Artificially Deformed Crania From the Hun-Germanic Period (5th–6th Century AD) in Northeastern Hungary

Historical and Morphological Analysis

Mónika Molnár, M.S.; István János, Ph.D.; László Szűcs, M.S.; László Szathmáry, C.Sc.


Neurosurg Focus. 2014;36(4):e1 

In This Article


Study Sites and Samples

The human skeletal finds examined were excavated in two cemeteries, namely Ároktő Csík-gát and Nyíregyháza M3, 36/c, in the Great Hungarian Plain in northeastern Hungary (Fig. 1). The two cemeteries were located relatively close to each other, at a distance of approximately 70 air km.

Figure 1.

Maps showing the location of the sites described in this study. A = Ároktő Csík-gát; B = Nyíregyháza M3, 36/c.

The excavation in the burial site of Ároktő Csík-gát, where 250 graves with 249 individuals became known, was conducted between 1996 and 2000. The graves were dated from the Hun-Germanic Period (5th–6th century ad) at the earliest to the age of the Hungarian conquest (9th–10th century ad) at the latest. Three of the 20 individuals whose remains dated back to the Hun-Germanic Period were artificially deformed.[19]

The skeletal finds at the Nyíregyháza-Rozsrétszőlő site, which was named after the section of the motorway M3 as "M3, 36/c," were excavated in 2005. During the archaeological excavation, a 5th-century cemetery with 34 graves came to light in addition to a settlement from the Late Bronze Age and another one from the age of the Roman Empire.[2] Archeological and historical evidence equally suggested that the graves belonged to the pagan Gepids or Huns consisting of various ethnic groups.

Methods Used for Morphological Analysis of the Artificially Deformed Crania

The morphological sex determination of the individuals was carried out using the recommendations suggested by Éry et al.[11] Twenty-three sex traits on the cranium and the postcranial skeleton were taken into account.

The determination of age at death in the case of the juvenile individuals was based on the degree of epiphyseal union, the ossification status of bones, and the diaphysis length of long bones, following the instructions proposed by Johnston[15] as well as Stloukal and Hanáková.[32] For the adult skeletons, the combined methods elaborated by Nemeskéri et al.,[25] Acsádi and Nemeskéri,[1] as well as Sjøvold[31] were applied.

The degree of deformation was calculated and classified using the index developed by Oetteking[26] with Ginzburg and Žirov[14] (OGŽ index; Table 1). The index is calculated according to the following formula: OGŽ index = basion − antibasion distance × 100/glabella − inion distance.

The definition for the deformation types is not consistent in the scientific literature, which causes some uncertainty and calls attention to the use of the nomenclature. To determine the types of cranial deformation, the classification of Dembo and Imbelloni[7] (see also Cocilovo et al.[6]), which is one of the synthetic works referred to most frequently in physical anthropology, was applied. In this way, 4 main types of cranial deformities could be distinguished, which are as follows.

Types of Deformation

Tabular Oblique. Crania with tabular oblique deformation are characterized by an oblique plane in the iniac region on the occipital bone as well as a depressed and strongly inclined frontal bone. In most cases, the cranial length and width increase considerably. These modifications are carried out by anterior-posterior compression by hard and rigid tools. The general shape axis is dislocated posteriorly, above the Frankfort horizontal plane.

Tabular Erect. In this case, the frontal bone of the cranium may be plated or slightly altered. Individuals of this type tend to have a net vertical plane in the lambda region of the occipital bone, which is frequently parallel to the basion-bregma height. It can be observed that the height and the width of the cranium are increased as a result of the anterior-posterior compression of the skull by firm and rigid elements (for example, pads, cradle board, or tablets). Due to the intervention, the neurocranium alters to a high extent while the splanchnocranium changes to a slight extent. The general shape axis is approximately orthogonal in relation to the Frankfort horizontal plane.

Circular Oblique. Specimens of this deformation type are characterized by either a slight or pronounced flattening of the frontal and occipital bones in the cranial vault. In the area of higher-intensity deformation, one can often find a transverse groove running straight to the general shape axis. Incidentally, there is a marked inclination backward in relation to the Frankfort horizontal plane. The normal development of width and height is restricted but compensatory growth can usually be noted, mostly in longitudinal vault expansion. The circular oblique form can be obtained as a result of the application of more flexible tools (for example, bandages, bands, tapes, and headdress).

Circular Erect. Crania of this type can demonstrate either a slight or a pronounced flattening of the frontal bone. Furthermore, a transverse curved groove can often be observed on the frontal bone, which proceeds on the walls of the temporal bones, ending around the lambda region on the occipital bone. The development of the skull is restricted in width and length, while a remarkable growth in height can be noticed. The expansion in the obelion area can also often be detected. For the deformation procedure, the same devices are used as for the circular oblique type (especially more flexible tapes and bands).