Headhunting is the practice of taking and preserving a person's head after killing the person. Headhunting was practised in historic times in parts of Oceania, South and Southeast Asia, West and Central Africa, and Mesoamerica, as well as among certain tribes of the Celts, the West Germanic tribes, the Vikings and Scythians of ancient Europe. It occurred in Europe until the early 20th century in the Balkan Peninsula (mostly in Montenegro, Croatia, and western parts of Herzegovina) and to the end of the Middle Ages in Ireland and the Anglo-Scottish border regions.
As a practice, headhunting has been the subject of intense discussion within the anthropological community as to its possible social roles, functions, and motivations. Themes that arise in anthropological writings about headhunting include mortification of the rival, ritual violence, cosmological balance, the display of manhood, cannibalism, prestige, and as a means of securing the services of the victim as a slave in the afterlife.
Contemporary scholars generally agree that its primary function was ceremonial and that it was part of the process of structuring, reinforcing, and defending hierarchical relationships between communities and individuals. Some experts theorize that the practice stemmed from the belief that the head contained "soul matter" or life force, which could be harnessed through its capture.