Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies
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Deformed Heads

by E.J. Neiburger

Central States Archaeological Societies 2016 July Journal

Waukegan, Illinois

The human skull is generally shaped as a sphere with the face and jaws extending foreword. Occasionally, due to birth trauma or the repetitive placing of the infant in one position (e.g. lying on its back), one can experience a slightly deformed skull as the child grows.

It is possible, through numerous orthopedic processes, to harmlessly deform the skull (Schijman, E. 2005). Throughout history this process has been applied to members of particular populations in an effort to beautify the individual, identify the person with a particular social status (e.g. royalty), or as a quasi-religious/medical treatment. This process has been found in ancient Europe, Crimean, Egypt, Africa, North and South American areas (Figures 1-12). By far, the most extreme cranial (head) deformations have been found in the skeletons of Pasracas and Moche-Inca cultures circa 1000 BC -800 CE Peru and Bolivia (Figures 1,5,6, 10).

How it is Done
The bones of the human skull are malleable, especially in the early years of life. It takes only a few grams of force, slowly but continuously applied, to shape the bones and move teeth. Modern orthodontics use braces and a variety of springs and rubber bands attached to the teeth to move them in desired positions so that the person will have a "beautiful smile." The same deformations can be found with skull bones if applied to the individual who is young enough so that the elements have not locked into permanent adult position.

The usual technique is to cradle board the infant. The child is placed in a carry case with a flat board wedged against the skull (Figures 7-9). This is done passively, with only a small amount of pressure. It is not painful. Over the months, as the child grows, the pressure causes some bones to flatten or elongate. This process can also be done with tight headbands (Figure 8, 10). As the skull deforms, the boards or head bands are tightened incrementally thus encouraging further deformation. Different headbands, placing varied pressures on parts of the skull can change head shape to such extremes that the person appears "alien" like (Figures 5,6,8,11).

Deform Nomenclature
There are numerous ways of describing de-formed skulls. One can use simple terms such as cone head, flat head, etc. but these are relatively non-specific. Most scientists like to use a more anatomic descriptive terminology based on the angle of the skull deformation relative to the Frankfort Horizontal Line (ear-eye plane [EE]) which is a horizontal line drawn from the lower edge of the eye socket through the highest point of the auditory meatus (ear hole) of the skull.

Figure 11A demonstrates a skull with posterior (back) flattening approximately 90 degrees to the EE plane (as in Figures 2, 3, 4). Figure 11B demonstrates flattening of the frontal (forehead) and posterior portions of the skull (as in Figure 6). Figure 11C demonstrates a flattening of the frontal and top of the head (as in Figure 10). Figure 11D shows angulations of the posterior and frontal portions of the skull creating a cone-head appearance (Figures 1, 5, 7).

North American Indian Skull Deformations
Specific groups of prehistoric Native American Indians practiced skull deformations. Most of these deformations, unlike those in South America, were relatively mild and consisted of type A and D formations. The Hopi and their Southwestern neighbors-ancestors deformed skulls (mostly type A) on most of the population. (Figure 2). The Mississippian culture in theMidwest, South and Southeast also encouraged type A head deformations. The Indians of the Pacific Northwest practiced a type A and D form of deformation as seen in the painting of historic artists Paul Kane (Figure 7) and George Catlin (Figure 9). This practice continued into the Historic period.The Iroquoian, Algonquin and Great Plains natives seldom deformed their children's heads

Are We Not Just as Weird?
This practice of skull deformation may seem weird and in effect, cruel to the child, but in the search of beauty, status and "the good graces" of the gods, there are no limits. Just look at what we sacrifice in time and money and what suffering our children go through to have a "straight smile" from the modern orthodontist. Rarely is it necessary to have straight teeth and a "pleasing" smile for good health. We do this practice because our culture demands it; mostly for ideal looks. Think
about that.

Ellis (Skip) Neiburger is a practicing dentist, archaeologist, paleopathologist and past-curator of the anthropology dept. of the Lake
County Museum (Illinois). He practices modern skull deformations on his patient’s teeth and jaws (orthodontics).

2005 Artificial cranial deformation in newborns in the pre-Columbian Andes. Online Publication www.springer.com