Artificial cranial deformation in newborns in the pre-Columbian Andes

Abstract

Introduction

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.

Methods

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.

Purpose

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.

Conclusion

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

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Correspondence to Edgardo Schijman.

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Schijman, E. Artificial cranial deformation in newborns in the pre-Columbian Andes. Childs Nerv Syst 21, 945–950 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00381-004-1127-8

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Keywords

  • Artificial cranial deformation
  • Mummies
  • Pre-Columbine cultures