Skulls with artificial deformation from 1,500 years ago found in Europe

Skulls with artificial deformation from 1,500 years ago found in Europe

The Artificial Cranial Deformation (ACD) is the intentional modification of a person's skull with the aim, often, of indicating a certain social status. This deformation is carried out by applying force and is usually carried out in childhood, since this is the time when the head is most moldable.

Now, this cranial deformation has been studied in a new work, published in PLoS ONE and directed by Ron Pinhasi, from the University of Vienna (Austria), and Mario Novak from Zagreb Anthropological Research Institute (Croatia).

The team of anthropologists extracted three skeletons of adolescent men of a pit excavated in 2013 at the Croatian site of Hermanov Vinograd in Osijek, known since the 19th century. The fossils dated from between 560 and 415, that is, they belonged to the great period of migrations, where there were significant movements of different European cultures.

In these remains they found that two skeletons had remarkably modified skulls: one had been obliquely elongated and the other had been compressed and raised. It is the oldest artificial deformation episode ever found in Croatia.

The authors suggest that these modifications could be made to distinguish members of different ethnic and cultural groups, “Probably the Huns, the Alans and some Germanic tribes such as the Ostrogoths or the Gepids”, explains Mario Novak, the main author of the study.

However, the authors cannot confirm that using ACD to indicate status it was a widespread practice or simply something specific in these individuals.

"This would require more research, as it is only the second study that deals with the genetic ancestry of people with artificial cranial deformation from the period of migration from Europe," Novak explains.

Coexistence between diverse ethnic groups

Although the analyzes could not show whether they were of different social status, they did confirm that they were of different origin, one from the Middle East and one from East Asia. The latter is the first individual of these ancestors found in Europe from the migration period.

"The most surprising observation is that these bodies have very diverse ancestors: one of them is associated with western Eurasia - the one without cranial deformation - another with the Middle East and the last one with East Asia," Novak clarifies.

Although these archaeologists cannot confirm why there were three skeletons from different provenances in the same pit, they do not rule out that these were killed even though there were no injuries to the bones.

Bibliographic reference:

Fernandes D, Sirak K, Cheronet O, Howcroft R,? Avka M, Los D, et al. (2019). "Cranial deformation and genetic diversity in three adolescent male individuals from the Great Migration Period from Osijek, eastern Croatia". PLoS ONE 14 (8): e0216366. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216366.


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