"All the world's a stage we pass through." - R. Ayana

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Ancient Elongated Skulls and Cranial Deformation

Ancient Elongated Skulls and Cranial Deformation
Cranial Deformation

The recent discovery of the skull (right) from Sonora, Mexico has promoted a wave of articles proclaiming it, and other similar examples to be evidence of ancient alien contact. Images of elongated skulls or 'cone-heads' can be seen as far back as Sumerian and Egyptian times, but the act of cranial deformation can be traced as even further to 45,000 years ago (1), suggesting it's importance surpassed the safety of the child even then as cranial deformation is invariably carried out on infants while the bones are supple and flexible and can be fatal in cases of excessive deformation, which raises the important question:

What was it that has led so many people from so many varied cultures to incorporate this characteristic into their children?

'Cranial deformation can be defined as the product of “dynamic distortion of the normal vectors of the infantile neurocranial growth through the agency of externally applied forces' (Moss, 1958; p 275). It has been found in every continent and is not limited to humans (Shapiro, 1927; Trinkaus, 1982; Gerszten and Gerszten, 1995; Tubbs, Salter, and Oaks, 2006).  (5)

As noted above, the cultural preference for elongated skulls has found its way onto every continent on the earth suggesting a cultural connection of great antiquity, and therefore one of potential importance. In the earliest Sumerian Al Ubiad pottery, there is a clear association to the gods, and variations on the idea that it was a symbol of status, high rank, or wisdom have been recorded in the traditions of differing cultures around the world offering a common theme that exists in the minds of people to this day. The pertinent question with regard this phenomena is whether or not such cranial deformity dolichocephaly has ever existed naturally in humans, and if so, what is the significance of such persistent emulation through artificial deformity by so many peoples for such a long time.

  Cranial Deformation:

The earliest known examples of intentional human cranial deformation predate written history and date back to 45,000 BC in Neanderthal skulls, and to the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE) from Shanidar Cave in Iraq. It also occurred among Neolithic peoples in SW Asia. (1) and even greater antiquity has been assigned to dolicho-anomalies at Neolithic-Cyprus, Kow Swamp, Australia (13,000 BP), "and perhaps 18,000 - 23,000 BP. at Chou Kou Tien, China." (7)

Examples of Dolicocephalic Czech Cranium 35,000 BC:

The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates' description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification. He said of it:

"14. I will pass over the smaller differences among the nations, but will now treat of such as are great either from nature, or custom; and, first, concerning the Macrocephali [tribe or `nation' said to be living beyond the Bosphorus / Black Sea or maybe even further i.e Scythians - RD] There is no other race of men which have heads in the least resembling theirs".

"...At first, usage was the principal cause of the length of their head, but now nature cooperates with usage. They think those the most noble who have the longest heads...".

"It is thus with regard to the usage: immediately after the child is born, and while its head is still tender, they fashion it with their hands, and constrain it to assume a lengthened shape by applying bandages and other suitable contrivances whereby the spherical form of the head is destroyed, and it is made to increase in length". -

The act of artificial cranial deformation on infants was present in numerous ancient cultures, including some of the greatest, such as the Indus Valley, Sumerian, Egyptian, Olmec, Mayan, Inca etc etc... At present, such practices are all but gone but they were recorded into the 20th century with records of 'Some isolated groups in Africa and South America who continue this practice'. (3) Of particular interest are those peoples which have been recorded to show a 'natural' or genetically inherited tendency for elongated skulls, as it has been shown that the biological result of such deformation is a larger skull, but perhaps more significantly, a larger brain. Something which offers a clear incentive for such potentially dangerous practices on newborns, but also one which takes on a different light in consideration of the persistent veneration for elongated heads.

   Geographical Distribution:

It has been mentioned that skull elongation was present all around the ancient world, appearing in several different and apparently unrelated cultures. The following examples offer a basic representative description of the similarities and differences in the practices of skull deformation between these cultures. The basic procedure of moulding the skull was carried out on infants as their cranium is soft and pliable while they are in their early years. It involved attaching a plank of padding to the front of the skull and compressing it into the desirable shape. It will be seen that there is a suggestion that elongated skulls may have been a genetically inherited trait in some cases, while the majority of known examples are demonstrated to be an emulation of this.

Early-Neolithic deformed skull from Iran, Wikipedia image: these skulls are common from about 5,000 to 7,000 BC in the areas that would later become Iran and then diffusing out into the surrounding territories. Many skulls in the same time period from Iraq, Southern Turkey and Syria are also deformed but not usually so severely. In later historical time many of the Iranian-speaking nomads of Central Asia continued the tradition and eventually the trait was introduced into Europe from the East by the invasions of the Huns. (8)

In the Old world, 'Huns' and 'Alans' are also known to have practised similar cranial deformation. At around AD 300-600, the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, adopted this custom.

The Sumerians: 

The earliest significant record of skull elongation comes in the form of the pottery representations of the Gods from the 5th millennium B.C. The Al-Ubaid culture proceeded the Sumerian culture was a people known as the Ubaidians who established settlements in the region later known as Sumer (Mesopotamia) (2) It has been noticed that there are very strong similarities between the Ubaid artwork, and that of of 'Old Europe' Vinca Culture which flourished c. 6,000 - 3,500 BC.

John Marshall’s “Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization” as well as “Anthropology” (by Ram Nath Sharma, Rajendra Kumar Sharma) in addition to Al-Ubaid burials, wrote that cranial deformation features were also seen of skulls of Kish; Ur of Mesopotamia; Additanallur in Madras; Veddahs of Ceylon (Sri Lanka); Naga of Calcutta; jar burials of Harappa; Mediterranean; Nal in Baluchistan; Sialkot in Punjab; and Bayana (Aryan skulls) in Uttar Pradesh. (2) Marshall (9) makes a comparison between the elongated Al Ubaid skulls and those found from the Indus Valley Civilisation, noting that the Al Ubaid skulls are 'Not as elongated as those from Mohenjo-Daro'.


In Egypt, evidence of elongated skulls appears in all the members of the royal family in during the Armana epoch, including King Akhenaten. Queen Nefertiti, their six female children and Tutankamun. (Busts have been found of two of the daughters and they both have elongated heads. (4) The Skulls of Rameses II, several centuries later also show elongation of the skull (below), and that of his (suspected) first son Amun-her-khepeshef seem eerily similar to those of the two earlier Pharaohs.

From left to right: The skulls of Nefertiti, Tutankhamen, and Rameses II.

Whether or not this was a genetic trait or one enforced on the royal members at birth is unknown, but while the cranium appear extended at the rear, they do not show any evidence of artificial deformation. Perhaps relevant that In the 1st Century, Egyptian priest-scribes, then keepers of the world's oldest known records, claimed that the earliest rulers of Egypt were non-humans :- immortals. "Mortals have been Kings of their country, they say, for a little less than 5,000 years" - from Diodorus (Wiki ref), which is the same belief ascribed by the earliest Sumerians, who depicted their gods as having elongated heads.  


Pre-Columbian Americas: In the Americas the Maya, Inca, and certain tribes of North American Indians performed the custom. (1) The earliest examples of elongated skulls comes in the form of Olmec art. The jade figurines (Right) were found at La Venta buried beneath the floor of a temple courtyard c. 1,000 BC. Evidently, some unknown time after the initial burial, the site was opened again through the courtyard floor (clearly, someone knew exactly where the burial was located) and excavated to the level of the heads of the buried figurines. After this "inspection", the offering was covered up again and never opened again until recent time.

The Paracas Culture (c. 700 BC - 100 AD): One intriguing aspect of this culture which has been overlooked by most researchers is the fact that the nobility practiced skull binding, resulting in cranial deformation. The Paracas situation is somewhat unique in that researchers Juan Navarro and Brien Foerster have found the presence of at least 5 distinct shapes of elongated skulls, each being predominant in specific cemeteries. The largest and most striking are from a site called Chongos, near the town of Pisco, north of Paracas. These skulls are called "cone heads" by many who see them, because of their literal conical appearance. Testing of these have illustrated that, on average, the cranial capacity is 1.5 Ltr's, approximately 25% larger than contemporary skulls, and weigh as much as 60 percent more. Also, eye orbit cavities are significantly larger than contemporary skulls, and the jaws are both larger and thicker. (1)

Three pre-Incan "nations or races" were determined through skull morphology by Dr. Tschudi (6). He names the Chinchas, Aymaraes, and Huancas. He suggested that Skulls of the Chinchas were what we would call normally human. The other two "races" were remarkably unlike the Chinchas. The Huancas had the most pronounced dolichocephalic traits. And it was this people about which Tschudi had the least amount of historical data. The Aymaraes "commenced the dynasty of the Incas." Of the Aymaraes, Tschudi said, "The crania of these people present differences equally remarkable ... and particularly the contour of the cranium." Keeping in mind that Inca is a term venerating the emperors of Peru, not a tribe/nation per sé - He proposed that the Aymaraes conquered the other two peoples and marshaled the unity of Inca civilization It is interesting to note that of the three "races" discussed, the non-dolicho-headed group, the Chinchas, artificially mimed the actual "conehead" peoples.


The Mysterious Disappearance of the Maltese Skulls.

It was public knowledge that until 1985 a number of skulls, found in pre-historic Maltese temples at Taxien, Ggantja and Hal Saflienti, were exposed in the Archaeological Museum in Valletta. They have since disappeared without a trace.

'Only the photographs taken by the Maltese researcher Dr. Anton Mifsud and his colleague, Dr. Charles Savona Ventura, remain to testify the existence of the skulls and prove their abnormality. Books written by the two Maltese doctors, illustrate a collection of skulls that show peculiar abnormalities and/or pathologies. Sometimes inexistent cranial knitting lines, abnormally developed temporal partitions, drilled and swollen occiputs as following recovered traumas, but above all, a strange, lengthened skull, bigger and more peculiar than the others, lacking of the median knitting. The presence of this finding leads to a number of possible hypotheses in consideration of other finds of similar skulls, from Egypt to South America, the particular deformity, unique in the panorama of medical pathology referred to such distant times, (we are talking about approximately 3000 BC) could be an exceptional discovery.

The skulls were all found in the Hal Saflienti hypogeum, where a sacred well was dedicated to the Mother Goddess and where also the small statue of a sleeping goddess was found, associated to a relic with a snake inscription on it. One in particular had a cranium showing a very pronounced dolichocephalous, in other words, a lengthened posterior part of the skullcap, besides the lack of median knitting, technically named "sagitta". This last detail has been considered "impossible" by medics and anatomists, not having analogous pathological cases in international medical literature. It is a characteristic that emphasizes the anomaly of this finding with the result of producing a natural lengthening of the cranium (not due to bandaging or boards as used in pre-Colombian civilizations)'.

It is proposed, on the basis of these findings, that the group of skulls found in the Hypogeum were representative of a group of peoples who were considered of importance (as attested to by the location of their discovery), and who had a natural genetic tendency for elongated skulls, were integrally involved in the activities of the temple builders of the time. Other skulls found in the Brochtorff  circle (Hypogeum II), are considered to have had their heads bandaged in order to produce their cranial deformities.

(Extract from Hera Magazine, Italy: 1999)

"From an examination of the skeletons of the polished-stone age, it appears that the early inhabitants of Malta were a race of long-skulled people of lower medium height, akin to the early people of Egypt, who spread westward along the north coast of Africa, whence some went to Malta and Sicily and others to Sardinia and Spain."


Friedrich Ratzel in 'The History of Mankind' reported in 1896 that deformation of the skull, both by flattening it behind and elongating it towards the vertex, was found in isolated instances in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and the Paumoto group and occurring most frequently on Mallicollo in the New Hebrides (today Malakula, Vanuatu), where the skull was squeezed extraordinarily flat.  The practice was also known among the Australian Aborigines.

   Origin and Function:

In trying to understand the motivation behind such a persistent cultural manifestation, it is worth remembering both that it it is potentially lethal process for the infants, at the same that it appears present in almost every culture in the prehistoric world. Whatever its origin, the idea that it was a beneficial practice held true in people around the world right up to the turn of the twentieth century.  The extreme antiquity of the tradition is shown by archaeology yet as it stands today, it exists without a rational biological or evolutionary beneficial explanation and we are left to the conclusion that it was primarily a 'cosmetic' feature.

However, there is a fundamental difference between cranial deformation and other cultural forms of bodily mutilation (such as foot bandaging, genitalia deformation, scarring or tattooing), because the literature invariably concludes that such cranial deformation was intended to emulate either the look of the gods, the nobility, or to demonstrate social status. 'Even in the remote Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and the south south-western Malakulan (Australasia), a person with an elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits' (1).

Hippocrates (from 400 BC) tells us that the practice among the Scythians was for the purpose of giving a certain aristocratic distinction. Amedée Thierry, in his “History of Attila,” says the Huns used it for the same reason; (2)

'The following heads.. (from Del Rio’s “Account of Palenque,” copied into Nott and Gliddon’s “Types of Mankind,” p. 440) ...show that the receding forehead was a natural characteristic of the ancient people of Central America. The same form of head has been found even in fossil skulls. We may therefore conclude that the skull-flattening, which we find to have been practised in both the Old and New Worlds, was an attempt of other races to imitate the form of skull of a people whose likenesses are found on the monuments of Egypt and of America. It has been shown that this peculiar form of the head was present even in the fœtus of the Peruvian mummies'. (2)

"The Maya elite practised changing the shape of their offsprings' skulls to resemble the Maize God's elongated head by tying two boards front and back against the infant's head"  

This intrinsic difference separates cranial deformation from other physical deformation activities as there is evidence that there may be a biological benefit from the process... Something which the academic establishment has yet to explore, but the evidence from recent research suggests that skull elongation results in both a larger cranium, and a larger brain (1): surely a relevant finding in the light of the association with elongated skulls and the idea that the process makes a person 'more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits'..?

Nature Vs Nurture:

Hippocrates was the first person to suggest the idea that cranial elongation might be an inherited factor. Somewhat remarkably, he specifically recorded the fact when he said:

'At first, usage was the principal cause of the length of their head, but now nature cooperates with usage'.

As seen in the case of the Paracas culture (above), it has been suggested that certain examples of elongated skulls which have been found around the world are neither the result of congenital deformation (birth defects), or inflicted deformity (cranial binding), leaving the alternative of an inherited genotype. Something which doesn't sit well with certain anthropologists. Of course, without a proper DNA testing program, it remains impossible to determine which skulls were the result of artificial deformation and which, if any, were a natural genetic trait (such as hair, eye colour etc). The lack of credible testing in this area (and the disappearance of the Maltese skulls) has greatly contributed to the current level of misunderstanding in this area of study.

There are always cases of exception in the medical record, but of particular interest here is the fact that the volume of some of these skulls has been found to be twice that of a normal skull, and with it an increased brain capacity, which raises the obvious question: How is it possible for the skull and brain capacity to increase in a human unless it is caused by genotype, and what is the effect on the individual?

Dr. Tschudi offers, "...physiologists are undoubtedly in error, who suppose (dolichocephaly in) the Peruvian race is exclusively artificial. This hypothesis rests on insufficient grounds; its authors could have made their observations solely on the crania of adult(s) ... (however) two mummies of children (analyzed in England) ... belonged to the tribe Aymaraes. The two crania (both of children scarce a year old), had in all respects, the same form as those of adults. We ourselves have observed the same fact in many mummies of children of tender age..."

"More still: the same formation of the head presents itself in children yet unborn; and of this truth we have had convincing proof in sight of a foetus enclosed in the womb of a mummy of a pregnant woman, ... which is, at this moment, in our collection." The foetus was aged 7 months! (6)

The records of the inspections of the Maltese skulls also suggest that there were elongated skulls present that weren't artificially modified, but were a natural feature (a genetic aberration, or an inherited one). The recognition that larger skulls also have a larger brain capacity certainly provides an impetus for such practices, but doesn't answer the question of who the original cone-heads were, or why they were emulated for so persistently around the ancient world. Sadly, these are questions that can only be answered through comparative DNA testing of elongated skulls around the world, something that has yet to be done.


1). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_cranial_deformation
2). http://japanesemythology.wordpress.com/east-asian-native-american-hun-and-scythian-practices-artificial-deformation-of-the-skull/
3). http://www.themedicalbag.com/bodymodstory/head-flattening
4). http://www.perceptions.couk.com/authority.html
5). http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/nparr/index_files/Page398.htm
6). Mariano E. Rivero and John James Von Tschudi, M.D. Peruvian Antiquities. First published in 1851.
7). http://www.desertfoxoverland.co.uk/malta_-_dolichocephaloids.HTM
8). http://frontiers-of-anthropology.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/more-on-coneheads.html
9). John Marshall. Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilisation. 1931. Asian Educational Services.
10). Anton Mifsud - C. Savona Ventura- Facets of Maltese Prehistory- Prehistoric society of Malta, 1999

Further Research: Shaping's, Imitations: Monstrous Skulls: www.perceptions.couk.com

From Ancient Wisdom @ http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/cranialdeformation.htm

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