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

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Not Aliens, Just Humans with Modified Crania

Not Aliens, Just Humans with Modified Crania

Cranial deformation has been the cause of much debate and fascination. The unique shape of the skulls from the Nasca even inspired the most recent Indiana Jones adventure. The elongated skulls and flattened foreheads have created speculation of evidence of aliens or satanic practices. Even this past year, the Daily Mail claimed that skulls found in Peru were potentially those of extraterrestrials. According to the article there are three anthropologists that all agree that these are not human.

However, we know that this practice is not only easy to accomplish in humans, but also continues in cultures today (even our own). Moving beyond psuedoarchaeology claims, scholars have still been debating the reasons and methods behind the deformation for hundreds of years. The December 2010 publication from the Journal of Neurosurgery discusses cranial modification from a number of perspectives.

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.

The earliest modified skulls in Peru date between 6000 and 7000 BCE, with the majority of remains from this period showing signs of deformation. There is potential evidence between 1350 to 1200 BCE in Egypt. It has only been found there in elite individuals, and doesn’t appear to be a widespread practice. Ayer et al. (2010) argue that the modification was a literal symbol of being the head of the state. Romero-Vargas et al. (2010) discussed the role of modification in the Maya. In the classic Mayan period, 250 to 900 CE, cranial modification consisted of creating a more erect frontal bone using compression pads.

A 16th century Spanish chronicler, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, asked the Mayan why their heads were a different shape, and the reasons behind the modification. They responded:

“This is done because our ancestors were told by the gods that if our heads were thus formed we should appear noble and handsome and better able to bear burdens”. Romero-Vargas et al. (2010) argue that the practice has religious and sociocultural meaning, and it is an integral part of someone’s identity.

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.

Works Cited

ResearchBlogging.orgAyer 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

From Bones Don’t Lie @ http://bonesdontlie.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/not-aliens-just-humans-with-modified-crania/

The Story Behind Deformed Ancient Skulls
Edited by Brenda Booth 
Andean Skull of the Paracus CultureArtificial cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding is any practice of intentionally deforming the skull of a human being. It is done by distorting the normal growth of a child's skull by applying force. Flat shapes, elongated ones (produced by binding between two pieces of wood), rounded ones (binding in cloth) and conical ones are among those chosen. It is typically carried out on an infant, as the skull is most pliable at this time. In a typical case, headbinding begins approximately a month after birth and continues for about six months.

Usually it is a part of a cultural ritual, aimed at creating a skull shape which is aesthetically more pleasing or associated with desirable attributes such as intelligence. For example, in the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and the south south-western Malakulan, a person with a finely elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits.

Intentional head molding producing extreme cranial deformations was once commonly practiced worldwide. Although rarer today, it is still prevalent in very few groups, like the Vanuatu. It is a form of permanent body modification.

The earliest known culture to bind their children's heads were the ancient Egyptians of the third millennium BC. The Egyptian King Tutankhamen had an elongated head.The Culture Herp Ambat is associated with the origin of headbinding in certain coastal areas of southern Malakula, Vanuatu. Ambat himself had an elongated head and a fine, long nose. Head elongation styles vary slightly among the many different language and cultural areas of southern Malakula. The area where people have the longest elongated heads is the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and the south south-western Malakulan mainland opposite. A person with a finely elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status and close to the world of the spirits. Even today, throughout Vanuatu, the Bislama/Pidgin English term, Longfala Hed (Long Head) is synonymous with intelligence.

On Tomman Island and the facing south south-western Malakula mainland, headbinding began approximately a month after birth. Each day the child's head was smeared with burnt paste made from the Navanai-Molo nut (from the candle nut tree). This process softens the skin and prevents 'binding rash'. The child's head was then bound with Ne'Enbobosit, a soft bandage made from the inner bark of a type of banana tree. Over this was placed a No'onbat'ar (specially woven basket) made from Nibirip (pandanus) and this was bound around with the Ne'euwver (fibre rope). This process continued every day for approximately six months to produce the required shape.

Early examples of intentional human cranial deformation predate written history and date back to 45,000 BCE in Neanderthal skulls, and to the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE) from Shanidar Cave in Iraq, as well as of Neolithic sites in SW Asia. Extreme practices have seemingly not persisted into this century, but mild forms are still practiced by various groups worldwide.

Skulls from the Andean Paracas culture: The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BCE in Hippocrates description of the Macrocephales people who were named for their practice of cranial modification.

The practice was also known among the Australian Aborigines, Maya, and certain tribes of North American natives, most notably the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast.

In the Old World, Huns are also known to have practiced similar cranial deformation. In Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, adopted this custom (Gepids, Ostrogoths, Heruli, Rugii and Burgundians). In western Germanic tribes, artificial skull deformations have rarely been found.

The Native American group known as the Flathead did not in fact practice head flattening, but were named as such in contrast to other Salishan people who used skull modification to make the head appear rounder.However, other tribes, including the Choctaw, Chehalis, and Nooksack Indians, did practice

Head flattening by strapping the infant's head to a cradleboard. 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 Paumotu group and occurring most frequently on Mallicollo in the New Hebrides, where the skull was squeezed extraordinarily flat.

There is no established classification system of cranial deformations. Many scientists have developed their own classification systems, but none have agreed on a single classification for all forms that are seen. Cranial deformation was probably performed to signify group affiliation or to demonstrate social status. This may have played a key role in Egyptian and Mayan societies. Queen Nefertiti is often depicted with what may be an elongated skull, as is King Tutankhamen.

Mayan skull modifying techniques 

Mayan modified skull  

 Skulls from the Paracus Culture

Edited by: Brenda Booth

Source & References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_cranial_deformation

Via Mystery Casebook @ http://www.mysterycasebook.com/2011/ancientskulls.html

And on the other hand: Brien Foerster speaks about elongated skulls ~

(thanks to Peter Pedals)


For more information about cranial deformation see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/elongated%20skulls  
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