Touching the Surface: Biological, Behavioural, and Emotional Aspects of Plagiocephaly at Harappa

  • Gwen Robbins SchugEmail author
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


In biology, the maternal–fetal interface refers specifically to the hemochorial, immunological, and hormonal relations between mother and offspring in placental mammals. Anthropologists broaden the definition to include sociocultural and behavioral aspects of the developmental environment, maternal-fetal relations, and identity construction. This chapter describes the differential diagnosis and a social bioarcheology interpretation of crania from two children, approximately 5 years old at death, interred in an ossuary (Area G) at the prehistoric city of Harappa, Pakistan (2000–1900 BCE). Both children were affected by variation in cranial shape known as plagiocephaly; viewed from above, the crania are asymmetrically distorted by flattening on one side of the frontal or occipital region. This striking variation in shape results when cartilaginous sutures that typically separate the bones of the cranial vault fail to form or prematurely close. Plagiocephaly can also be deformational. This chapter describes a biomedical method to tease apart intrauterine and postnatal causes of plagiocephaly—genetics, epigenetic factors, intrauterine constraints, plural birth, prolonged vertex molding, postnatal sleeping posture, supine positioning, and/or conditions that limit movement in young infants and children, such as torticollis—and the likely cognitive effects of the condition. The chapter then describes biocultural interpretations of these two individuals using a theoretical approach rooted in an archeology of emotion to explore social identity, motherhood, and the emotional response to plagiocephaly at Harappa.


Bioarcheology Archaeology Emotion Palaeopathology Congenital Plagiocephaly Harappa Indus civilisation Childhood Maternal–infant nexus 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Appalachian State UniversityBooneUSA

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