“Tracing the History and Health Impacts of Skull Modification”

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The Story

“Tracing the History and Health Impacts of Skull Modification”
by Eric Taipale
Discover, January 28, 2022

The Pitch


I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year’s! The following pitch is for a proposed article entitled, “Why Did Some Ancient Tribes Modify Their Skulls?” intended to be published in The Sciences section of Discover Magazine‘s website. When I had viewed Discover‘s pitch guide, I figured you would be the correct person to handle this work, as it concerns subjects related to archeology and anthropology. However, if this piece’s outlined summary and details do not align with your expertise, please forward this to someone who may assist in publishing this work.

Regardless, from footbinding and scarification to dental alignment and ear piercings, the practice of modifying one’s body, usually for religious or aesthetic purposes, has followed humanity since the dawn of time. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology describes noticeable dental abrasions and other oral anomalies on the skull of an archaic human specimen, called Olduvai Hominid 1, hinting at the possible use of facial body modifications in ancient peoples and societies.

The historical study of body modification in ancient peoples has been important for understanding social and cultural dynamics in anthropological contexts. There are many examples of permanent body alterations in ancient cultures—namely, the footbinding of women in traditional China and the insertion of lip plates used by the Mursi people of southwestern Ethiopia for beauty purposes. Moreover, one extraordinary form of body modification called “artificial cranial deformation” has been adopted throughout human history by many groups and cultures and used for many different reasons.

Generally speaking, artificial cranial deformation (ACD) is the intentional manipulation of the human skull’s physical attributes, usually practiced on infants and facilitated by mothers or caregivers. The desired shape was typically achieved through head binding or flattening, a prolonged technique commonly cited as the method employed by many ancient peoples to deform the cranium artificially. Although it has been practiced by many groups worldwide, the Mayans pioneered this technique by introducing a head-flattening apparatus affixed to the child’s skull. Over time, the head’s shape would become elongated and conical due to the constant pressure exerted on the already naturally developing, infantile cranium.

This article is centred on artificial cranial deformation; its current uses in numerous past and current cultural contexts, such as its use by the Paracas people, who utilized cloth for head binding. The skulls, which Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello first discovered in the late 1920s, are currently displayed in various museums and have been the subject of many different conspiracy theories relating to its supposed “extraterrestrial origin.” I also examine the health effects of artificial cranial deformation and its common confusion with certain conditions.

Needless to say, this work is of immeasurable importance and would be a valuable story for Discover, as it unites the interests of readers interested in anthropology, archeology, ancient history, and cultural studies; the main focus of this proposed article. Additionally, through rigorous methodological standards, I have ensured that my information and assertions are based on and sourced from reliable news and research outputs (All sources are embedded in hyperlinks, and photos will be referenced). I have also attached a picture of the proposed title image.

Interested? Feel free to contact me at this email address to access the entire manuscript with the visual content!

Best wishes,

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