Introduction: Shrunken Head (from an Apple)

The tribes of the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador and Peru are known collectively as the Jivaro are well know for their practice of shrinking the heads of their enemies for religious and spiritual purposes.

The Warriors of these tribes ran raids on alien tribes specifically to secure tsantsas, or shrunken head trophies. The attacks were small and usually carried out on one house where the victim may have been caught unaware. The trophies brought prestige to the head takers and were thought to trap the avenging souls of their victims.

Westerners began buying up shrunken heads in the late 1800s and early 1900s, causing the tribes to increase their rate of killing in order to supply heads for trade, the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments outlawed the trafficking of shrunken heads in the 1930s to discourage killing for this purpose. The practice of making shrunken heads has since declined dramatically, for good reason.

There are several ways to model a shrunken head. For example, you can
craft a nice little replica if you are handy with paper-mache. Or you can do it the classic way, which is the way I will show you today, using an apple.

Step 1: Peel and Core Your Apple

Tools needed

  • Large granny smith apple
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Hobby knife
  • Steak knife or pocket knife
  • Cheap wig
  • Craft glue
  • Skewers, an oven or a dehydrator for drying
  • Pens/pencil/marker for drawing on the apples
  • Lighter/blowtorch
  • Jute twine/cotton twine

Step 2:

First thing to do is peel and core the apple (it's much easier to peel the apple before you sculpt the face), next you need to draw on the face you want,

I like the finished "head" to look as authentic as possible, so when I cut into the apple I left the details raised up.

Now rinse the sticky juice off the apple and dry with paper towel, be careful not to rip any little bits off.

I then used 3 skewers shoved into the bottom to form a tripod so the apple could stand up and dry on all sides.

Step 3:

Next I turned the oven on to it's lowest setting which was 170F for my oven, I took a look at it every hour to check its progress. after about 6 hours I turned the oven off and rinsed the stickiness off again, then wiped it down with another paper towel and placed it back into the cooling oven for the night.

Step 4:

Skip this step if your not lighting the inside

I used a 25 cent tealight for this step, I couldn't decide if I wanted the light to sit in the top or bottom but after some measuring I decided the bottom would give the best glow to the mouth.

I measured the size of the tealight and used the hobby knife to cut the chunk of apple out and the light fit right into the hole, then realized the plastic flame tip was too tall so I popped the bottom of the light off and removed the plastic flame tip and replaced the lights cover, Perfect fit, Eerie light up mouth achieved.


After this step I placed the apple head back into the oven at 170F for another 6 hours because it was still too wet, rinsed, dried and back in the cooling oven for the night again.

For this apple it took a total of 12 hours in the oven at 170F to get a dry leathery skin.

Step 5:

The third day I grabbed the blowtorch instead of rubbing ash on the skin, it helped give a little character to the tiny head "be very careful with this step you only want to gently darken the skin not burn the face off ".

After the head had a little char on the skin I used a damp paper towel and wiped the black burnt pieces off the face and blended the ash into the skin.

I used one of the skewers and made a small hole going from side to side in the head about 1/2 inch from the top, and cut a piece to fit without sticking out either side, then using the craft glue I patched up the hole. Now you have an anchor point if you want to hang the head. I also used the skewer to poke the holes for the twine in the lips and eyes.

Step 6:

I removed a piece of hair from the wig and cut it into 1 inch pieces and glued little stacks together in the direction I wanted the hair to lay on the head.

Using the razor knife I cut a hairline into the head about 1/4 inch deep and ran a line of glue into the cut, then began placing the hair into the hairline, making sure it was in the proper place, then I let it dry over night.

Step 7:

(I couldn't get back to this project for about a week and in that time the head had time to dry out a lot more)

The next thing I did after the hair was nice and secure was thread some jute twine through the holes in the eyelids and in the lips, I found a tiny chicken bone and cleaned it up and dried it out then placed it through a hole I made in the nose.

I used a length of jute twine to make a loop around the anchor point that we put in the top to hang the little head up, but decided I wanted to place him on a stand instead.

I used a 1/4 inch drill bit and hand drilled a hole into the bottom back of the head, cut a 1/4 inch dowel in half and burnt them with the blowtorch, I had a small piece of ash wood that I used the blowtorch on and burnt it to a crisp then drilled 2 holes for the dowels, glued them into place and put the shrunken heads on.

Step 8: Finished

These were very fun to make, the one with all the beads was made last year and it has gotten as hard as leather.

I would love to hear your comments, thoughts on how to make this fun little project even better, Don't forget to vote.

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Halloween Decor Contest 2015