The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Cultural modification of head shape among archaeological populations of the Western Chaco area, Argentina


1FACEN, Universidad Nacional de Catamarca, 2FHCSYS, Universidad Nacional de Santiago del Estero, 3FCNYM, Universidad Nacional de La Plata

Thursday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

Cultural cranial modification has been documented and studied on many ancient populations and it has been considered to be a marker of social status, gender, aesthetics and ethnicity. Certain anatomical consequences have been found to be consistent with intentional deformation of the skull, including an increase in the prevalence of wormian bones. This study evaluates the presence of intentional modification of head shape in human remains recovered from archaeological sites in the semiarid plains of the Western Chaco area, northern Argentina, during pre-Columbian times. The archaeological and chronological context of these prehistoric sites spans between IV to XVI AD. Sixty-five skulls, representing a period of 1200 years, were analyzed. Patterns of deformation were examined, including the morphological appearance of the deformed crania and their degrees of modification, as well as the incidence of this cultural practice among these ancient human groups.

The ample temporal range encompassed by the skeletal samples provides the opportunity to study the social dynamics concerning cranial vault modification among the pre-Columbian peoples that once inhabited the dry scrub forests of the Western Chaco before contact. It also represents an important and additional source of information regarding cultural connections and population mobility in the area. This study reveals that artificial cranial deformation exhibits a notorious prevalence and continuity through time, as the occipital or tabular erecta form of intentional deformation was predominant in this particular region during at least twelve centuries before the arrival of Europeans in northern Argentina.

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