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Elongated human skulls: evidence of a lost human lineage or something else?

There is a curious custom that seems common in distant cultures: the practice of skull elongation. Why do the pre-Columbian cultures of Central America and Egypt share this same tradition? It seems clear that this curious tradition was very important for our ancestors, so much so that it was passed down to the modern era.

Elongated human skulls
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Elongated human skulls

A few hours drive south of Lima, Peru, is the Paracas Peninsula, part of which has become an ecological reserve where you can see wildlife such as sea lions, and a myriad of seabird species.

The area is incredibly rich in seafood and there is abundant fresh water just beneath the surface of the desert sands, making it particularly suitable for agricultural irrigation.

All these characteristics make it a very livable place for human settlements. Numerous stone tools dating back to around 8 thousand years ago have been found in the area.

One of the major Peruvian archaeologists who has studied the site is Julio Tello, who performed several excavations in the northern area of ​​the peninsula in 1928. His work led to the discovery of a large and elaborate cemetery, in which each grave contained entire mummified families, each member of which was wrapped in rich, highly stylized cotton fabrics. Tello also brought to light the remains of several underground houses, which later proved to be so numerous that the village extended for almost 2 kilometers along the coast.

But the most interesting finds were the skulls, some of which were enormously elongated. The scientific name for this characteristic is dolichocephaly. The majority of skulls presenting this condition, which can be found in different parts of the world, were obtained through a practice which causes their deformation.

Examples of this technique, of which there is recent news also on children from the Congo and the island of Venatu, have been observed in ancient Egypt, in Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Russia, the island of Malta, but also in places such as Peru and Bolivia, and even among the ancient Olmecs of Mexico.

The characteristic of this technique is to change the shape of the skull by modifying its bone structure, but not the actual volume. However, Tello found about 300 skulls that had a larger cranial volume than normal, up to 25 percent more. How is it possible?

It is clear that we are faced with two different lengthening techniques: one obtained mechanically, by applying conditioning to the growth of the ductile skull of a newborn, and one obtained genetically. How to explain the increased size of the Paracas skulls? Some have hypothesized that it is hydrocephalus, or some other clinical condition.

The second hypothesis seems unacceptable given that hydrocephalus tends to expand the skull uniformly, making it more spherical than elongated. The large number of skulls defies any reasonable statistics on the frequency of such a disorder. Furthermore, Paracas skulls, on average, weigh 60 percent more than contemporary human skulls from the same area.

Tello believed that the Paracas were related to the people of the Chavin culture, the same one who made the famous megalithic site of Chavin de Huantar, basing his supposition on the similarities in the designs and decorative motifs of the pottery, particularly in the feline figures. However no elongated skull has ever been found in the area where the Chavin lived, north of Lima and therefore the Paracas did not may be related to them.

Since Tello was considered one of the leading experts in Peru, when he dated the Chavin culture by placing its existence between 900 and 200 BC and applying the same chronology to the Paracas culture by placing it between 700 BC and 100 BC, no one never had the interest and courage to refute the timeline proposed by the famous archaeologist, at least until now.

A DNA test performed in 2010 by a German team on some skulls definitively indicates that the Chavin and Paracas were not genetically related. Indeed, the Paracas do not appear to be related to any other past population that existed in Peru.

Given that no elongated skulls have been found in the areas occupied by the Chavin culture and that DNA testing seems to confirm that Paracas and Chavin are not genetically related, Foerster hypothesizes that the Paracas are the descendants of a previous, much older culture, from which they would have inherited the skull elongation technique.

As some recent finds have revealed, the Paracas people appear to have occupied the Nazca area before the arrival of the tribal populations, and may have been the creators of the famous geoglyphs (Nazca Lines) of the Nazca plain. In support of this thesis there would be the enigmatic Candelabra of the Andes (also known as the Paracas Candelabra), a gigantic hieroglyph (183 meters high and more than 100 meters wide) created on the slope of a large hill in the northern part of the peninsula, obtained by removing the topmost layer of soil for 50-60 centimeters.

Candelabra of the Andes
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Candelabra of the Andes

The mystery of the origin and purpose of the artefact is yet to be revealed, as not even its antiquity is clear. Many believe that the geoglyph is related to the nearby Nazca Lines, often interpreted as signs of very ancient "landing strips" for mysterious flying vehicles of perhaps alien origin. If this were the case, the Candelabro, oriented towards the North-West, would have had the function of a direction indicator for flying vehicles.

Other researchers, however, consider it an ancient symbol of the Cabeza Larga (Broad Head), the mysterious population discovered on the Paracas peninsula in 1960 by Frédéric Engel and which dates back to the Andean Archaic Period, around 3 thousand BC. In this case the Candelabra would be the testimony of the disappeared and little-known cultures that developed over 5 thousand years ago in Central America.

To confirm the antiquity of the Paracas culture, there would be the disconcerting link with the customs of ancient Egypt. When Pharaoh Akhenaten came to power, around 1350 BC, numerous effigies portray him with an evident elongation of the skull. His wife, Nefertiti is depicted with the same cranial deformation.

Is it possible that the Paracas culture and the Egyptian culture are the direct descendants of a single archaic culture characterized by pronounced elongation of the skull? In some cultures it is said that the practice of cranial deformation was commanded by the gods who descended on Earth in ancient times. An ancient Polynesian tradition clearly informs us that this practice was taught to them by a group of light-skinned people whose home was in the sky.

In Central America there are similar stories, according to which the gods who descended from heaven commanded this practice to the ancestors of the Native Americans. In Peru it is said that the god Manco Capac ordered the deformations to be practiced so that their children would be weak, submissive and obedient. However, it seems clear that this curious tradition was very important for our ancestors, so much so that they passed it down to the modern era, losing, however, its original meaning.

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