Ancient peoples in the Americas practiced head flattening as a mark of social status. Head flattening is the practice of shaping the skull by binding an infant's head. Typically the skull would be wrapped or bound between two boards to form an elongated conical shape. Mayans shaped the heads of the highest ranking children, those of priests and nobles, between two boards for several days after birth. Some Incas also shaped the heads of male infants by wrapping their heads with braided wool straps for more than a year. One recovered Incan skull was formed into two peaks. Head flattening was also practiced by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, and by the ancient peoples of Oceania, Africa, and Europe.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cobo, Bernabé. Inca Religion and Customs. Translated and edited by Roland Hamilton. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1990.
Davies, Nigel. The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Day, Nancy. Your Travel Guide to Ancient Mayan Civilization. Minneapolis, MN: Runestone Press, 2001.
[See also Volume 2, African Cultures: Head Flattening ]
Head flattening is the practice of permanently elongating the skull by wrapping young children's heads while their skulls are still forming. African cultures reshaped the skulls of their members to increase an individual's beauty and to improve social status. Among the people who practiced head flattening, an elongated head indicated a person's intelligence and spirituality. The Mangbetu people of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo wrapped their babies' heads with cloth to elongate their skulls. Once the desired shape became permanent, the cloth was removed, and a woven basket frame was attached to the head at an angle, and the hair was styled over the frame to exaggerate the look of elongation.
Head elongation was also practiced in Oceania, especially on the islands of Vanuatu and Borneo, and in some parts of France. Between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, the practice of head elongation fell out of favor among many of the peoples who had traditionally practiced it.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
"Headshaping." Australia Museum Online. http://www.amonline.net.au/bodyart/shaping/headbinding.htm (accessed on July 31, 2003).
[See also Volume 2, Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas: Head Flattening ]