If you saw these skulls would you think they belonged to extraterrestrials? Some do, but when one of our clients went to Peru and saw deformed skulls dating back to 6000 – 7000 BC, he said he knew exactly why ancient Peruvians deformed the skulls of the newborns!
Known to be practiced in a number of areas because of skeletal evidence, cranial deformation has been the cause of a lot of debate. While there seems to be no way to prove why it was done (and that’s where the debate is) it’s fairly well understood how it was done. Apparently cranial vault modification can be achieved through a number of means. In Katy’s words: “Enchev et al. (2010) discuss two types of modification: tabular or annular. Tabular, or “flat-head” modification involves compressing the fontal and occipital with fixed, erect boards or pads. This creates a lateral bulging of the head. A variation on this is when vertical boards are placed higher up on the back of the head to produce more upright modification. Annular modification is produced when bands are wrapped around the forehead and the back of the skull to force the bone to grow upright.”
Ok, but what was the intent and purpose really? In the Journal of Neurosurgery, Ayer et al. (2010) points to arguments that deformation was a sign of political and socioeconomic status and that the modification was a literal symbol of being the head of the state. A 16th century Spanish chronicler, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, asked the Mayan why their heads were a different shape, and the reasons behind the modification. They responded: “This is done because our ancestors were told by the gods that if our heads were thus formed we should appear noble and handsome and better able to bear burdens”. Romero-Vargas et al. (2010) also in the Journal of Neurosurgery, argue that the practice has religious and socio-cultural meaning, and it is an integral part of someone’s identity.
However, our client, the Head of Strategy Planning and Business Development in a pharmaceutical company has another fun theory about the intent and purpose of deformed skulls. He posits that they were deformed so people have a bigger cortex and thus think more with their cortex (executive brain) than react with brain stem (primitive, gator brain). Now if you know much about the way the brain would actually develop inside of a deformed skull, your own gator brain just kicked in at this creative thought. But it is a fascinating idea to have a little fun with.
The explanatory text found next to these skulls seems to correct him: “In this case deformation is in pyramidal form….causing the growth of Rolando’s incision where you find the motive center of CREATIVITY, philosophy, mathematics, etc.”
Our client was brilliant in considering the connection between what he had learned from us and the skulls he saw in Peru. We had taught him to control his gator brain, to upshift his thinking to his cortex and to make novel connections between previously unconnected thoughts so he could find creative solutions to problems he faced instead of getting stuck. And of course we had taught him some biological truths about the brain, so he knew where the cortex was: the upper-front part of the brain.
It’s highly unlikely that this deformation would have any impact on the overall function of the brain, but if the society and you both believed it did, we think their would be an impact due to the expectation setting. And that would be just fine!
As we still marvel at how the Egyptian made the pyramids and create conspiracy theories around how far advanced the ancient people were from us, we can’t help thinking that maybe they indeed were, and we need to learn from them. Could they have really deformed their newborn’s skulls to make themselves more creative? We don’t think so. But consider this, dear reader: We have it on good advice that if you go look in the mirror, you’ll notice the unique shape of your head. Rumor has it that the shape of your particular head is exactly the best shape to energize a creative brain! Now you know.