By Frances Larson
Alas, poor Oliver Cromwell. For centuries after his death from fever in 1658, his severed head was ogled in tawdry exhibits and even passed around parties like a cheap souvenir. Though Cromwell’s noggin was put to rest eventually — in 1960 — our species’s fascination with disembodied heads still thrives.
Across cultures and eras, anthropologist Larson explores the many meanings of, and uses for, severed heads. From med school teaching tool to warrior’s trophy, that lump of stuff, when separated from our necks, has both utilitarian and symbolic value.
Larson has a wry but thoughtful tone, peppering her analysis with insights such as the memorable observation that “it is much easier to decapitate a human than a deer, or a lion.” In case you were wondering. — Gemma Tarlach