Reprint of a December 2011 Bones Don't Lie Blog:
Not Aliens, Just Humans with Modified Crania
The basic architecture of the human skull is made up of six bones, the occipital, the frontal, two parietal and two temporal bones. While the skull itself is solid in adulthood, the cranial bones of children are malleable. The reason for this is to allow for growth of the brain and head throughout childhood. However, if pressure is applied in certain areas for a long duration during childhood, the shape of the skull can be changed. The bone will slowly ossify into the shape that it is pressed into, making it a permanent feature. Enchev et al. (2010) even note that there likely wasn’t any major neurological damage. Most modified skulls are from adults and old adults, suggesting that it doesn’t create permanent damage.
Cranial vault modification can be achieved through a number of means. Enchev et al. (2010) discuss two types of modification: tabular or annular. Tabular, or “flat-head” modification involves compressing the fontal and occipital with fixed, erect boards or pads. This creates a lateral bulging of the head. A variation on this is when vertical boards are placed higher up on the back of the head to produce more upright modification. Annular modification is produced when bands are wrapped around the forehead and the back of the skull to force the bone to grow upright. Examination of modified crania show that they often vary by individual, attributed to the nature of bone growth and idiosyncratic variation in the application of bands and boards.
Another common term applied to these skulls is cranial deformity, however this term implies that the shape was unwanted or a malformation. Cranial deformities more accurately reflect the change in shape due to the birthing procedure or accidental distortion. One example of this is when infants are strapped to cradle boards, a practice often found in indigenous American populations as a way to protect the neck of the infant during travel.
However, it is unlikely that the changes found in the skulls of Peruvian and Egyptian populations are due to accident. This leads to the question of intent and purpose. In order to understand the reasons for the change, it is important to look at the social and political context of the practice, as well as the identity of the individual and their place within society. Ayer et al. (2010) argue that deformation was a sign of political and socioeconomic status. In support of their hypothesis, they examine a selection of modified crania in Peru and Egypt.
While the cranial modification issue from the Journal of Neurosurgery does discuss a number of really interesting topics, they do not explore the issue in any depth. Modifying the cranium is a major undertaking and occurred in a variety of cultures through different forms and methods. However, it continues today in order to create the perfect shapes. See Kristina Killgrove’s post on cranial modification and its modern occurrence. It is important to look at the cultural background and compare it against other occurrences. Currently there is only speculation as to the reasons and purposes of the modification.
Ayer A, Campbell A, Appelboom G, Hwang BY, McDowell M, Piazza M, Feldstein NA, & Anderson RC (2010). The sociopolitical history and physiological underpinnings of skull deformation. Neurosurgical focus, 29 (6) PMID: 21121715
Romero-Vargas, S., Ruiz-Sandoval, J., Sotomayor-González, A., Revuelta-Gutiérrez, R., Celis-López, M., Gómez-Amador, J., García-González, U., López-Serna, R., García-Navarro, V., Mendez-Rosito, D., Correa-Correa, V., & Gómez-Llata, S. (2010). A look at Mayan artificial cranial deformation practices: morphological and cultural aspects Neurosurgical FOCUS, 29 (6) DOI: 10.3171/2010.9.FOCUS10200
Enchev Y, Nedelkov G, Atanassova-Timeva N, & Jordanov J (2010). Paleoneurosurgical aspects of Proto-Bulgarian artificial skull deformations. Neurosurgical focus, 29 (6) PMID: 21121717
More elongated Peruvian Paracas skull showing the more elongated type more popular there, but once again the strong s and heavy jaw typical of the Adena.
|Diagrams Illustrating how the skulls of infants were deformed|
Museum of the necropolis at Paracas, Peru. The cemetery is noted for the fine quality of the textiles that the mummies were wrapped in. The Verills thought that some of the textiles incorportated messages written in old-world scripts such as the Hittite script from what is now Turkey. (America's Ancient Civilizations)
Moche Elite Compared to Average Indian
© 2001, National Geographic Society
|Extravagant grave goods add to the mystery of this ancient people of Peru.|
|Get a taste of what awaits you in print
from this compelling excerpt. |
The large copper bowl lay within my grasp, undisturbed for 1,500 years since it had been placed upside down over the dead man’s face. Our team had worked more than a month to reach this point in the excavation of one of the richest and most intriguing tombs ever found in Peru—the tomb of a Moche elite.
The Moche inhabited a series of river valleys along the arid coastal plain of northern Peru from about A.D. 100 to 800. Through farming and fishing, they supported a dense population and highly stratified society that constructed irrigation canals, pyramids, palaces, and temples. Although they had no writing system, the Moche left a vivid artistic record of their activities in beautiful ceramic vessels, elaborately woven textiles, colorful murals, and wondrous objects of gold, silver, and copper.
Finding undisturbed Moche tombs is rare in an area that has been looted for more than four centuries, yet from 1997 to 1999 our team of U.S. and Peruvian researchers discovered three extraordinary tombs at Dos Cabezas, an ancient settlement in the lower Jequetepeque Valley. Outside each burial chamber was a miniature tomb containing a small copper statue meant to represent the tomb’s principal occupant. Each tomb also contained a remarkably tall adult male who would have been a giant among his peers. [Emphasis added-DD]
Gently lifting the copper bowl, I expected to see a skeletonized face. But
instead, looking up at me with inlaid eyes, was an exquisite gold-and-copper
funerary mask. We were all astonished and knew then how important these
tombs could be to unraveling the mystery of the Moche.
Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine
--This article once again emphasizes that the Warrior elite in the Americas was carefully selected from the larger individuals and bred into a special class, training for combat throug gladiatorial excercises and not actually employed locally for warfare. Iton that they were shipped off to fight wars elsewhere, particularly in the Mid East,. And if you do not believe that Peru was diectly connected to Mesopotamia in tye early days (The Verrills have a LOT of evidence on this point), themn have a look at a piece of pottery found at Tiahuanaco which has an inscription on the inside in the cuneiform script common in Babylonia and associated nations: