The mummified elongated head of a newborn baby belonging to the ancient Paracas culture has been found in Peru. The finding is suggestive of a genetically elongated skull, since the process of artificial cranial deformation takes at least 6 months to produce the desired effect. Since more than 300 elongated skulls have been found over the years in Paracas, it is possible there was a race of people living there that were born with this curious feature.
Tourism Through the Ages: The Human Desire to Explore
The finding was announced by Brien Foerster of Hidden Inca Tours , who reports that the baby died approximately 2,000 to 2,800 years ago, and was between 0 and 3 months old. The hair of the baby has been preserved and, like many of the Paracas skulls that have been recovered, is auburn in color, which is inconsistent with the typical black color of the indigenous people. The vertebral column of the baby is further to the back of the skull than normal, which Foerster says “could well indicate an evolutionary adaptation to compensate for the elongated skull”.
The Paracas Skulls
Paracas is a desert peninsula located within Pisco Province on the south coast of Peru. It is here where Peruvian archaeologist, Julio Tello, made an amazing discovery in 1928 – a massive and elaborate graveyard containing tombs filled with the remains of individuals with the largest elongated skulls found anywhere in the world. These have come to be known as the ‘ Paracas skulls ’. In total, Tello found more than 300 of these elongated skulls, some of which date back around 3,000 years.
Elongated skulls on display at Museo Regional de Ica in the city of Ica in Peru
The elongated skulls of Paracas in Peru caused a stir in 2014 when a geneticist that carried out preliminary DNA testing reported that they have mitochondrial DNA “with mutations unknown in any human, primate, or animal known so far”. A second round of DNA testing reported by L.A. Marzulli and completed in 2016, was just as controversial – the skulls tested were shown to have European and Middle Eastern Origin. These surprising results change the known history about how the Americas were populated.
Strange Features of the Paracas Skulls
It is well-known that most cases of skull elongation are the result of cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding, in which the skull is intentionally deformed by applying force over a long period of time. It is usually achieved by binding the head between two pieces of wood, or binding in cloth. However, while cranial deformation changes the shape of the skull, it does not alter other features that are characteristic of a regular human skull. Yet the Paracas elongated skulls do contain features that differ from a typical human skull, including the different positioning of the foramen magnum, a very pronounced zygomatic arch (cheek bone), different eye sockets and no sagittal suture, which is a connective tissue joint between the two parietal bones of the skull. This suggests that that the elongation of the Paracas skulls may have been natural and not artificially produced.
An artist’s impression based on a Paracas skull.
In an interview with Ancient Origins in 2014, Brien Foerster explained:
“Cranial deformation is known to have occurred in many different parts of the world, most prominently about 2,000 years ago, from the Middle East, even Melanesia, and Central America, but because I have been intimately engaged with the elongated skulls at Paracas, and the Paracas culture in general that died out 2,000 years ago, I have had the opportunity to look in person at numerous of the skulls, as well as hundreds which are in collections all around the world. And some of them I would say, possibly between 5 – 10% of them, do not show obvious signs of cradle boarding or other forms of cranial deformation, which generally tends to create flat surfaces, either in the forehead or the back of the head. Some of these literally look like they are natural in appearance.”
An elongated skull from Paracas, with its characteristic auburn hair. Credit: Brien Foerster
Elongated Skull in Newborns Rules Out Artificial Cranial Deformation
Artificial cranial deformation is usually carried out on an infant, when the skull is at its most pliable. In a typical case, head-binding begins approximately a month after birth and continues for at least six months, but usually longer. Therefore, the discovery of a newborn baby with an elongated skull suggests that artificial cranial deformation did not take place, since a greater length of time is needed to create the shape changes to the skull.
The mummified elongated head of a newborn from Peru. Arrows point to the eye sockets and the mouth.
Researcher Igor Gontcharov reports on the discovery of other babies, and even fetuses, that have been found with elongated skulls . In 1851, Rivero and Tschudi wrote in Peruvian Antiquities : “We ourselves have observed the same fact [of the absence of signs of artificial pressure – IG] in many mummies of children of tender age, who, although they had cloths about them, were yet without any vestige or appearance of pressure of the cranium. More still: the same formation of the head presents itself in children yet unborn; and of this truth we have had convincing proof in the sight of a foetus, enclosed in the womb of a mummy of a pregnant woman, which we found in a cave of Huichay, two leagues from Tarma, and which is, at this moment, in our collection.”
Rivero and Tschudi also refer to two elongated infant skulls that were discovered in Peru and taken to England in 1838, where they were presented to the Museum of the Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society.
Gontcharov concludes that: “The evidence of elongated skulls present in fetuses and children had lead Rivero and Tschudi, Bellamy, Graves and others to a hypothesis that these skulls belonged to an extinct race of people, who left their legacy on the populations who succeeded them as a practice of artificial cranial deformation”.
Brien Foerster says that DNA testing of the baby’s remains is presently under consideration.