While the elongated skulls found in Peru seem to get the most attention, evidence of artificial cranial deformation (i.e. pointed skulls) have been found all over the world. While most of these pointed skulls have been discovered at or near their point of elongation, some appear to have arrived from other places … often leading discovers and locals to fear they are aliens. Recent DNA tests on some Peruvian skulls indicates they may have come from places in Europe. If one of those places was Bavaria, new DNA tests on elongated skulls there found that they’re not from Bavaria either. Aliens? Good guess, but no. Trophy brides? Now you’re getting warmer.
Elongated skulls were discovered in the late 1960s along the Danube River in southern Germany. They were dated back to about the sixth century CE and, along with their shapes, the skulls were unusual because they were all from women. No further research was done on the remains until recently when anthropologist and population geneticist Joachim Burger from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz decided to run DNA tests. Burger’s sampling consisted of 36 adult remains from six different medieval Bavarian cemeteries. Of that total, 14 had elongated skulls, one was a Roman soldier, two were women from Crimea and Serbia, and the rest were locals.
Burger’s report, released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals his astonishing findings. All ten men and 13 of the women with normal skulls could have blended into modern central and northern Europe – they had blonde hair and blue eyes. The women with the elongated skulls all showed genes suggesting they had dark hair and brown eyes similar to the populations of Bulgaria, Romania and other southeastern European cultures.
However, while their genes – and their pointed heads – clearly made them outsiders, the women were buried in normal local graves with the same artifacts as their blue-eyed blonde neighbors. Why were the dark, pointy-headed women treated as sisters? Burger suggests they could have been trophy brides brought home by victorious soldiers after conquering their lands, or they were high-ranking females marrying men outside their countries to form political alliances. Each village only had a small number, reinforcing the idea of leaders attaining power through marriage.
It’s not as absurd as it sounds. Anthropologists believe artificial cranial deformation, done by binding the heads of babies, was a practice of the rich and cultured because it was so time-consuming. Burger points out that the Bavarian graves had no babies with elongated skulls, indicating that the women didn’t get theirs locally and they weren’t born with a unique genetic long-skull trait that they could have passed down to their own offspring.
Burger’s theory is not accepted universally. Other anthropologists point out that that his sampling is tiny and it’s unusual for small, nearby villages to all have leaders making strategic alliances with the same remote states by marrying the same big-headed, dark-haired rich heiresses. More remains need to be discovered and tested.
Finally, the DNA is human, so Burger’s story puts another stake in the big-headed alien hypothesis. Perhaps the Coneheads really were just strange humans from France.