Child's Nervous System

, Volume 21, Issue 11, pp 945–950 | Cite as

Artificial cranial deformation in newborns in the pre-Columbian Andes

  • Edgardo SchijmanEmail author
Classics in Pediatric Neurosurgery



Artificial deformation of the neonatal cranial vault is one form of permanent alteration of the body that has been performed by the human being from the beginning of history as a way of differentiating from others. These procedures have been observed on all continents, although it became widespread practice among the aborigines who lived in the Andean region of South America. It has been suggested that the expansion of this practice started with the Scythians from their original settlements in central Asia and spread toward the rest of Asia and Europe, and it is believed that Asiatic people carried this cultural custom to America when they arrived on the current coasts of Alaska after crossing the Strait of Behring. The practice of deforming newborn heads was present in the whole of the American continent, from North America to Patagonia, but cranial molding in neonates was most widely practiced in the Andean region, from Venezuela to Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.


Intentional deformation of the head in neonates was carried out in different ways: by compression of the head with boards and pads; by compression with adjusted bindings; or by restraining the child on specially designed cradle-boards.


The purpose of head shaping varied according to culture and region: while in certain regions it was a symbol of nobility or separated the different social groups within society, in others it served to emphasize ethnic differences or was performed for aesthetic, magical or religious reasons.


There is no evidence of any neurological impairment among indigenous groups who practiced cranial deformations in newborns.


Artificial cranial deformation Mummies Pre-Columbine cultures 


  1. 1.
    Anton S, Weinstein K (1999) Artificial cranial deformation and fossil Australians revisited. J Hum Evol 36:195–209Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Boada Rivas AM (1995) La deformación craneana como marcador de diferencia social. Boletín Museo del Oro Ns 38–39, Bogotá, ColombiaGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Boas F (1890) Second General Report on the Indians of British Columbia. British Association for the Advancement of Science, London, pp 562–715Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Brain R (1979) The decorated body. Harper & Row, New York, USA, p 91Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Carod Artal FJ, Vázquez Cabrera CB (2004) Neurological paleopathology in the pre-Columbine cultures of the coast and the Andean plateau. I. Artificial cranial deformation. Rev Neurol 38:791Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Carrara N (2004) I crani degli “alieni”: uno studio antropologico. Museo de Antropología, Universitá di Padova website.
  7. 7.
    Catlin G (1876) Illustration of the manners, customs and condition of the North American Indians. LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Delisle F (1880) Contribution á l’etude des deformations artificielles du crane. These pour le doctorat en médicine, ParisGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    El Inca De la Vega G (1609) Royal commentaries of the Incas, and general history of Peru. University of Texas Press, AustinGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Fernández de Piedrahita L (1881) Historia general de la conquista del nuevo reino de Granada. BogotáGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Garret J (1988) Status, the warriors class, and artificial cranial deformation. In: Blakely R (ed) The king site: continuity and contact in sixteenth century Georgia. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA, pp 35–46Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Imbelloni J (1938) In: Dembo A, Imbelloni J (eds) Deformaciones intencionales del cuerpo humano de caracter etnico, vol III. Editorial Nova, Buenos AiresGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Lucena Samoral M (1965) Historia extensa de Colombia, vol. III, T I. Nuevo Reino de Granada. Lerner, BogotáGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Martinez Martin AF (2004) Craneoplastia Andina. Museo de Historia de la Medicina y la Salud de Boyacá website.
  15. 15.
    Moll Aristides A (1944) Aesculapius in Latin América. PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Munizaga JR (1987) Deformación craneana intencional en América. In Revista Chilena de Antropología, vol 6. University of Chile, Santiago, pp 113–147Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Paredes Borja V (1966) Historia de la medicina en Ecuador, vol I. Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, QuitoGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Retzius G (1895) Om kranier af. s. k. long-head-indianer. Ymer XV:259–271Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Reyes Suárez M, Padilla Cerón N (1987) Un acercamiento a la práctica de la deformación craneal y sus posibles implicaciones culturales. Arqueología, Revista de Estudiantes de Antropología UN, No 4, BogotáGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Rodríguez JV (2001) Los Chibchas: adaptación y diversidad en los Andes Orientales de Colombia Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Santa Fe de BogotáGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Tommaseo M, Drusini AG (1984) Physical anthropology of two tribal groups of Amazonic Peru (with reference to artificial cranial deformation). Z Morphol Anthropol 74:315–333Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Torres-Rouff C (2004) Human skeletal remains from the Island of the Sun, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. Am J Phys Anthropol Suppl 38:196Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Surgery (Neurosurgery)Hospital General Carlos G. DurandBuenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Department of Surgery (Neurosurgery)University of Buenos Aires School of MedicineBuenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.Buenos AiresArgentina

Personalised recommendations