Image: Painting by Paul Kane, showing a Chinookan child in the process of having its head flattened, and an adult after the process.
Artificial cranial deformation
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. It is typically 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 head moulding producing extreme cranial deformations was once commonly practised in a number of cultures widely separated geographically and chronologically, and so was probably independently invented more than once. It still occurs today in a few places, like Vanuatu.
Cranial deformation was probably performed to signify group affiliation, or to demonstrate social status. This may have played a key role in Egyptian and Mayansocieties. Queen Nefertiti is often depicted with what may be an elongated skull, as is King Tutankhamen. It could be aimed at creating a skull shape which is aesthetically more pleasing or associated with desirable attributes. For example, in the Nahai-speaking area of Tomman Island and the south south-western Malakulan, a person with an elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, of higher status, and closer to the world of the spirits.
[With thanks once again to the wonderful pink-porcupine]