Skull modification practices of ancient Japanese ethnic group revealed

New research reveals that the Hirota people practiced cranial modification – where skulls of infants are bound.

Human remains often don’t give much away. Imagine two skeletons, excavated from their resting places and scrubbed of dirt. Thousands of miles and hundreds of years separate the two sets of remains; one skeleton once belonged to a high-ranking member of the Collagua people, who tilled the high-altitude slopes of the Andes around the year 1300. The other remains are of a member of the Hirota people – shellfish traders who swung between the windswept shores of Tanegashima, part of Japan’s Ōsumi Islands, during the middle of the first millennium. You might not be able to see all of the details – skin and hair color, facial features – that separated these people while they were alive, but you will notice how they are linked in death – by the shape of their skulls.

New research reveals that the Hirota, like the Collagua, practiced cranial modification – a process where the skulls of infants and young children are bound, warping them out of shape. Cranial modification is remarkably widespread throughout human history, arising in multiple cultures on every inhabited continent independently. The practice, which continued into the 20th century in both Congo and France, was used as an indicator of group affiliation or social status.

“Short head and flattened skull”

The Hirota lived on Tanegashima between the third and seventh centuries CE. The latest analysis looked at remains disinterred from a burial site that was excavated twice, from 1957 to 1959 and again from 2005 to 2006.

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