The idea of binding and reshaping a baby's head may make today's parents cringe, but for families in the Andes between 1100-1450, cranial modification was all the rage.
|Starting around 1300, high-ranking members of a pre-Inca population increasingly had their heads bound into|
a narrow, elongated shape during infancy [Credit: M. Velasco/Current Anthropology 2018]
Velasco analyzed hundreds of human skeletal remains from multiple tombs in the Colca Valley of highland Peru and discovered that before 1300 most people did not have modified heads. He found that the number of individuals with cranial modifications increased over time, from 39.2 percent to 73.7 percent during the later portion of the Late Intermediate Period.
|Above-ground tombs at the cemetery site of Yuraq Qaqa (Colca Valley, Peru)|
[Credit: David Rodriguez Sotomayo]
"The increased homogeny of head shapes suggests that modification practices contributed to the creation of a new collective identity and may have exacerbated emerging social differences," Velasco said. "Head shape would be an obvious signifier of affiliation and could have encouraged unity among elites and increased cooperation in politics."
One explanation for the cranial modifications is offered by a 16th-century Spanish colonial document Velasco examined, which described groups molding skulls into the shape of the volcano from their origin myth. "If this is true, then cranial modification reflects a deeply religious worldview and was fundamental to a person's being and existence, and not simply a fashion statement," Velasco said.
Author: Linda B. Glaser | Source: Cornell University [February 21, 2018]