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Artificial Cranial Deformation in the Shanidar 1 and 5 Neandertals

Author(s): Erik Trinkaus

Source: Current Anthropology, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1982), pp. 198-199
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological
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MILLER, R. J. 1981. Biological relationships in prehistoric central
Arizona. Paper presented at the 50th annual meeting of the
American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Detroit, Mich.
REED, E. K. 1948, The Western Pueblo archaeological complex.
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Western Pueblos. Soutthwestern Jouirnal of Anthropology 6:120-38.
SPICER, E. H. 1962. Cycles of conquest. Tucson: University of Arizona
UPHAM, S. 1980. Political continuity and change in the plateau
Southwest. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Arizona State Uni-
versity, Tempe, Ariz.
Artificial Cranial Deformation in the
Shanidar 1 and 5 Neandertals'
Department of Anthropology, Peabody Museum, Harvard
University, Cambridge, Mass. 02138, U.S.A. 29 ix 81
Artificial cranial deformation is one of the most widespread
forms of human intentional body modification for esthetic
purposes (Dingwall 1931). Research on the Neandertals from
Shanidar Cave in Iraq shows that this practice may not be
limited to recent humans. The Shanidar 1 and 5 cranial vaults
(fig. 1) exhibit contours that contrast with those of other
Neandertals and suggest that they experienced cranial defor-
Shanidar 1 and 5 derive from the upper Mousterian levels of
Shanidar Cave and date to the first half of the last glacial, at
least 45,000 years ago (Solecki 1960, 1961). Their facial and
postcranial skeletons are morphologically similar to those of
other Neandertals from Central Asia, the Levant, and Europe
and distinct from those of other fossil Homo sapiens (Stewart
1977, Trinkaus 1977, n.d.; Stringer and Trinkaus 1981). It is
therefore assumed that their cranial vaults, if undeformed,
would be morphologically close to those of other Neandertals.
The Shanidar 1 and 5 crania were damaged postmortem and
have required reconstruction. There may be some distortion
in the orientations of their parietal bones (Stewart 1959,
Trinkaus n.d.). However, none of the bones was warped post-
mortem, and all of the joins follow the natural contours of the
preserved portions. Any inaccuracies in the reconstructions
should be minimal. The median sagittal arc is largely complete
from nasion to opisthion on Shanidar 1 and from nasion to
lambda on Shanidar 5.
Artificial cranial deformation among recent humans is
usually produced by binding an infant's head shortly after
birth with a band around the frontal and occipital regions,
with or without a board (Dingwall 1931, Blackwood and
Danby 1955, Brown 1981). Pressure is maintained on the
infant's head until the desired shape is achieved or the infant
rejects the binding. This technique produces frontal flattening,
variable occipital flattening, and increased parietal curvature
and height (Brown 1981). Frequently associated with these
changes in curvature are prebregmatic frontal depressions and
an elevation of lambda. Similar deformation can be produced
by head pressing, in which the mother manually applies pressure
to her infant's head (Macgillivray 1852); the changes from
head pressing are usually less pronounced than those produced
by head binding.
Variation in the manner and duration of application of these
techniques can lead to a continuum in one population from non-
deformed to highly deformed crania. This frequently makes it
difficult to determine whether a specific cranium should be
mm CMS
FiG. 1. Lateral views of the Shanidar 1 (A) and Shanidar 5 (B) crania.
The positions of nasion (N), bregma (B), and lambda (L) are indi-
cated. Missing portions on the Shanidar 1 cranial vault, but not on
that of Shanidar 5, have been reconstructed with filler. The Shanidar
5 posterior frontal and anterior parietal median sagittal contour ap-
pears slightly irregular, since there is a narrow depression from a
healed scalp wound about 17 mm anterior of bregma and a portion
of the anteromedial left parietal and most of the right parietal are
lacking. Both of the crania exhibit the frontal flattening, high
parietal curvature, and elevation of the parietal region associated
with artificial cranial deformation.
I would like to thank P. Brown, W. W. Howells, M. D. Russell,
F. H. Smith, T. D. Stewart, and M. H. Wolpoff for their helpful
suggestions and Muayed Sa'id al-Damirji, Director-General of
Antiquities of Iraq, for access to the Shanidar fossils. This research
has been supported by NSF grants BNS76-14344 and BNS-8004578.
(0) (0) (7) (0) (mm) (mm) (()
Shanidar 1. 144 134 107.5 113 120.0 114.0 95.0
Shanidar5. 147 136 108.1 ... 116.0 133.0 113.7
Mean ............. 138.9 144.8 96.3 108.8 117.6 111.5 94.8
SD (N) ........... 2.2 (10) 3.6 (10) 2.4 (8) 9.0 (3) 4.0 (6) 7.3 (6) 4.2 (6)
Range ............ 131-143 140-152 93.2-100.2 101-118 113.5-125.0 102.5-123.2 89.1-99.6
NOTE: The Neandertal sample includes Amud 1, La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1, Circeo 1, La Ferrassie 1, Gibraltar 1, Marillac 2, Neandertal 1, La Quina 5 and
unnumbered, Sala 1, and Spy 1 and 2. The one Near Eastern specimen, Amud 1, is metrically close to the overall Neandertal means.
considered deformed, and the conclusion that it was inten-
tionally modified must remain to a certain extent subjective.
The most noticeable aspect of the Shanidar 1 and 5 cranial
vaults is their frontal flattening and parietal curvature. Their
frontal angles (a greater angle indicates less curvature of the
median sagittal arc [Howells 1973]) are at the upper limits of
the Neandertal range of variation, whereas their parietal
angles are below the known Neandertal range of variation
(table 1). Although none of their frontal and parietal angles is
exceptional by itself, all of them being near the limits of the
known Neandertal ranges of variation, the combination of a
flat frontal arc and a highly curved sagittal arc is quite unusual.
The ratios of their frontal and parietal angles are well outside
of the range of variation of other Neandertals, being 4.67 and
4.92 standard deviations from a Neandertal mean. Associated
with these curvatures of the frontal and parietal arcs is an
elevation of the posterior parietal bones, especially on Shani-
dar 5.
The Shanidar 1 cranium also exhibits a prebregmatic flatten-
ing of the frontal bone for a distance of about 60 mm anterior
from bregma. However, it exhibits neither the occipital flatten-
ing nor the elevation of lambda frequently associated with
cranial deformation. Its occipital angle falls in the middle of
the range of variation of a small Neandertal sample, and the
ratio of its lambda and bregma radii (perpendicular projections
from the transmeatal axis to lambda and bregma, following the
technique of Howells [1973]), a measure of the elevation of
lambda relative to bregma, is similarly close to a Neandertal
mean (table 1).
The Shanidar 5 cranial vault, in contrast, exhibits no posterior
frontal flattening. Yet its lambda radius is well above a Nean-
dertal range of variation, and the ratio of its lambda and
bregma radii is 4.50 standard deviations from a Neandertal
mean (table 1). This indicates that it had considerable occipital
flattening (none of its occipital bone survives), since in recent
humans this elevation of lambda is associated with occipital
Shanidar 1 and 5 thus exhibit several of the more prominent
features associated with cranial deformation among recent
humans, which suggests that their cranial vaults were artifi-
cially deformed. Other possible causes appear less likely. There
is no evidence that either of their cranial vaults were patho-
logic, other than minor scalp wounds. Their distinctive shapes
could not have been produced by the small amount of post-
mortem distortion present in the specimens, and it is unlikely
that their vault shapes represent a regional variant, since
other Western Asian Neandertals (Amud 1, Tabuin Cl, and
Teshik-Tash 1) and early modern-appearing humans (Qafzeh
3, 6, and 9 and Skhuil 4, 5, and 9) exhibit normal vault con-
figurations for Neandertals or recent humans respectively.2
Therefore, the most reasonable interpretation of their unusual
vault configurations appears to be that they experienced
artificial cranial deformation.
It is difficult to infer which deformation technique might
have been used on Shanidar l and 5, but the absence of extreme
flattening, except possibly on the Shanidar 5 occipital bone,
suggests that either flexible bands or head pressing was used.
The contrasts between the Shanidar 1 and 5 vaults probably
reflect differences in the positioning and duration of the applied
This inferred presence of artificial cranial deformation among
the Shanidar Neandertals implies a heretofore poorly docu-
mented personal esthetic sense among these early humans. The
appearance of this practice at the same time in human evolu-
tion as the first evidence of intentional burial of the dead
(Harrold 1980) and prolonged survival of the infirm (Trinkaus
and Zimmerman 1982) would suggest a behavioral pattern
allied with that of early anatomically modern humans.
The geologically older Shanidar 2 and 4 Neandertals, which
derive from different populations than Shanidar 1 and 5, are too
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incomplete to indicate whether their crania were artificially deformed.
The preserved portions of the Shanidar 2 cranium suggest that it
probably was not deformed (Stringer and Trinkaus 1981).
Vol. 23 * No. 2 * April 1982