When bizarre 'xenomorph'-shaped skulls were recently found in China, theories inevitably arose that suggested an extraterrestrial origin.
A new paper, based on the research of archaeologists has explained the true origin of these weirdly shaped human skulls.
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Intentional Cranial modification
The origin of the skulls, though not alien, is still incredibly strange. Researchers studying the archaeological findings have come to the conclusion that they are some of the oldest evidence yet of humans purposefully modifying the shape of their own heads.
Up to 12,000 years ago, humans living in what is now northeastern China were purposefully reshaping their heads. The practice happened for thousands of years. The reason behind it is not fully known, though theories range from it being accidental, to it being a symbol of social status.
Excavated between 2011 and 2015 in tombs at the Neolithic Houtaomuga archaeological site in Jilin, 25 individual skulls were then studied by the archaeologists. CT scans showed that 11 of these skulls had indeed been intentionally modified.
The practice is more commonly known as artificial cranial deformation and dates from between 12,000 and 5,000 years ago.
"The area as part of the Northeast Asia has arguably served as a centre for the radiation of human populations to territories beyond northern China, such as central China, the Korean Peninsula, the Japanese archipelago, eastern Siberia, and possibly the American continents," explained in their paper.
"Therefore, the new materials found at the Neolithic Houtaomuga Site in Northeastern China may hold secrets about the origin, diffusion, and meaning of intentional cranial modification."
An ancient practice
Cranial modification was typically performed in infancy, as subtle pressure to a baby's soft skull is able to shape it as it grows. The head was usually wrapped tightly with a cloth or shaped with boards, Science Alert reports. Strangely, this practice doesn't seem to have a negative effect on cognitive function.
Much in the same way as with many ancient structures and buildings, we can't be certain as to the motivations behind the Houtaomuga people performing the cranial modification.
In fact, as it was practiced for thousands of years, there may have been several different reasons. It could have been performed as a symbol of high social standing. Others suggest it was simply an accidental — or accepted — side-effect of binding a baby's head for protection.
The paper, titled Intentional cranial modification from the Houtaomuga Site in Jilin, China was written by researchers from China, the US, and Singapore. While it may not prove the existence of Alien-style 'xenomorph' aliens, it nevertheless gives us a fascinatingly weird insight into the practices of our ancestors.