Shrunken heads at Oxford Museum could disappear

Shrunken heads at Oxford Museum could disappear

A collection of shrunken heads which has for decades enthralled adults and children alike may be removed from an Oxford museum following complaints by an indigenous South American people.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is in discussion with representatives of the Shuar people of the Amazon rainforest over the future of the shrunken heads, regarded by the tribe as having deep religious significance.

Curators at the museum, where the seven human heads have been displayed since the 1940s, said talks were prompted after visitors complained the heads as a “freak show”.

Officials hope to reach an agreement with the Shuar that would allow them to continue to show the heads by emphasising their cultural significance.

But two scalps previously displayed in the same glass case, labelled Treatment of Dead Enemies, have already been removed and placed in storage following complaints by Native American communities who felt the display misrepresented their traditions.

Laura Van Broekhoven, director of the Pitt Rivers Museum, said: “We know the collection of heads is cherished by many, but there are also many people who feel uncomfortable with it.

“There are questions about whether human remains should be on display.

“We are undertaking a project with Shuar representatives and the San Francisco University in Quito to see how they feel about the way their culture is being represented in the shrunken heads display.

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