Why Some Ancient South American Skulls Have Such Strange Shapes

By: The Scribe on Monday, December 20, 2010

imageArchaeologists who worked at unearthing skeletons from some Central and South American archaeological sites noticed that some skulls were strangely shaped. While some individuals believe that this is proof that extraterrestrials visited Central and South America, the truth is that many cultures practiced head binding. The discovery of the Starchild skull is one case where modified skulls were believed, by some, to be proof of extraterrestrial life.

The process of changing the shape of a person’s head is done for cosmetic reasons. Some of the changes that can be made to a skull include making it flatter, elongating the skull or even creating a conical shaped head. The process begins early, usually in infancy. A new baby’s skull is soft and has not completely fused as it has in an adult. Therefore it does not take as much effort to reshape a child’s head into a more socially acceptable shape.

The process varies from culture to culture and usually uses materials that are plentiful and easy to come by. Boards, baskets and cords woven from native fibers are often used to change the shape of the skull. For example, an elongated skull may have been bound between two boards in order to cause it to lengthen. The process can be a lengthy one as it may take several months or even years for the head to achieve the desired shape. Once the process has been completed, the skull cannot change back and has been permanently altered.image

Altered skull shape was often believed to be connected with desirable attributes. Some cultures believed that if a head was elongated, for example, it would mean that the individual was more intelligent than other individuals who had shorter heads. Other cultures believed that if a person’s skull shape had been altered it would make it easier for them to communicate with the spirit world.

The act of changing the shape of an individual’s skull is not limited to Central and South America. It has also been found in other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians. Some of the pharaohs had altered head shapes. One of the most famous is Tutankhamun. His head had been elongated using head molding. Egyptian skulls dating from the third millennium BCE are believed to be some of the most ancient examples of modified skulls but archaeologists have also unearthed altered skulls that are as old as 45,000 BCE.

Many cultures have used some sort of permanent body modification as a rite of passage or to show that a person belongs to their ethnic or tribal group. It was also often performed as a way of showing what social class an individual belonged to as it was often the offspring of wealthy or important individuals who were cared for enough that they were able to survive the modification process. Scarification, tattooing and permanent body modification techniques are used to do this and, while less common now than they were in the past, many of these modification techniques are still being practiced even now.


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