Signs of cranial deformation in the skulls of Hirota site, Tanegashima Island
One puzzling question that has persistently perplexed archaeologists and scholars is that of why no skulls with artificial cranial deformation have ever been found on the Japanese islands. This is despite the evidence in genetics that a substantive part of the Japanese genepool is shared with Korea where the cranial traits are marked. Historical texts too say a great many immigrants called toraijin from the continent and Korea settled in the Japanese archipelagos, so it is a mystery why no cranial deformation has been observed. That is, until now. All of the skeletons uncovered at the Hirota site on Tanegashima Island (continuous settlement between Final Yayoi to Late Kofun period, 3rd to 7th century) were found to have cranial deformations. Another cranial traits study (Kato et al.) puts Mongolians, the Yayoi and Japanese and North Americans (Aleut Eskimos Arctic grouping) together in the same cluster as well as on a gradual distance cline (the Chancay were noted to show resemblance to the Ainu and Jomon in terms of facial flatness).
However, a further puzzle remains, faced to the Pacific Ocean and of a southerly orientation (being part of Kagoshima prefecture, and its procuring of shells from the southern seas), the closest head-binding practising culture would have been from the Philippines, rather than from the Hun-inhabited Eurasian continent. Being of a short stature, the Hirota people also don’t seem to fit the continental types, but appear to be closer to the Philippine type (see Mizoguchi, Conese)
From the Historic Site Hirota report:
“Lateral view of the skeleton recovered from burial No. 1, northern sector (Final Yayoi) Viewed from the side, the skull is seen to be flattened at the back. Not only this skeleton, but all of the skeletons found at Hirota were flat-headed. For this reason it is thought that the Hirota people followed the custom of deliberately deforming the skull. As people practicing this form of cranial deformation have not been found in any other region in the Japanese archipelago, it may be regarded as a special characteristic of the Hirota residents.”
The Hirota people (today Minamitane town, Kagoshima prefecture) had a unique material culture that was completely different from that on any of the other Japanese islands: they were buried in multiples in a “stone-covered graves” at the top of coastal dunes. They had an extremely rich shell-jewelry items numbering nearly 3,000 pieces, of southern seas’ Amami and Okinawan islands’ provenance. The people were all of extremely short stature, none of whom, not even the men, were over 154 cm high.
In areas contiguous to Japan on the continent:
Chinese records mention that in the 3rd century, the people of Chen-Han (Jinhan) in Korea practiced cranial deformation, and this is confirmed by skulls unearthed in the Kaya/Gaya region (see Pusan National University Museum page):
“about 30% of the Yean-ri women buried in the early 4th century site had the indications of pyeondu (“frontal cranial deformation”). The pyeondu custom is a kind of the cranial deformation custom to make a deformed head shape by pressing the forehead with a wooden board or stone since infancy. It is known that this custom was a unique custom of Byeonhan and Jinhan because it also corresponds to the article about Byeonhan and Jinhan in Sanguozhi Weishu Dongyizhuan: it says that “all the Jinhan people have a deformed skull as before because their heads were pressed with stones during their infancy.”
Brachycephalic skulls were also reported of the Okunev Culture from amongst the “Cultures and Ethnic Groups West of China in the Second and First Millennia B.C.”,
“IN the northern zone, the progressive cultures with incipient metallurgy are Krotovo and Samus’ (between the Rivers Ob and Irtys) as well as Okunev in the Minusinsk Basin, an island of steppe on the Upper Yenisei surrounded by forested mountains (Molodin 1977). Examples of pottery with affinities to these cultures are said to have been observed in Inner Mongolia on Chinese territory (Clenova 1977; KK 1964: 2). Engravings where found on stone slabs which were used as building- material in burials of the Okunev Culture. Two stylistic groups can be discerned: a realistic one, representing bulls and men with bird-masks, and a schematic one, the essential motifs of which are a horned mask with three eyes and a symbol of the sun (a ring with four tips). …The realistic style could possibly be derived from the south of Central Asia (Matjuscenko 1977). The schematic one may possibly have a relation to “cryptic magic,” which was presumed to have been the background of some painted designs of the Yangshao Culture in Kansu (Chang 19777:110-132; cf. Formozov 1969: 109, 194).
The affinities are significant, since there is a Mongoloid component of Central Asian origin in the Okunev population (brachycephalic skulls) (Ivanova 1966). Within the framework of this northern complex, a center of bronze casting and metal trade arose that later influenced Eastern Europe….”. …
“In Khalcajan, a dynastic sanctuary of the Kushans, a relief of high artistic value displays a solemn act of alliance. The men of one of the participating groups were characterized by Pugacenkova (1971) as follows:
There is a marked, artificially inflicted deformation of the skull, particularly noticeable in side-view: the occiput is flat, the receding forehead bulges in a triangle over the bridge of the nose, lending a rather stern look to the faces of the men, young and aged alike. The faces are thin, the straight nose is not large. The dark eyes of average size have no trace of epicanthus, but their corners are outlined in black towards the temples; this, coupled with the high cheek-bones, lends the faces a certain “Tartar” look. The specific trimming of the black hair does not occur among other ancient peoples: the hair, bound by a strap, rises over the forehead, is combed away from the ears and clipped below them: the small arrow-shaped moustache frames the upper lip: there are side-whiskers. …
Pugacenkova compared the sculptured heads of the first group (evidently those who were in a somewhat superior social position) with the face on the coins of Heraos, who was of Yueh-chih origin and who is considered to be the ancestor of the early Kushan kings. She thinks that fraternization between the nomad invaders and the Bactrian nobility of Iranian origin belonged to the political aims of Heraos, and that his success in this respect is depicted here.
In my opinion, the main scene could even portray a double marriage which united a local dynasty with that of Heraos. This would explain how the Bactrian language prevailed over the idiom of the immigrants”
“T’ao-hung-pa-la may really represent an early stage of Hsiung-nu-Culture. The predominance of Western (from Altai and Tuva) and northern elements (from the Slab Grave culture mentioned earlier) is striking, and may have produced conditions where the Hsiung-nu were able to make the transition from the tribe to state earlier than their neighbors in regions farther to the east, such as the Hsien-pi. In addition, as is known from the historical sources, the Hsiung-nu were strongly influenced by the Yueh-chih, who lived at their southwestern borders. Embroideries on a tapestry found in Noin-Ula but only preserved in fragments (Rudenko 1962/1969, pl LX-LXIX) show male heads similar to those of the Heraos family. “
The earliest recorded evidence of artificial cranial modification dates to 45,000 BC in Neandertal skulls from the Shanidar Cave in Iraq (see Fig. 2.1, Trinkaus, Erik 1982). Skull flattening was observed of the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE.). See “Artificial Cranial Deformation in the in Shanidar 1 and 5 Neandertals”. Current Anthropology 23 (2): 198–199. doi:10.1086/202808. JSTOR 2742361; A. Agelarakis, “The Shanidar Cave Proto-Neolithic Human Population: Aspects of Demography and Paleopathology”, Human Evolution, volume 8, no. 4 (1993), pp. 235-253] as well as among the Neolithic peoples of SW Asia
The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates’ description of the Macrocepahes people who were named for their practice of cranial modification (Gerszten and Gerszten, 1995).
” … the same practice of nursing the child and carrying it about, bound to a flat cradle-board, prevailed in Britain and the north of Europe long before the first notices of written history reveal the presence of man beyond the Baltic or the English Channel, and that in all probability the same custom prevailed continuously from the shores of the German Ocean to Behring’s Strait.” (“Smithsonian Report,” 1862, p. 286.)
Skull flattening was also observed of ancient Sumerian peoples of the Al-Ubaid period (see p. 312 of Taxila). John Marshall’s “Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization” as well as “Anthropology” (by Ram Nath Sharma, Rajendra Kumar Sharma) in addition to Al-Ubaid burials, wrote that cranian deformation features were also seen of skulls of Kish; Ur of Mesopotamia; Additanallur in Madras; Veddahs of Ceylon(Sri Lanka); Naga of Calcutta; jar burials of Harappa; Mediterranean; Nal in Baluchistan; Sialkot in Punjab; and Bayana (Aryan skulls) in Uttar Pradesh.
In the Old World, Huns and Alans are also known to have practised similar cranial deformation. See a facial reconstruction of a Hun woman Das Historische Museum der Pfalz. In Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, adopted this custom (Gepids, Ostrogoths, Heruli, Rugii and Burgundians).
Nazca SkullCredit: Didier Descouens, Creative Commons A deformed skull dating to between 200 B.C. and 100 B.C. and belonging to an individual of the Nazca culture, which flourished along the Peruvian coast
Dr. L. A. Gosse testifies to the prevalence of the same custom among the Caledonians and Scandinavians in the earliest times; and Dr. Thurman has treated of the same peculiarity among the Anglo-Saxons. Crania Britannica,” chap. iv., p. 38.)
ANCIENT SWISS SKULL. Here, then, is an extraordinary and unnatural practice which has existed from the highest antiquity, over vast regions of country, on both sides of the Atlantic, and which is perpetuated unto this day in races as widely separated as the Turks, the French, and the Flat-head Indians. Is it possible to explain this except by supposing that it originated from some common centre?
The following heads are from Del Rio’s “Account of Palenque,” copied into Nott and Gliddon’s “Types of Mankind,” p. 440. They show that the receding forehead was a natural characteristic of the ancient people of Central America. The same form of head has been found even in fossil skulls. We may therefore conclude that the skull-flattening, which we find to have been practised in both the Old and New Worlds, was an attempt of other races to imitate the form of skull of a people whose likenesses are found on the monuments of Egypt and of America. It has been shown that this peculiar form of the head was present even in the fœtus of the Peruvian mummies.
Hippocrates tells us that the practice among the Scythians was for the purpose of giving a certain aristocratic distinction.
Amedée Thierry, in his “History of Attila,” says the Huns used it for the same reason; and the same purpose influences the Indians of Oregon.
Dr. Lund, a Swedish naturalist, found in the bone caves of Minas-Geraes, Brazil, ancient human bones associated with the remains of extinct quadrupeds. “These skulls,” says Lund, “show not only the peculiarity of the American race but in an excessive degree, even to the entire disappearance of the forehead.” Sir Robert Schomburgh found on some of the affluents of the Orinoco a tribe known as Frog Indians, whose heads were flattened by Nature, as shown in newly-born children …
there was some race characteristic which gave this appearance to their heads. These heads are all the heads of priests, and therefore represented the aristocratic class.
The first illustration below is taken from a stucco relief found in a temple at Palenque, Central America. The second is from an Egyptian monument of the time of Rameses IV.
The outline drawing on the following page shows the form of the skull of the royal Inca line: the receding forehead here seems to be natural, and not the result of artificial compression.
Both illustrations at the bottom of the preceding page show the same receding form of the forehead, due to either artificial deformation of the skull or to a common race characteristic.
We must add the fact that the extraordinary practice of deforming the skull was found all over Europe and America to the catalogue of other proofs that the people of both continents were originally united in blood and race. With the couvade, the practice of circumcision, unity of religious beliefs and customs, folk-lore, and alphabetical signs, language and flood legends, we array together a mass of unanswerable proofs of prehistoric identity of race.” – Sacred Texts
In 1849 a remarkable memoir appeared from the pen of M. Rathke, showing that similar skulls had been found near Kertsch, in the Crimea, and calling attention to the book of Hippocrates, “De Aeris, Aquis et Locu,” lib. iv., and a passage of Strabo, which speaks of the practice among the Scythians. In 1854 Dr. Fitzinger published a learned memoir on the skulls of the Avars, a branch of the Uralian race of Turks. He shows that the practice of flattening the head had existed from an early date throughout the East, and described an ancient skull, greatly distorted by artificial means, which had lately been found in Lower Austria. Skulls similarly flattened have been found in Switzerland and Savoy. The Huns under Attila had the same practice of flattening the heads. Professor Anders Retzius proved (see “Smithsonian Report,” 1859) that the custom still exists in the south of France, and in parts of Turkey…”
Wikipedia‘s entry says:
In the Americas the Maya, Inca, and certain tribes of North American natives performed the custom. In North America the practice was especially known among the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast. The Native American group known as the Flathead did not in fact practise head flattening, but were named as such in contrast to other Salishan people who used skull modification to make the head appear rounder. However, other tribes, including the Choctaw, Chehalis, and Nooksack Indians, did practise head flattening by strapping the infant’s head to a cradleboard. The Lucayan people of the Bahamas practiced it.
The practice was also known among the Australian Aborigines. The nobility of the Paracas Culture on the coast of Peru, south of the capital Lima, practiced skull binding, resulting cranial deformation. The Paracas situation is somewhat unique in that researchers Juan Navarro and Brien Foerster have found the presence of at least 5 distinct shapes of elongated skulls, each being predominant in specific cemeteries. The largest and most striking are from a site called Chongos, near the town of Pisco, north of Paracas. These skulls are called “cone heads” by many who see them, because of their literal conical appearance. Testing of these have illustrated that, on average, the cranial capacity is 1.5 liters, approximately 25% larger than contemporary skulls, and weigh as much as 60 percent more. Also, eye orbit cavities are significantly larger than contemporary skulls, and the jaws are both larger and thicker. Moreover, the presence of 2 small holes in the back of the Chongos skulls, called foramen, indicate that blood flow and perhaps nerves exited the skull at the back in order to feed the skin tissue.
Head elongation was also practiced in Oceania, especially on the islands of Vanuatu and Borneo (see also the 19th c. head-flattening board used by the Melanau, of Sarawak (Source: Pitt Rivers Museum)) Source: Head Flattening Facts .
“The archaeological records show that in the Andean areas of Peru, both types of head shaping were known among men and women. This figurine is typical of the unglazed cuchimlico figures of the Chancay civilisation in the central coastal region of Peru, north of Lima, that prospered between AD 1200 and 1450. It has large ornamental earplugs and may have been dressed in rich textiles. The exact significance of the flat, bi-lobed head is unclear but since such figures were often found in graves, it is likely to have represented a particular virtue such as wisdom, beauty or godliness.– Source: Pitt Rivers Museum Body Arts | Head shaping: flattening”
Also excerpted from “Sacred Texts“:
AN examination of the American monuments shows (see figure on page 269) that the people represented were in the habit of flattening the skull by artificial means. The Greek and Roman writers had mentioned this practice, but it was long totally forgotten by the civilized world, until it was discovered, as an unheard-of wonder, to be the usage among the Carib Islanders, and several Indian tribes in North America. It was afterward found that the ancient Peruvians and Mexicans practised this art: several flattened Peruvian skulls are depicted in Morton’s “Crania Americana.” It is still in use among the Flat-head Indians of the north-western part of the United States.
Why is or was head-flattening practised?
According to the article Head Flattening
“…there is recorded evidence of intentional cranial deformation—a practice of intentionally changing the shape of the human skull… It is believed that cranial deformation was performed to signify group affiliation or to demonstrate social status. By changing the shape of the skull, some felt it was aesthetically more pleasing or associated with desirable attributes. For example, in the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and southwestern Malekula, a person with an elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits….It is believed that cranial deformation was performed to signify group affiliation or to demonstrate social status. This possibly played a key role in Egyptian society. Both Queen Nefertiti and King Tutankhamen are often depicted with what may be an elongated skull… there are still some isolated groups in Africa and South America who continue this practice.”
African cultures reshaped the skulls of their members to increase an individual’s beauty and to improve social status. Among the people who practiced head flattening, an elongated head indicated a person’s intelligence and spirituality. The Mangbetu people of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo wrapped their babies’ heads with cloth to elongate their skulls. Once the desired shape became permanent, the cloth was removed, and a woven basket frame was attached to the head at an angle, and the hair was styled over the frame to exaggerate the look of elongation (source: Encyclopedia.com).
Nicolette Parr suggests that head binding may have been done for aesthetic reasons, to signify group affiliation or enhance social status.
However, of the thirteen deformed skulls discovered in 1,000-year-old Mexican cemetery (South Sonora), many of the burials “were healthy children, suggesting the process of cranial deformation may have been inept and dangerous”[see photo 2/10 in picture gallery.
The first evidence of deforming skulls was found in the northern Mexican state of Sonora when residents were digging an irrigation canal in 1999. The practice, which is well documented among Mesoamerican peoples, had never been seen this far north before.
Past Horizons suggested the practice may have been gruesome:
Of the skeletal remains of 25 individuals recovered, 17 are between 5 months and 16 years and 8 are adults. The researcher noted that the number of infants and pre-pubescents identified in the cemetery may be an indicator of poor practice in regards to cranial deformation and death likely was caused by excessive force while squeezing the skull. This she said, is derived from studies conducted on the remains and the results did not show any apparent diseases that could have caused death. [Read more about this remarkable discovery at Past Horizons.]
We would like to note that one of the best-ever documented sources and insights on cranial deformation is actually to be found in the old 1931 writings of Eric John Dingwell’s “Artificial Cranial Deformation: A Contribution to the Study of Ethnic Mutilations“. Here below we summarize his observations and findings in Chapter III specific to Asia. Omitting the examples mentioned only from art, portraits or sculpture, Dingwell writing in 1931 did an amazing job of documenting instances of artificial cranial deformation in Asia. Practices of cradle boarding, use of moulds, stones, head massaging to induce cranial deformation were, according to Dingwell, found:
In Kingdom of Kucha, at Kashgar
Among the Hepthalites [or Epthalites in his writings], the White Huns
Among the Sarts, and the Uzbeks
Reports of head flattening were reported among the:
Armenians of Kurdistan (40%), Kurds of Ararat, Armenia (75%)
Ansariyeh in Lebanon
Juruks, a Turkoman nomadic tribe of Anatolia
Bakhtayans (considered native Persians), a Lurish Bakhtiari tribe, Iran, [nomadic peoples today primarily inhabiting Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari and Eastern Khuzestan, Lorestan and Isfahan.] The Bakhtiari consider themselves to be descendants of Fereydun, a legendary hero from the Persian national epic, Shahnameh.
Persians * Note: “Choresmiens” were reported as flattening the heads of the infants only in order to trick the Persians into not taking their babies as slaves.[Khwarezm (Chorasmia), centered in the lower Amu Darya south of the Aral Sea (the northern part of the modern Republic of Uzbekistan, and the adjacent areas of Turkmenistan].
Deformed skulls were found:
Among the Nosairis, Druzes, the Marotes, the Melkites (the Lebanon-Syria-Palestine region)
At the Smryna Greek settlement of Anatolia
Among the Mediterraneans Cyprus, Crete, Sidon, Tyre (among the ancient cemeteries of the Phoenicians)
In Crimea, in the tombs of the Caucasus
In South Asia and Eurasia, Dingwell recorded cranial deformation evidence among:
The White Huns# from Sakala (Sialkot, located in the north-east of the Punjab province in Pakistan) which was the capital city of Mihirakula Hepthalite king. [# Known to the Greeks as Ephthalite to the Indians as Sveta Huna (“white Huns”), they were called the “White Huns”, Chionite to the Armenians as Haital, and to the Persians and Arabs as Haytal or Hayatila …possible origin of Hata and Hayato clans in Japan?. The Hepthalite Empire was at the height of its power (in the first half of the 6th century), was located in the territories of present-day Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and China. The stronghold of the Hephthalite power was Tokharistan on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush mountains, present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdiana and driven the Kidarites westwards, and by 493 they had captured areas of present-day northwestern China (Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin). The Hephthalites invaded India for the first time in the 5th century]
Brahui and Baloch people and by the Jats peoples of North India and Pakistan (in Kachi, Bela and Sibi in Pakistan, a cloth bandage was tied around the head, and the head managed massaged by the sole of the mother’s foot)
Among the Multan, Afghanistan
Among the people of Orissa, Oraon of Bengal
Among the Nicobarese
Cranial deformation was observed in Lower Burma, among the Arakan people but not among the Rohtuck of Punjab or in Siam and Annam.
In East Asia, cranial deformation practices were documented among:
The Khalkhas, Mongols
The Manchus, north of Korea (said to be fugitives from further north) practised cranial deformation
In China: among the Ba tribes [Bak Sing], in Southeast Hunan and Shansi, in Northwest Chinese, and cranial deformation was said to have been practised in South China until 9th c.See also Edward Lerner, “the mutilations the Chinese were in the habit of inflicting were but few. They flattened the skulls of their babies by means of stones, so as to p. 39 cause them to taper at the top..” and on the Akkadian-Chinese connection, see Lacouperie, Ballon on the western origins of the Chinese language
Among the servant-class only of the immigrant Hainam population in the Malay states
Of particular interest to us here, are Dingwell’s writings on Korea:
“After the fall of the Qin [Tsin] dynasty it seems that part of the population of Hunan and Shansi fled to south-east Korea and settled in Samhan [Shin-han]. in the records of the Han dynasty and afterwards mention is made of these people and it is said that they flattened the heads of their children with stones and that this practice was confined to the male sex. If a boy is born in Samhan [Shin-han], so the saying is reported, then his head must be pressed with a stone because it must be flat, and so all the men in Samhan[Shin-han] have flat heads. A smililar practice was said to be carried out in ther parts of Korea. The origin of this custom may perhaps be found, as Terrien de Lacouperie is inclined to believe, in an attempt to imitate the form of head found in some ruling family, and as we proceed, further evidence may emerge which probably supports this view”
Dingwell also writes there were reports written that the transverse groove upon the Ainu skull said to be caused by the carrying of heavy burdens suspended from a strap passing over the forehead, but that the evidence on cranial deformation among the Ainu, Kamchadal and Chukchee was ambiguous and inconclusive of cranial deformation.
Noting that “The custom spread eastwards in the Dutch East Indies, Melanesia and Polynesia and lost itself finally in Australia and New Zealand, reappearing in the vast continent of America”, Dingwell concluded that “It would seem possible that the origin of the custom may be sought either in the home land of the nomadic peoples of Turkestan and the Trans-Caspian Provinces or in the area now roughly defined as Turkey in Asia. The evidence from India and China would, I think, suggest that the custom may have originally been connected with ruling families, and possibly the idea spread from the fact the common people imitated a royal or aristocratic privilege.”
It would seem as the nomadic peoples of Turkic or West Eurasian lineages radiated outwards, the further East they went, the greater the incidence in which the head-flattening or head-binding practices became lost. Some possible explanations for the fact that almost no cranial deformation has hitherto been found in Japan (barring Tanegashima Island), are that the influx of Korean immigrants has not been as large as popularly believed, OR that immigrants who arrived in Japan from the continent and Korean peninsula were mostly of Chinese commandery lineages that had already abandoned the custom, and/or that the Koreanic lineages emerged in Japan at such a late stage where head binding/flattening customs in East Asia had already been abandoned.
Suzuki, H., Y. Mizoguchi, and E. Conese, 1993. Craniofacial measurement of artificially deformed skulls from the Philippines. Anthropological Science, 101: 111-127
Kato, Katsumoto, et al., Incidence of nonmetric cranial traits in the Pre-Columbian series of the Chancay site, Peru Anthropol. Sci. 103(2), 115-116, 1995
Childress DH, Foerster B. “The Enigma of Cranial Deformation: Elongated Skulls of the Ancients”. Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press; 2012.
Gerszten PC, Gerszten E. Intentional cranial deformation: a disappearing form of self-mutilation. Neurosurgery. 1995;37(3):374-382.
“Head Flattening.” Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. 2004. Retrieved January 18, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com
Artificial cranial deformation Wikipedia
Brown, P., and Y. Mizoguchi, 2011. Identifying the influence of artificial neurocranial deformation on craniofacial dimensions. Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science, Series D, 37: 1-33
Amit Ayer et al. The Sociopolitical History and Physiological Underpinnings of Skull Deformation (Medscape)Deformed skulls discovered in 1,000-year-old Mexican cemetery by Nicolette Parr