One of the neat things about the Flipboard app on iPad is that it makes a quick scan through news and other happenings online veeeery easy. This morning, while I was drinking my tea and going through my usual mix of New Scientist, assorted news feeds and various lifestyle blogs (where I found this lemon cake
that I am now dying
to try to make for Thanksgiving, but sort of afraid I am not sufficiently baker-skilled to manage), I found something (else) very interesting: it was a picture of some really beautifully-preserved mummies that had, in life, been subjected to skull flattening.
What's skull-flattening? I'm glad you asked, imaginary reader!
You see, our modern cultures around the world today aren't the first Human cultures to get the idea that something unnatural (like, say, over-inflated lips or silicon filled breats) are attractive. Most cultures throughout history seem to have practiced some kind of body alteration for the purpose of beauty, basically based on the idea that if you're spending a bunch of time and energy doing (x) to your body (or your kid's body), you must have enough resources not to be worrying about whether or not you're going to eat today. Body modification, whether it's scarring, foot-binding, or, in this case, strapping boards to your infant's head to flatten and elongate his or her skull while it's still soft, is a great way to advertize that you don't have to spend your time working. In other words, it's like having really absurdly long fake nails, high heels, absurdly exaggerated musculature, or a perfect tan even in winter. It's a sign that says "I'm so successful I can waste my energy on stuff that doesn't make sense from a pure survival standpoint!"
Think of it like the Human equivalent of a peacock tail. It's a shitty idea as far as avoiding predators, but the people around you (particularly the lady peacocks) think it's damned impressive, and from an evolutionary standpoint, that's what matters.
So, hey, this is exciting! I've seen illustrations of people with flattened foreheads, and I've seen a few dull pictures of the skulls, but I'd never seen anything so nicely preserved. I got very excited. ...And then I noticed the headline next to the photo."Scientists think this triangular skull belongs to an alien"
Um, what? No... no, not if they've ever so much as flipped through a basic archaeology textbook, they don't. Especially not since the skulls were found in Peru. Guess what region notably picked skull-flattening out of the bazillion body-modification options available to pre-industrial humanity? Peru
. I even looked it up for you, to prove it - a quick Google search for "peru skull-flattening" gets you this Wikipedia article on artificial cranial deformation
, which is the technical term for this kind of body mod. Down under "Reasons" you'll see a great little diagram of the methods the Mayans used, and next to the "History" section are a pair of skulls pictured underneath an 18th century painting of a Chinookan child undergoing the process, being held by a woman on whom the adult result can be seen. The top skull is labeled as Incan. Where did the Inca live, ladies and gentlemen? Peru. Relevant quote:
Artificial cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding is a form of permanent body alteration in which the skull of a human being is intentionally deformed. It is done by distorting the normal growth of a child's skull by applying force. Flat shapes, elongated ones (produced by binding between two pieces of wood), rounded ones (binding in cloth) and conical ones are among those chosen.
Take another look at that Inca skull. Now look at the 'alien' mummies. I think I'll rest my case.
I shall refrain from commenting on the probable credentials of those Russian and Spanish "doctors" who think these things are from outer space, except to say that there's no law anywhere saying a total crackpot nutjob can't have a PhD in something. Io9
has an article about the same thing. I like to think they're being more than a little tongue-in-cheek about it, which makes me happy, but they're not quite clear enough about the "wtf, no" as I might prefer.