21 October 2014

This is NOT the skull of an extraterrestrial alien - updated

An archaeological discovery of 13 Conehead-shaped skulls in Mexico has people recalling the famed Saturday Night Live sketch. The bones, which are about 1,000 years old, dating back to 945 A.D. to 1308 A.D., were discovered accidentally during a dig for an irrigation system in the northwest state of Sonora in Mexico. While it’s not unheard of for archaeological sites to be unearthed during modern excavations, the misshapen skulls discovered on the site are fairly uncommon, especially as far north as Sonora. “This was a Hispanic cemetery with 25 skulls, and 13 of them have deformed heads,” Cristina Garcia Moreno, who worked on the project with Arizona State University, told ABC News. “We don’t know why this population specifically deformed their heads.”
Some news videos of the discovery have described the procedure of cranial deformation as a "rite of passage into adulthood," but clearly deformation to this degree has to be undertaken on a pliable skull of an infant.

There's more information at the Artificial Cranial Deformation page at Wikipedia, where I found the image at right ("Painting by Paul Kane, showing a Chinookan child in the process of having its head flattened, and an adult after the process") and these notes:
Early examples of intentional human cranial deformation predate written history and date back to 45,000 BC in Neanderthal skulls, and to the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE) from Shanidar Cave in Iraq.  It occurred among Neolithic peoples in SW Asia.  The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates' description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification.
Reposted from 2012 to add information from a new BBC article about cranial modification in Australia:
...they owe their strange appearance not to the blind hand of evolution but to the guiding hand of humanity. Australia's ancient inhabitants were among the first in the world to deliberately transform the shape of their own skulls...

H. erectus had a wide skull and a small braincase, while the unusual Australian skulls are narrow and have large braincases, just like today’s humans do. This makes it highly unlikely that their flat foreheads were shaped by ancient H. erectus genes - and far more likely that they were actually sculpted by human hands...
The modern counterpart to this occurs when parents place babies on their backs to minimize the chances of SIDS:
Encouraging parents to routinely putting babies to sleep on their backs before their soft skulls harden led to a dramatic increase in cases of plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome. A study published last year found almost half of a sample of 440 healthy young babies attending two clinics in Calgary, Canada, showed signs of it.
More at the links.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I knew immediately that it was an example of Maya skull shaping, and have been waiting for someone else to point that out.

  2. Does anyone know why the eye sockets appear to be mere slits? Is this a result of the deformation process or some other process at work?

    1. Yup. Those are not the eye sockets. The view is from the side of the head, with the nose (gone) on the left.

      To get a better perspective, go to the Wikipedia link and click to enlarge the deformed skulls there.

  3. In the painting, it seems like half of the head is missing. The skulls show that when the forehead is compressed, the skull moves backward to give space to the brain. But the painting doesn't seem to reflect that.

  4. There are dolichocephalic skulls from several, if not many, places around the world, including Mexico, Peru, and Russia. The cranial volume of some of them is as high as 2600 cc - twice the volume of the average human skull. I disagree with those - including all the scientists and especially Wikipedia - who say cradleboarding can INCREASE the volume of the cranium. While cradleboarding IS a practice observed - for reasons speculated upon by scientists - if you look at the resulting present-day examples, the cranial volume is not increased. Anyone who thinks squeezing a skull can somehow make a cranium volume bigger needs to try squeezing a balloon or ball and seeing what happens. In fact, squeeze ANYTHING round and see if it somehow increases the volume. You can deform any of them, including a skull, but the volume will not increase. Their logic is exactly backward.

    This speculation is accepted as true by nearly everyone (including a friend who has written a book about such things). Google "Ica dolichocephalic skull" and then see the Peruvian skulls from the city of Ica. The assumption is made that those skulls were shaped via the present (and past) methods seen in some known societies. I disagree with that assumption.

    Amazingly, no one to my knowledge has as yet done DNA testing on any of those large-volume skulls such as the ones in Ica. I believe - and I predict - that when that is done, the skulls will be shown to be not homo sapiens sapiens but a fifth type of human (human, Neandertal, Flores Island Hobbits, and Denisova Man being the others).

    1. Could the 2600 cc one have had obstructive hydrocephalus, which was then modified with cradleboarding?

  5. Stan, not a bad guess, but I have to say they are not hydrocephalic. Look at any photos off hydrocephaly.

    But let's consider: If cradleboarded, the skull would have enlarged in all lateral directions as well as upward, and would have a flat area around the inion (the small bump at the back of the skull). [My friend Lloyd Pye covers hydrocephaly in his work on the Starchild, so I've read a bit on how to tell it is or is not cradleboarding.) Could they have cradleboarded all around, forcing the skull upward?

    My main objection might be that hydrocephaly untreated would seem to be a death sentence. Directing it by a "surround" cradelboard, up into a conehead - why? What would be gained? It is possible, I guess, if there were a reason - but would the reason be? Could it in any way improve the survival? If so, how? Wouldn't the pressure actually be increassed in the cranial vault? At the same time, hydrocephaly might explain the much increased cranial volume.

    But thjat brings up the ways of dealing with hydrocephaly. IF - a big "if" - there were some way of shunting the cerebrospinal fluid, is there evidence of such capabilities on THESE skulls? In times several centuries past, could they do that? Yes, perhaps. Some ancient skulls have shown evidence of opening of the skull (trepanning). Those left BIG holes (~maybe 15-20mm) in the skulls - and last I heard the thinking is that trepanning was done to relieve pressure in the cranium. But to my knowledge such evidence does not occur on dolicocephalic skulls (I am SURE it would have been mentioned). So, though possible, I have not heard of evidence of trepanning on them.

    In addition, I would point to the moprphology of the skull surfaces. If cradleboarding on a flat board flattens the inion, then one would expect a proposed "surround" cradleboarding to also smooth the surface, all around the skull. I'd also suggest that there would - in some cases at least - be "swollen" ridges where such "surround" boards didn't match up properly. I don't see - in this or other old dolico skulls (and there are quite a few I've seen photos of) - flattened skull features. ***

    Am I fishing for reasons, with all this? I am not. I see clear reasons for thinking that, though the suggestion is a good one, the evidence on the skulls doesn't support it, not IMHO. DO feel free to disagree.

    Once again, especially when faced with an inability to perform quantified non-laboratory tests, science comes down to the interpretations of the inquirer(s).

    Steve Garcia

    *** On my Peru trip in 2000 my travels to Ica to see the skulls on display there were interrupted, and I got to the museum 15 minutes before they closed (and they would not let me in). Otherwise I would be able to talk about really seeing them, instead of talking about photos. It was one of two places I was determined to see on the trip. The other - Tiahuanaco in Bolivia - I also missed, both due to peripheral actions during the "Water War" in Bolivia.


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