Intentional cranial modification from the Houtaomuga Site in Jilin, China: Earliest evidence and longest in situ practice during the Neolithic Age.
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OBJECTIVES: Intentional cranial modification (ICM) was a long-established tradition used to reshape the head. Unfortunately, motivation of the act is unclear. It has been found in recent and contemporary human populations throughout the Old and New Worlds, yet the drawback of the quest into the origin, diffusion, and meanings of ICM is the lack of early materials for scientific examination. This study reports the discovery of ICM from the Neolithic Houtaomuga Site in Northeast China and the importance in deepening our knowledge of this intriguing tradition. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twenty-five skeletons unearthed from the Neolithic cultural Phases 1-4 in the Houtaomuga Site were visually screened for ICM features. Cranial measurements were conducted to quantify the degree of variation in the modified skulls and typical ones were computer tomography (CT) scanned to obtain a diplo structure and 3D model. RESULTS: Eleven skulls carrying signs of ICM from both sexes varying in age from juveniles to full adults were identified ranging from 12,000BP to 5,000BP. Three types of modification patterns were observed and most of them were of typical fronto-occipital modification pattern. In particular, there were remarkable variations in the curvature of the crania along the sagittal direction. DISCUSSION: Overall, the antiquity as well as the cultural and genetic continuity of the population in Houtaomuga Site demonstrated the earliest confirmed ICM cases from the easternmost Old World, and the longest in situ duration of ICM practice at one single Neolithic site. This circumstance largely contributes to our understanding of the origins and distribution of ICM in Eurasia and the American continent.