Artificial Cranial Deformation (elongated skulls)

Did the bizarre practice of Artificial Cranial Deformation (elongated skulls) derive from observations of an elongated celestial body?

Elongated Skulls
Left: Paracas Skulls. Credit Silentlight87 Wiki Commons.
Right: The elongated dwarf planet Haumea.

Artificial cranial deformation or modification, head flattening, or head binding is a form of body alteration in which the skull of a human being is deformed intentionally. 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. Typically, it is carried out on an infant, as the skull is most pliable at this time. In a typical case, headbinding begins approximately a month after birth and continues for about six months.

Intentional cranial deformation was practiced commonly in a number of cultures that are widely separated geographically and chronologically, and still occurs today in a few places, including Vanuatu – an island in the south Pacific Ocean.

Skull deformation
Map showing worldwide distribution of artificial head shaping in recent history.

In the Americas, the Maya and the Inca were among some of the more familiar civilizations to perform the bizarre head-binding custom.

The ancient Maya
Maya skull and statue both showing cranial deformation.
Credit Link.
Egg-shaped Skulls.
Elongated sculptured Mayan skull.

Having elongated skulls meant that people could be instantly recognised as belonging to nobility, the elite class, the royal bloodline – it was seen as more beautiful and a sign of noble birth.

Cranial Deformation
Three drawings of head-binding methods that were used by Mayan peoples to shape a child’s head

Questions about head warping?

The most obvious question to ask is: “Why did so many different human societies independently hit upon the idea of binding infants’ heads to produce a distinctive shape?” As many cases are known only from archaeological studies, it is difficult to answer this with any certainty.

Egg-shaped Skulls
A case of skulls from the Andean Paracas culture, as seen in the Museo
Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú in Lima.
Image Credit: Robrrb via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

So what motivated people to undertake such a bizarre procedure on a new born babe?

Various theories include attempts to emulate members of the population in which elongated head shape was a natural condition – a ridiculous idea when considering just how few infants would have been born with this “defect.” In addition to the fact that the majority of these cultures had no contact with each other – a sticking point for most theories.

Egg-shaped skulls
Proto Nazca deformed skull, c 200–100 BC.

There’s also the absurd idea that they were ancient aliens or that early man was attempting to mould themselves in the image of earth visiting aliens. Again, absurd. That being said, “Extraterrestrial” is the key here, although not in any way close the context implied above.

The sky holds the answers

The God King Scenario proposes that the practice of head binding came about as a result of observations of a celestial body appearing elongated in shape. In an act of veneration cultures were attempting to emulate the shape of the divine figure above. This immediately answers the posing question as to why so many diverse societies having no contact with each other independently hit upon the idea of fashioning such a distinctive shape – quite simply, they all looked up and saw the same thing – a large oval shaped body dominating Earth’s skies.

Elongating one’s head was in most cases the reserve of nobility because it was believed they held divine status – a direct line to the gods. They were god-like rulers serving as intermediaries between the mortal world and the divine. Given the right to rule by the gods, it was natural for these ‘chosen ones’ (divine kings) to do their upmost to take on the attributes of their celestial counterpart wherever possible. Although an oval shaped satellite no longer rules the heavens, the practice of cranial modification became a tradition passed down through multiple generations in certain parts of the world.

Prime contender … our Moon?

The moon is a spheroid, not completely round but egg-shaped, according to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter website. The moon’s shape derives from its rotation, with the large end of the egg-shape pointing toward the Earth.

To the eye, the moon appears round, and it’s natural to assume that it is actually spherical in shape – with every point on its surface equidistant from its center – like a big ball. Not so. The shape of the moon is that of an oblate spheroid, meaning it has the shape of a ball that is slightly flattened. Look at a photo of Jupiter and you will see a good example of this. The moon exhibits very slight oblateness, but more important is the fact that the “side” of the moon that faces Earth is bit larger than the side turned away from us. This makes it slightly similar to the shape of typical bird egg that is larger on one “end” than on other. You might think of it as “gumdrop” shaped. So the moon is not exactly spherical. The deviation is small, but real.

Today, the same larger end of the moon always faces earth which deems its true oval shape indiscernible. However, what if some catastrophic event in the not too distant past disturbed the moon in some way? An event that didn’t necessarily alter the moon’s orbit so much as ‘tilted’ it just enough to reveal its oval shape – thus, inspiring different cultures around the globe to physically modify their skulls in veneration.

Lunar melee?

Moon in ancient times
The dark patches are the lunar maria.

I am suggesting that the iron rich lunar maria (large, dark, typically circular features) are a recent formation and that they were etched on the Moon’s surface quite recently (historical times) as a result of large iron based asteroids colliding with the Moon – this being enough to tilt the moon slightly.

To get an idea of what may have been seen (and since I cannot find any images showing the oval shape of our moon) we turn to images of the distinctive egg-shaped dwarf planet Haumea (link) and a modern day African women who has undergone cranial modification.

Elongated skulls.
Left: The dwarf planet Haumea and its two moons Hi’iaka and Namaka. Credit: Nasa.
Right: Head warped African woman having undergone cranial deformation.

Did ancient cultures observe a moon similar in shape to that of Haumea? Looking at the two images above the connection is obvious – an egg shaped celestial body led to the practice of cranial deformation.

If the Moon were recently bombarded, resulting dust and debris would have further highlighted its egg shape. Furthermore, given such a cataclysm there would be little in the way of lunar phases as the Moon would emit its own light due to heat – the moon would appear as an incandescent oval shaped orb, possibly even comet-like with a tail (possibly explaining the elaborate headgear worn by the Maya).

It would be reasonable to assume that the earth was also affected, with dust and debris also raining down on earth resulting in catastrophic climate change that subsequently wiped out many ancient civilisations, notably the Maya (most now accept the Maya were wiped out by severe climate change).

An alternative egg-shaped body?

Elongated Skulls
Cranial modification. African woman

Although the moon has to be high on the list of contenders, I’m open to the idea that another celestial body may have prompted head warping – a large egg-shaped object similar in shape and appearance to that of the above dwarf planet Haumea may have been responsible. Either way, it must have must have graced our skies for many years since a few months just wouldn’t be long enough for the practice of head binding to develop and establish itself independently in so many cultures around the globe. Against this idea would be the fact that large rouge asteroids (or planetesimals) are prone to tumble erratically (Haumea spins), so unlike the Moon they perhaps wouldn’t present the same egg-shaped face towards the earth for any discernible time.


Any theory regarding head binding has to answer the posing question as to how so many different cultures having no contact with each other hit upon the same complex practice. By suggesting we simply look up, I believe I have answered that question.

Ancient Skull stretching
Deliberate deformity of the skull.
“Toulouse deformity” band visible in photograph is used to induce shape change.

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