Cradleboarding: Museo Palacio Canton, Merida, Mexico

Cradleboarding was a common practice for the Maya, done with children shortly after birth as a means to display aesthetics and possibly social differentiation. 

Father Diego de Landa is noted as saying: 
At four or five days after birth, the creature gets put in a small bed made of sticks and then, face down, two boards are pressed against the head: one in the back, the other on the front with so much pressure that there is much suffering for several days after which the desired effect is achieved. 

Cranial Deformation Discovered in 1,000 Year Old Mexican Cemetery

Close to the small Mexican village of Onavas, south Sonora, archaeologists have uncovered the first pre-Hispanic cemetery of that area, dating to around 1,000 years ago.

The burial ground consists of 25 individuals; 13 have intentional cranial deformation and five also have dental mutilation, cultural practices which are similar to those of pre-Hispanic groups in southern Sinaloa and northern Nayarit, but until now, have not been seen in Sonora.

Some of the individuals were wearing ornaments such as as bangles, nose rings, earrings, pendants made from shells found in the Gulf of California, and one burial contained a turtle shell, carefully placed over the abdomen. However, the archaeologists noted that the burials were not accompanied by the expected offerings and containers.

For archaeologists, the discovery is exciting new evidence of cranial deformation, something which has not been recorded before in the Sonora cultural groups. Read more.

3-D imaging sheds light on Apert Syndrome development

Three-dimensional imaging of two different mouse models of Apert Syndrome shows that cranial deformation begins before birth and continues, worsening with time, according to a team of researchers who studied mice to better understand and treat the disorder in humans.

Apert Syndrome is caused by mutations in FGFR2 – fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 – a gene, which usually produces a protein that functions in cell division, regulation of cell growth and maturation, formation of blood vessels, wound healing, and embryonic development. With certain mutations, this gene causes the bones in the skull to fuse together early, beginning in the fetus. These mutations also cause mid-facial deformation, a variety of neural, limb and tissue malformations and may lead to cognitive impairment.

Understanding the growth pattern of the head in an individual, the ability to anticipate where the bones will fuse and grow next, and using simulations “could contribute to improved patient-centered outcomes either through changes in surgical approach, or through more realistic modeling and expectation of surgical outcome,” the researchers said in today’s (Feb. 28) issue of BMC Developmental Biology.

Joan T. Richtsmeier, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Penn State, and her team looked at two sets of mice, each having a different mutation that causes Apert Syndrome in humans and causes similar cranial problems in the mice. They checked bone formation and the fusing of sutures, soft tissue that usually exists between bones n the skull, in the mice at 17.5 days after conception and at birth – 19 to 21 days after conception.

“It would be difficult, actually impossible, to observe and score the exact processes and timing of abnormal suture closure in humans as the disease is usually diagnosed after suture closure has occurred,” said Richtsmeier. “With these mice, we can do this at the anatomical level by visualizing the sutures prenatally using micro-computed tomography – 3-D X-rays – or at the mechanistic level by using immunohistochemistry, or other approaches to see what the cells are doing as the sutures close.”

The researchers found that both sets of mice differed in cranial formation from their littermates that were not carrying the mutation and that they differed from each other. They also found that the changes in suture closure in the head progressed from 17.5 days to birth, so that the heads of newborn mice looked very different at birth than they did when first imaged prenatally.

Apert syndrome also causes early closure of the sutures between bones in the face. Early fusion of bones of the skull and of the face makes it impossible for the head to grow in the typical fashion. The researchers found that the changed growth pattern contributes significantly to continuing skull deformation and facial deformation that is initiated prenatally and increases over time.

“Currently, the only option for people with Apert syndrome is rather significant reconstructive surgery, sometimes successive planned surgeries that occur throughout infancy and childhood and into adulthood,” said Richtsmeier. “These surgeries are necessary to restore function to some cranial structures and to provide a more typical morphology for some of the cranial features.”

Using 3-D imaging, the researchers were able to estimate how the changes in the growth patterns caused by either of the two different mutations produced the head and facial deformities.

“If what we found in mice is analogous to the processes at work in humans with Apert syndrome, then we need to decide whether or not a surgical approach that we know is necessary is also sufficient,” said Richtsmeier. “If it is not in at least some cases, then we need to be working towards therapies that can replace or further improve surgical outcomes.”


Three skulls exemplifying different forms of cranial modification and an infant mummy

Cranial modification was particularly notorious as it was used on the South Coast of Peru (Nazca, Paracas cultures) to express ethnic and other facets of the identity and affiliation of individuals. Cranial modification is the culmination of applying pressure to the skull of an infant, usually by impressing the head with a wooden board, and thus allowing the molded skull to develop into the desired shape as the individual matures. As the process was conducted in infancy, while the brain was still malleable, cranial modification did not lead to mental disabilities or bodily dysfunction.

The coast societies of Peru are organized in ways very different from the highlands. Whereas in the highlands communities were often economically self-sufficient based on a vertical archipelago in which a single community produced the entire plethora of necessary goods for societal equilibrium, the coasts of Peru instead opted towards a horizontal archipelago, where every community focused on a particular craft or method of subsistence which they would then export to their surrounding, dependent communities, and vice versa. On the north coast of Peru we know that the cultural gap between these communities was so pronounced that certain professions actually spoke completely different languages or dialects, as exemplified by the case of the Quingnam language, a language once spoken exclusively by north coast fishermen.

On the south coast of Peru the morphology of cranial modification seems to have been directly indicative of a person’s community and also their profession. Some communities would even modify the skulls of their citizens to resemble the peaks of the community’s local sacred mountain-deity, or apu.

If you reblog this and say anything about aliens I will find you and I will eat you.

From the Museo Arquelogico de Ancash in Huaraz, Peru.


The Practice of Artificial Cranial Deformation

The practice of intentional cranial deformation – elongation of the skull, head flattening, or head binding, predates written history.  It was practiced commonly in a number of cultures that are widely separated geographically, chronologically, and culturally.

Typically, deformation begins just after birth and for the next couple of years until the desired shape has been reached.  Beginning in infancy is ideal as the skull is most pliable at this time.  In general, flat-shaped or elongated skulls are produced by binding between two pieces of wood, while rounded, elongated shapes are achieved by binding with cloth.

Why would people want to elongate their skulls?  It all seems to come down to cultural ideals of beauty, social status, intelligence, and spiritual acumen.  The Vanuatu people of Polynesia associated elongated heads with higher intelligence, greater social status and closer proximity to the world of the spirits. In Borneo, a flat forehead was a sign of beauty, while the Mangbetu people of Africa continued the practice into the 1960s as a mark of beauty and social status.

Since at least the time of Hippocrates (c. 400 BC), the prevailing theory was that long-headed skulls were evidence of an extinct human race.  Early examples of cranial deformation date back to 45,000 BC and were even found in the skulls of Neanderthals in southwest Asia.

It appears no health problems were associated with cranial deformation, and there is no significant difference in cranial capacity between artificially deformed skulls and normal skulls.

Here are some of the better known cultures that practiced cranial deformations: The Huns and eastern Germanic tribes;  the Maya, the Incas, and some Native American Indians (northern), such as the Flatheads;  Aboriginal Australians and people of Polynesia;  people of the Toulouse region of France;  the Mangbetu of Central Africa and the ancient Egyptians.

Images:  Mangbetu (c. 1960s), Proto Nazca  (c. 200-100 BC); Alsace region of France (4th century AD), Pre-Inca Paracas (10th century BC), King Tut (died c. 1323 BC), Maya (no date given)

The art of cranial deformation actually dates way back before written history and was practiced worldwide with a focus on the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations, yet this is not quite as amazing as the fact that it is still going on today, believe it or not, in isolated areas of Africa and South America. It is one of–if not the–longest running method of human deformation in the history of humankind. It was thought that the elongation of the skull can directly affect your intelligence and your sensitivity to the spirit world, hence, the more elongated your skull, the smarter you are and the closer to the spirit world you must be. Famous figures depicted with elongated heads are King Tut, the boy king, and Queen Nefertiti.
The Practice of Head Binding
What is considered beautiful is subjective and personal, so at Tomboy we love to understand beauty ideals and body modification rituals from all over the world from the past to the present. It is a great way to underplay modern day western beauty standards. Lets take our first journey with the tradition of head binding....
Elongated Skulls in utero: A Farewell to the Artificial Cranial Deformation Paradigm?

Elongated skulls are a phenomenon that continues to elicit fascination and intrigue. The conventional perspective is that ALL elongated skulls are the result of cranial deformation, the intentional modification of the shape of the skull over many years. However, researcher Igor Gontcharov presents evidence that challenges this perspective, namely, the discovery of skulls that already had an elongated shape in utero. 

Read more …

Deformation usually begins just after birth for the next couple of years until the desired shape has been reached or the child rejects the apparatus .

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.

In Europe and Asia, three main types of artificial cranial deformation have been defined by E.V. Zhirov (1941, p. 82):

  • Round
  • Fronto-occipital
  • Sagittal.
The Story Of Elongated Skulls And The Denied History Of Ancient People: An Interview With Mark Laplume

Mark Laplume is an artist and researcher who has been engaged in making reconstruction drawings of ancient people with elongated skulls. Here, researcher Igor Gontcharov presents an interview with Mark Laplume regarding the worldwide phenomena of elongated skulls. 

Read more …