Medieval Barbarians Likely Imported Brides With Elongated Heads From Southeastern Europe
Published in PNAS, the study dispels a common belief that the Huns were responsible for the deformations
Artificially deformed female skull from Altenerding, an Early Medieval site in Bavaria. Credit: State Collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy Munich
Stony Brook, NY, March 13, 2018 – An international research team including Krishna Veeramah, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, has performed the first genomic analysis of populations that lived on the former territory of the Roman Empire from around 500 AD. The analysis provides a direct look at the complex population movements during the era known as the European Migration Period. The palaeogenomic study, published in PNAS, investigated early human medieval genomic variation in southern Germany, with a specific investigation of the peculiar phenomenon of artificial skull formation, the origins of which scientists have debated for more than 50 years.
While most of the ancient Bavarians looked genetically like modern central and northern Europeans, one group of individuals had a very different and diverse genetic profile. This group was particularly notable in that they were women whose skulls had been artificially deformed at birth. Such enigmatic deformations give the skull a peculiar tower shape and have been found in past populations from across the world and from different periods of time. While the specific origins of this practice have been debated for more than 50 years, scientists think that parents in ancient societies wrapped their children’s heads with bandages for a few months after birth in order to achieve a desired head shape, perhaps to emulate a certain ideal of beauty.
“The presence of these elongated skulls in parts of eastern Europe is most commonly attributed to the nomadic Huns, led by Atilla, during their invasion of the Roman Empire from Asia,” said Veeramah, a population geneticist and first …