Religion, Pain, and Social Status: Mind-Blowing Facts About Ancient Coneheads
Many people know "The Coneheads" as a family of aliens whose antics were documented on Saturday Night Live, but there's more truth to those sketches than you might have imagined. Were coneheads real? Many anthropological digs have uncovered human skeletons with elongated skulls - but they weren't born that way. They underwent a body modification called "skull elongation." These real coneheads have been found all around the globe, coming from many different civilizations.
The custom of skull elongation involved binding the skulls of infants with wood or fabric. As they grew, the cranium would become elongated and appear cone-like. This artificial cranial deformation is also known as head flattening or head binding. It has been practiced for thousands of years, and that history is the basis for these conehead people facts.
Some people believe that these conehead remains are actually a separate species or even extraterrestrials. While that is certainly something to consider, the practice of skull elongation is well-documented. Why someone would intentionally deform a child's skull in this manner is another question.
What is the purpose of this ritual, and how did it come to be practiced by so many different cultures? Can it really explain all the instances of this deformity that have been discovered? The true origins of the practice remain an enigma to this day, but these ancient conehead facts help unravel some of the mysteries.
A Long, Flat Head Was Considered A Mark Of Beauty By Many Of Its PractitionersPhoto: Collectie Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
The Mangbetu tribe of Africa, in particular, styled their hair to emphasize their elongated skulls and make them look more beautiful. The skull elongation was a mark of beauty and status in the Congo region, which in turn inspired the hairstyles.
The tradition was still practiced until the mid-1900s, when it was outlawed by the government.
Skull Elongation Was Practiced By Many Cultures Around The WorldVideo: YouTube
Interestingly, the practice of skull elongation has been found in many peoples from a multitude of different and unconnected cultures. The Mangbetu tribe of Africa, the Huns of Asia, and the Chinookan tribes of North America all practiced it.
Elongated skulls have also been discovered in Sonora, Mexico and Victoria, Australia.
Some Cultures Came Up With Unique Hairstyles To Emphasize The Shape Of Their HeadsPhoto: Buena Vista Pictures
The Ancient Mayans were notorious for their cutting-edge fashion choices, which included jewels in their teeth, forehead elongation, and elaborate hairstyles to show off their heads. To emphasize the length of their foreheads, men would burn back their hair, while women would weave intricate braids and ribbons into their hair.
Hair choices served to dress up an already elongated skull.
Skull Elongation Dates Back At Least 14,000 Years
Some of the oldest elongated skulls that have been found are the ones discovered in Australia. They are estimated to be about 14,000 years old. For years, the remains confused researchers, as the sloped foreheads contradicted the skulls of Homo sapiens alive at the time.
Over the past few decades, however, it's become clear the remains are the earliest examples of skull elongation.
The Skull Elongation Process Could Kill ChildrenPhoto: Rama / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 FR
It probably isn't all that surprising that squeezing an infant's skull would hurt. But it could also kill. An excavation of a burial site in Mexico found that many of the elongated skulls came from healthy children.
Given their premature deaths, researchers believe the process may have been crude, imperfect, and lethal for children.
The Practice Was Developed By Several Cultures IndependentlyPhoto: Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr / No known copyright restrictions
Instead of the practice starting with one culture and then spreading, skull elongation seems to have sprung up among several cultures independently of one another. Anthropological evidence shows the practice is most concentrated in specific centers, then it tapers off as you get further away from the focal point.
This suggests that different cultural centers developed the technique independently and then spread it to the surrounding areas.