Ron Williamson shares an overview of early North American warfare in “The House of Cut-Off Heads”

Recently I read Chapter 8 of a book entitled The taking and displaying of human body parts by Amerindians (2007). Beautifully written and informative, the chapter is by the Canadian archaeologist Ron Williamson. The full title of the chapter is:

“Otintsiskiaj ondaon” (“The House of Cut-Off Heads”): The history and archaeology of Northern Iroquoian trophy taking

Williamson notes that the region occupied by the North Iroquoians after 1300 comprises most of what is now southern Ontario, southwestern Quebec, New York, and northern Pennsylvania.

“The Iroquoian languages of the people that inhabited this area are distantly related to Cherokee, spoken in the southern Appalachains, and to Tuscarora, spoken near the mid-Atlantic coast,” Williams adds. “The term ‘Iroquoian,’ therefore, should not be confused with ‘Iroquois,’ an Algonquian word used by Europeans to refer to the Five Nations Confederacy of New York State (Trigger 1969:6).”

A more recent edition of the book by Bruce G. Trigger, cited in this passage, is also available.

The first chapter of the book in which William’s chapter appears is entitled Introduction to human trophy taking: An ancient and widespread practice. The chapter’s opening paragraph sets the book into a suitable context.

Rather than following “the colonialist tradition of denigrating indigenous customs and belief systems,” the book’s editors Richard J. Chacon and David H. Dye note, “this book seeks to respectfully and dispassionately shed light on why such behaviors occurred in the Americas.”

The opening chapter also provides an overview of Chapter 8, noting that Williamson “documents how the appearance of human trophy taking among the Iroquoians coincided with the intensification of regional warfare, population growth, and the advent of village amalgamation beginning around 1300 AD.”

The book ties in with my interest in military history arising from a current documentary project in Long Branch. One of the personalities associated with Long Branch is Colonel Samuel Smith who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

Not much is known about Colonel Smith. More is known about the American Revolution, the First Nations of North America, and the world history of warfare.

The latter topics offer a means whereby we can position the colonel in our minds.


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