Artifical cranial deformation among the aboriginal population of pre-Columbian Cuba

Syutkina T.. (Moscow, Russian Federation)


              page 136146


Artificial cranial deformation has been practiced by indigenous peoples at various times in different parts of the world. In pre-Columbian Cuba, it is believed to have been practiced by the pottery-making agricultural groups called Taino. These people, who spoke the Arawak language, started to inhabit the island around 800 AD. According to the dominant theory, the practice was imported to the region from the Orinoco river valley by the Saladoid pottery makers. However, some authors ascribe this role to the Huecoid groups. Since any written record of the practice is virtually absent, a study of known paleoanthropological materials can be of crucial importance. In this paper, we set out to compare two samples of pre-Columbian crania belonging to the pre-ceramic population, who did not apply the practice of deforming their newborns heads (Ciboney), with those belonging to the pottery making agriculturalists (Taino), who did use such a practice. The crania under study, originating from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, mainly feature the frontal occipital oblique type of deformation. The intra-group variation in the deformed group is found to be much higher. This suggests that, despite the presumably standard deforming procedure, individual variations were inevitable. Taking the variations into account, somewhat unusual shapes, which cannot be unequivocally labelled as frontal occipital oblique, should be treated as a result of this diversity. The specific features that differentiate the deformed samples from the non-deformed ones are found to be the length of the parietal bones, the curvature of the frontal bone and the width of the crania. However, we cannot conclude that the deformations are wholly responsible for these differences. Another result of the study consists in the differences found between the crania from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, which point to a possible variation in deformation techniques. However, this firm conclusion cannot be drawn until additional materials from other Antillean islands become available.


Key words: paleoanthropology, artificial cranial deformation, Antilles, Cuban anthropology, Taino, Ciboney.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-43-4-136-146




T.. Syutkina

N.N. Miklukho-Maklay Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of RAS, Leninskiy Prospect, 32, Moscow, 119991, Russian Federation