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Cranial Artificial Deformation in Germanic Medieval Populations

Studies about 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 ?

Diffuse phenomenon
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.

Oriental origin
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.

About oriental 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), pp. 55-72

Fabio Giovannini

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