If you tap the back of your head, you will find it is very hard. But in early infancy it is not quite as tough so, with the right techniques, it can be moulded into a different shape, changing how it looks forever.
Welcome to the practice of reshaping the human skull. It has been documented in groups around the world, 45,000 years ago until today.
Some did it for aesthetics, some for power. In many cases, we can only guess why people did it.
It now turns out that skull-reshaping was common practice among hunter-gatherers in Patagonia, South America 2,000 years ago. Dozens of their reshaped skulls are offering intriguing new insights into why they did it.
In 2009 a team of archaeologists found intreaguing remains at an ancient burial. Marta Alfonso-Durruty, an anthropologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, US, was invited to Chile’s Instituto de la Patagonia to investigate them. She had been told to expect one extremely modified skull.
A skull modifier has to start early in childhood, when a child’s skull is still soft enough to have its shape altered
When she arrived and starting looking at the other skulls housed there, she found there were actually several modified skulls, something not previously observed in Patagonia. Out of 60 adult skulls, 18 (30%) were modified.
It seems likely that examining more skulls would reveal many more instances of modification. Aside from the obvious one, nobody else noticed the modifications, because the other changes were subtler and could look like natural variation to the untrained eye.
When it became apparent just how many had been modified, Alfonso-Durruty and her colleagues began to examine more skulls in a bid to figure out why.