Artificial cranial deformation
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Artificial cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding is a form of body alteration in which the skull of a human being is deformed intentionally. It is done by distorting the normal growth of a child's skull by applying force. Flat shapes, elongated ones (produced by binding between two pieces of wood), rounded ones (binding in cloth), and conical ones are among those chosen. Typically, it is carried out on an infant, as the skull is most pliable at this time. In a typical case, headbinding begins approximately a month after birth and continues for about six months.
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The practice of intentional cranial deformation is believed to predate written history; it was practised commonly in a number of cultures that are widely separated geographically and chronologically, and still occurs today in a few places, like Vanuatu.
The earliest suggested examples were once thought to include the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (ninth millennium BC) from Shanidar Cave in Iraq,[subscription][non-primary source needed] [non-primary source needed] [non-primary source needed] and also among Neolithic peoples in Southwest Asia.[subscription][non-primary source needed] [full citation needed] The view that these were artificially deformed, thus representing the oldest example of such practices (by tens of thousands of years) has since been argued incorrect by Chech, Grove, Thorne, and Trinkaus, based on new cranial reconstructions in 1999, where the team concluded "we no longer consider that artificial cranial deformation can be inferred for the specimen".[subscription][non-primary source needed]
The earliest written record of cranial deformation—by Hippocrates, of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification—dates to 400 BCE.[non-primary source needed]
In the Old World, Huns also are known to have practised similar cranial deformation.[better source needed] as were the people known as the Alans. In Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, the Gepids, Ostrogoths, Heruli, Rugii, and Burgundians adopted this custom. In western Germanic tribes, artificial skull deformations rarely have been found.[non-primary source needed][better source needed]
In the Americas, the Maya,[non-primary source needed] [non-primary source needed] [non-primary source needed] Inca, and certain tribes of North American natives performed the custom. In North America the practice was known, especially among the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast. The Native American group known as the Flathead Indians, in fact, did not practise head flattening, but were named as such in contrast to other Salishan people who used skull modification to make the head appear rounder. Other tribes, however, including the Choctaw, Chehalis, and Nooksack Indians also practiced head flattening by strapping the infant's head to a cradleboard.
In the region of Toulouse (France), these cranial deformations persisted sporadically up until the early twentieth century;[non-primary source needed] [non-primary source needed] however, [dated info] [page needed][verification needed] The custom of binding babies' heads in Europe in the twentieth century, though dying out at the time, was predominant in France, and also found in pockets in western Russia, the Caucasus, and in Scandinavia.:46[verification needed] [dated info] :51[verification needed]
Methods and types
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|This section requires expansion with: fully sourced information regarding how this deformation was accomplished, and how the different discoveries have been classified, at same time completing and checking the dubious earlier work that still appears. (August 2015)|
dated info] [full citation needed] An example of an individual system is that of E.V. Zhirov, who described three main types of artificial cranial deformation—round, fronto-occipital, and sagittal—for occurrences in Europe and Asia, in the 1940s.:82[full citation needed][
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Cranial deformation probably was performed to signify group affiliation,[full citation needed] [full citation needed] [full citation needed] or to demonstrate social status. Such motivations may have played a key role in Maya society,[full citation needed] aimed at creating a skull shape that is aesthetically more pleasing or associated with desirable attributes. For example, in the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and the south south-western Malakulan (Australasia), a person with an elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits.[better source needed]
In addition, there are a number of historical theories regarding the motivations for these practices.
It was considered possible, e.g., in the 19th century, that the practice of cranial deformation takes its origin in an attempt to emulate those groups of the population in which elongated head shape was a natural condition.[speculation?][original research?] For example, Rivero and Tschudi describe a mummy containing a foetus with an elongated skull, describing it thus:
...the same formation [i.e. absence of the signs of artificial pressure] of the head presents itself in children yet unborn; and of this truth we have had convincing proof in the sight of a foetus, enclosed in the womb of a mummy of a pregnant woman, which we found in a cave of Huichay, two leagues from Tarma, and which is, at this moment, in our collection. Professor D’Outrepont, of great Celebrity in the department of obstetrics, has assured us that the foetus is one of seven months’ age. It belongs, according to a very clearly defined formation of the cranium, to the tribe of the Huancas. We present the reader with a drawing of this conclusive and interesting proof in opposition to the advocates of mechanical action as the sole and exclusive cause of the phrenological form of the Peruvian race.[full citation needed]
P.F. Bellamy makes a similar observation about the two elongated skulls of infants, which were discovered and brought to England by a "Captain Blankley" and handed over to the Museum of the Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society in 1838. According to Bellamy, these skulls belonged to two infants, female and male, "one of which was not more than a few months old, and the other could not be much more than one year.”[page needed] He writes,
It will be manifest from the general contour of these skulls that they are allied to those in the Museum of the College of Surgeons in London, denominated Titicacans. Those adult skulls are very generally considered to be distorted by the effects of pressure; but in opposition to this opinion Dr. Graves has stated, that “a careful examination of them has convinced him that their peculiar shape cannot be owing to artificial pressure;” and to corroborate this view, we may remark that the peculiarities are as great in the child as in the adult, and indeed more in the younger than in the elder of the two specimens now produced: and the position is considerably strengthened by the great relative length of the large bones of the cranium; by the direction of the plane of the occipital bone, which is not forced upwards, but occupies a place in the under part of the skull; by the further absence of marks of pressure, there being no elevation of the vertex nor projection of either side; and by the fact of there being no instrument nor mechanical contrivance suited to produce such an alteration of form (as these skulls present) found in connexion with them...[page needed]
Similarly Pentland wrote in 1834 regarding adult skulls that he excavated near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia in 1827:
A careful examination of these skulls has convinced me that their peculiar shape cannot be owing to artificial pressure. The great elongation of the face and the direction of the plane of the occipital bone are not to be reconciled with this opinion, and therefore we must conclude that the peculiarity of shape depends on a natural conformation. If this view of the subject be correct, it follows that these skulls belonged to a race of mankind now extinct, and which differed from any now existing… 
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- Trinkaus, 1982.[full citation needed]
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