You may have already heard of intentional skull modification, a practice that was common in various ancient civilizations around the world. But what’s really behind these mysterious practices? A team of biological anthropologists and archaeologists from Kyushu University and the University of Montana conducted a study that expands our understanding of these practices. They found that the Hirota people, who lived on the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima in the 3rd to 7th centuries CE, also practiced skull modification. Interestingly, the study found no differences in skull modification between men and women, indicating that both halves of humanity participated in the practice.
So what were the goals of this deliberate skull modification? Scientists cannot give a definite answer to this question. However, they speculate that the practice may have been related to marking group affiliation or demonstrating social status. Skull modification is the process by which a person’s head is pinned or bound at an early age in order to permanently change the shape of the skull. This practice predates written history and has had different purposes in different cultures.
One place in Japan that has been associated with skull deformation is the Hirota site on the island of Tanegashima. It is a major burial site of the Hirota people who lived there at the end of the Yayoi period, around the 3rd century AD, to the Kofun period, between the 5th and 7th centuries AD. The excavation of this site revealed remains with cranial deformities.
To conduct the study, the scientists used a hybrid approach that involved analyzing the skulls’ contour shape using 2D images and 3D scans of their surface. The team also compared skull data from other archaeological sites in Japan, such as the Doigahama Yayoi people of West Yamaguchi and the Jomon people of Kyushu Island. The results of the study revealed distinct skull morphology and significant statistical variability between the Hirota individuals and the Jomon specimens from Kyushu Island and Doigahama Yayoi. Thus, the scientists declare with a certain degree of certainty that the modification of the skull of the Hirota people was deliberate.
The practice of deliberate skull modification was common not only in Japan but also in various parts of the world. Some scholars believe it was done to enhance beauty and attractiveness, while others believe it was done to denote social status or group affiliation. However, the exact purposes and motives behind this practice are still a mystery.