ASPECTS OF EVERYDAY LIFE
Deformation in Germanic Medieval Populations
human craniums show that in germanic populations existed a curious and
at the same time very expressive, ritual practice: the deformation of
the cranium, obtained with bandaging that forced cranial bones to heal
following an oblong form. Obviously this deformation didn't bring any
physical problem: we consider it like a simple fashion. As we know, newborn
children have cranial seams open; and so is it possible to increase the
skull in length with bands, to obtain a more upright form of the head.
Which was the effect of this deformations on individuals?
The head became more developed in height, and so more awe inspiring; the
general height surely was elevated, but the really important change was
the effect of the deformation on cheekbones, front and eyes. They gained
individuals somatic Asian - or, if you like, mongolians - pulls.
It was not a diffuse phenomenon. But why several longobardians, ostrogoths
and burgundians among IV and VI century wanted to adopt the cranial deformation?
Sometimes used denomination of "ritual deflection" don't explain
interely the problem; certainly we face a really ancient custom of oriental
origin, as archeological excavations demonstrated. We could draw many
hypothesis, related in several cases to a "ritual" function:
religious motives, family clan, personal prestige.
How can we explain the adoption of this practice by burgundians warriors
in Savoia in VI century? Why they imposed mongolian characters on own
children, making them "different" from the other individuals?
Maybe they were priests, or military leaders, or men and women connected
to the period of the Huns? Burgundians had been subjects to the Huns,
like other germanic peoples. This explanation could seem logic; maybe
it is legitimate for some individuals, but it could not fully answer the
question; it is necessary to understand why some germanic individuals
(only germanics) located in the territories of the West Roman empire,
wanted to be physically different from the others. The problem is the
"search of the difference."
But by whom, and why ?
Generally we find that 1-5 % of the corpses buried in a necropolis
bear cranial deformation, but in West Europe we find deformed skulls among
many germanic peoples: burgundians, franks, alans; and some cases among
ostrogoths (but perhaps they were gepidians...) and longobardians.
The percentage of craniums deformed among the Alans-Sarmatians (located
in East Europe) in II-IV century nears 80%.
For example, we know how in the necropolis of Sezegnin (Switzerland),
people with deformed craniums have been disposed in a separated sector
of the cemetery.
origin: I. Kiszely, "The origins of artificial formation in Eurasia",
B.A.R., International Series, 50, London 1978 For a recent and
complete bibliography: L. Buchet, "La déformation cranienne en Gaule
et dans les régions limitrophes pendant le haut Moyen Age: son origine
- sa valeur historique", in Archéologie Médiévale, XVIII (1988),