Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Artificial Deformation of Skulls from Bronze Age and Iron Age Armenia

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Artificial Deformation of Skulls from Bronze Age and Iron Age Armenia

Article excerpt

The terms "artificial, or cultural modification" are used to describe practices which alter the shape of the cranium in infancy and early childhood. These practices must begin early in life since the morphogenetic pattern of the head is established by the third month of postnatal life, or perhaps earlier, and once attained does not change (Kohn et al., 1993; McNeill & Newton, 1965). Some societies (Ecuador, Peru, etc.), may employ this process for as long as three to five years (Gerszten, 1993; Torres-Rouff, 2002). It is possible for both genders to be the subject of cranial modification, but the frequencies vary among societies. Deformation was a frequent and common aspect of culture and everyday life in many populations around the world. For a recent comprehensive review of artificial cranial modification see Tiesler (2014). In anatomical terms, the cranial deformation types include those described by O'Loughlin (2004), such as occipital deformation, lambdoid deformation, fronto-vertico-occipital, parallelofrontooccipital, and annular deformation. Occipital deformation is flattening of the skull perpendicular to the ear-eye plane. This type of modification is often asymmetrical and generally does not involve the frontal bones. It can happen intentionally and in some cases unintentionally. Lambdoid deformation consists of flattening of the cranium around the lambda. Fronto-vertico-occipital deformation is characterized by flattening of the frontal bone in conjunction with the simple vertical occipital deformation produced by tying the head of an infant to a flat surface. This was probably accomplished by using a board for the flat surface to which the infant's head was attached. From a visual standpoint, annular deformation results in a cranium that displays a circular contour (Hoshower et al., 1995: 149), albeit annular deformation may produce an elongation of the skull depending on the extent and severity of the deformation. Frontal and occipital areas are flattened as a result of parallelo-fronto-occipital deformation. With this kind of deformation the occipital bone deforms obliquely, whereby the occipital and frontal bones take a parallel form to each other. The upper part of the cranium takes a cylindrical form as a result of pressure in annular deformation, and it becomes ovoid. The most important Near Eastern cranial modifications are those from Neolithic sites in Jericho (Palestine), Ganj Dareh, Ghenil Tepe, Ali Kosh, Chagha Sefid (Iran), the Yuruk tribe of southern Turkey, and Khiro-Kitiral (Cyprus). Some well-known Chalcolithic sites at which modified crania have been discovered are Sehgabi (Iran), Eridu (Iraq), Byblos (Lebanon), Ain Jebrud (Jordan), Seyh Hoyuk, Kurban Hoyuk, Bakla Tepe, and Degirmentepe (Turkey) (Daems & Croucher, 2007; Hours et al., 1994; Lorentz, 2010; Meiklejohn et al., 1992; Özbek, 2001). Furthermore, some of the Bronze Age sites of the Near East have also yielded evidence of modified crania, the most important of which are: Enkomi (Cyprus), Hayas Hoyuk, Adiyaman (Turkey), Lachish (Palestine) among others. The tradition of cranial modification is documented for some regions of eastern Eurasia, southern Turkmenistan, and Chorasmia (Khodjayov, 2000; Torres-Rouff & Yablonsky, 2005). In Dagestan (Ginchi) the 4th millennium BC skull of a man with traces of artificial deformation has been found (Gadzhiev 1975). Study of the Velikent cranium showed that the skull had been subjected to artificial head deformations (Mednikova et al. 2008). In the area of the Lower Don, Batieva (2008) and Firshtein (1974) have identified artificial deformation of skulls during the Bronze Age. Skeletal material suggests that the practice seen in the Caucasus could in fact be part of a longer tradition, dating back to occurrences in the Near East. Shevchenko (1986) discovered the presence of deformation in tribes of the Catacomb Culture. The mentioned custom, according to the researcher, has been brought from the Near East through the Caucasus to the steppes of Eastern Europe. …

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