The cause of elongated skulls – alien intrusion aside – is generally accepted to be the sadistic practice of binding a baby’s skull during its early soft state through subsequent growth years to curse the person with a long pointed head that was funny on Saturday Night Live but caused a life of pain and possible mental illness, with the only fame coming centuries later when the strange skulls were unearthed by puzzled archeologists. The reasons anyone would inflict such torture on innocents (as opposed to other tortures humans inflict on innocents to this day – a topic for greater philosophical and psychological minds) are still a mystery. However, a recent discovery of elongated skulls in Croatia points to a strange ancient nomadic culture that may have spread the practice as it traveled.
“We were inspired to study these individuals based on their unusual burial context as well as the identification of two different types of artificial cranial deformation in two of the individuals.”
In a press release announcing the study published recently in the journal PLOS ONE, co-author Daniel Fernandes, a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at University of Vienna, describes the recent discovery of the remains of three young males age 12 to 15 in a burial pit in the city of Osijek in eastern Croatia. (Pictures here.) What caught his eye was that two of the three had different types of elongated skulls and that that seemed to have been placed together deliberately with pottery and dead animals. Further analysis of these 5th century CE skeletons at first added to their mysterious appearance and burial because it appears the three came from widespread locations.
“Results of ancient DNA analyses indicate that the individual without artificial cranial deformation shows broadly West Eurasian associated-ancestry, the individual with the elongated skull has East Asian ancestry and the third individual has Near Eastern associated-ancestry.”
Ron Pinhasi, head of the ancient DNA laboratory at the University of Vienna and co-director of the study, reveals that the young man with an elongated skull from East Asia is the earliest East Asian to be found in Europe. This means the so-called Migration Period – the era from about 375 CED to 538 CE when the declining Western Roman Empire was invaded by Germanic tribes and the Huns – also included intrusions by East Asians as well. But why an East Asian with an elongated skull?
“Based on the presented results, we propose that the type of artificial cranial deformation may have been a visual indicator of membership in a specific cultural group, and that these groups were interacting closely on the Pannonian Plain during the Migration Period.”
Because of the rich artifacts found in other tombs of individuals with artificial cranial deformation, many researchers believe elongated skulls were a sign of nobility. However, these Croatian skeletons and their artifacts indicated they were poor, undernourished, nomadic and part of a common cultural group despite being from distinctly different geographic locations and having different (or no) forms of elongation. What does it mean that they all ended up in the Pannonian Plain during the Great Migration Period? Were they novices in the Distinguished Gentlemen of the Elongated Skull?
“This leads us to ask: is this a random peculiarity or part of a larger-scale pattern of association between ACD type and group membership? We believe that future multi- and inter-disciplinary studies combining archaeology, bioarchaeology, history, stable isotopes analysis, and ancient DNA, conducted on a larger skeletal sample from a wider region will aid us in answering this question.”
Ah! A new question requiring more research to compare elongated skulls around the world in a completely different way. These archeologists definitely know how to create job security. We await their future answers.