scalp, that is, the skin with hair, was taken from the head of a slain enemy (sometimes from a live captive) as a trophy. Scalping was known among ancient peoples, for instance, the Gauls and Scythians. From the 17th through 19th centuries the practice of scalping, which had previously existed in the eastern and southeastern part of North America among the Iroquois and other tribes, spread to other North American tribes under the direct influence of European colonizers. The English and French paid bounties to their Indian “allies” for the scalps of warriors from tribes that were hostile to them.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


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