December 4, 2022


The Internet Generation

Tracing the History and Health Impacts of Skull Modification

From foot binding and scarification to dental alignment and ear piercings, the observe of modifying one’s physique — usually for religious or aesthetic functions — has followed us considering that the dawn of humankind. In simple fact, a 2020 analyze printed in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology explained obvious dental abrasions and other oral anomalies on the skull of an archaic human specimen.

Record delivers lots of illustrations of long lasting human body alterations — among the most well-known are the foot binding of women in standard China and the insertion of lip plates employed by the Mursi men and women of Ethiopia. Another striking type of system modification known as synthetic cranial deformation has been adopted in the course of our record and extended fascinated scientists.

What Is Artificial Cranial Deformation?

Artificial cranial deformation (ACD) is the intentional manipulation of the skull’s actual physical characteristics, and is normally practiced on infants and facilitated by caregivers. 

The preferred shape is usually reached through head binding or flattening. Whilst it has been used by teams through the world, the Maya people today pioneered this strategy by introducing a exclusive head-flattening equipment — sometimes appearing related to a cradleboard — that was affixed to the kid’s skull. Around time, the head shape would turn into elongated and conical because of to the constant force exerted on the building cranium. The Maya may perhaps have intended to defend young people’s souls and avert injuries from “evil winds.” 

A modified skull from a Maya personal exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico. (Credit history: ·Maunus·ƛ·/Wikimedia Commons)

In what is now Peru, the Paracas civilization — estimated to have existed in between 750 B.C. and A.D. 100 — deployed a distinctive approach, tightly wrapping the head in fabric to elongate or deform the cranium. In the 1920s, Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello, who proven himself as the “father of Peruvian archaeology,” uncovered hundreds of elongated skulls from Paracas, some with partly attached scalps and hair.

These artifacts continue being on screen at a variety of science and cultural museums around Peru and have come to be the issue of on line controversy among UFO fanatics and paranormalists who proclaim that they are of extraterrestrial origin and belong to “gray aliens.”

Status Symbols

Because Julio Tello’s intriguing findings, experts have sought out the motivations powering this sort of tactics. From a fashionable Western perspective, the elongation or synthetic deformation of the cranium might show up unconventional. But for the groups that practiced it in historical situations — and in some instances up to this working day — elongated and intentionally formed craniums symbolize beauty and standing. 

They may perhaps also have denoted belonging. Marta Alfonso-Durruty, an anthropologist at Kansas State University, affirmed this hypothesis: She and her colleagues examined 60 adult skulls recovered from Southern Patagonia and parts of Tierra del Fuego, belonging to a group of hunter-gatherers who lived 2,000 several years in the past. The team mentioned in a 2015 Journal for Physical Anthropology study that several had elongated skulls, and described that physique modification was possibly meant in this context to form a sense of unity and identify outsiders.

Two enslaved females in Congo, all over 1900, who may well have skilled head binding. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Maya took a similar technique, and likely applied ACD to discern customers of nobility, this kind of as the children of monks and large-ranking people today, from other folks. The Mangbetu people today, who presently are living in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, also made use of a cloth to tightly bind the heads of feminine youngsters, commencing a month soon after start, in a cultural tradition identified as Lipombo. The Mangbetu shared comparable sentiments to other groups all around the world, regarding the women’s elongated heads as a standing symbol denoting attractiveness and intelligence — while the use of ACD in this context has come to be less widespread considering the fact that the 1950s because of to Belgian colonial affect.

Present-day Tactics

ACD is continue to carried out globally for each hierarchical and spiritual causes. In recent background, many communities in Eurasia — like in Scandinavia, Britain, and Japanese Europe — have practiced artificial cranial deformation. Notably, in Toulouse, France, individuals of decrease economic position used bands and cloths to deliberately deform their children’s heads, comparable to the Paracas folks, a approach that usually required in between 3 and four months to full. This French exercise, termed the “Toulouse deformity” or bandeau, was used in numerous components of France and was recorded as a short while ago as the early 20th century in the area of Deux-Sèvres in western France.

An specific with an elongated head in Vanuatu. (Credit: Helen Backagain/Wikimedia Commons)

ACD life on somewhere else: For case in point, in Vanuatu, a Pacific island country, locals on the southern island of Malakula bind their heads to resemble the cultural deity Ambat, who is mentioned to have experienced an elongated cranium and prolonged, described nose. “We elongate the heads of our young children since it is our tradition, and it originates with the fundamental non secular beliefs of our individuals,” claimed the Standard of South Malakulan, according to the Australian Museum site. “We also see that people with elongated heads are far more handsome or beautiful, and these extensive heads also point out wisdom.”

Debates In excess of Wellness Hazards

Some gurus studying the historic usage of ACD assert they haven’t discovered significant  evidence of wellbeing threats, while other individuals argue the reverse. A 2003 study posting printed in the American Journal of Biological Anthropology concluded that, while the follow triggers sizeable adjustments in the aesthetic functions and shape of the face and skull, “differences amongst deformed and undeformed crania are frequently not related to dissimilarities in in general cranial dimension.” 

But an additional review from 2013 advised that the deformation of the cranium’s attributes was profound and negatively impacted the brain’s several lobes, marketing cognitive impairments this kind of as concentration and memory concerns, visible and motor impairments, and the feasible onset of behavioral disorders. It’s tricky to say for guaranteed how ACD impacted people today when it was additional prevalent, but scientists could attract similarities between the outcomes of intentional deformations versus situations this sort of as plagiocephaly and craniosynostosis.