Tyler O'Brien, associate professor, sociology, anthropology & criminology, will present “Beauty is in the Eye of the Molder:
The Anthropology of Head Modification.” Bring your lunch; cookies will be provided.
O’Brien will be discussing head modification in South America. Archaeological evidence and ethnohistoric accounts document artificial cranial deformation as a human cultural phenomenon found on almost every continent. As a biocultural process it is defined as the product of dynamically distorting the normal patterns of cranial growth in the infant through the agency of externally applied forces. Deformation can be produced unintentionally through the inadvertent effects of tying the child’s head to a cradleboard, as seen in some native North American Indian groups. Yet the most dramatic effects come from the intentional process of head molding. In general, ancient groups from around the world have practiced the act of head binding in basically one of two styles: soon after birth they would either strap hard, flat devices (e.g., boards) to both the front and back of the infant’s head or wrap the infant’s head with tight bandages (e.g., cords). By leaving these apparatuses on the head for three to five years, and being occasionally tightened, the resultant growth processes of the brain and cranium would be altered producing in the adult a more upright, boxy shaped skull or a more conical shaped skull in the second style, respectively. The end result is a permanently modified, adult head that some have speculated improved a person’s beauty, social status or class; but most widely accept that head shaping marked an individual as belonging to a certain region, ethnic or kin group or segment of society.