Saturday, August 25, 2007

Skull Shape-Shifters   posted by DavidB @ 8/25/2007 05:21:00 AM

The UK Times today has a short report into some surprising research findings. The main text is as follows:

A study into the mysterious changing skull shape of medieval man casts serious doubt on current theories.

The peculiar shift from long narrow heads to those of a rounder shape, and back again, which took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, has been noted at sites throughout western Europe. But a study of skulls found at the deserted village of Wharram Percy, near Malton, North Yorkshire, suggests that the anatomical blip was not down to an influx of Norman immigrants, or climate change, English Heritage has said.

It examined nearly 700 skeletons recovered from the village. Unlike other research, data from the Wharram site traces the change to a single, indigenous community which has been radiocarbon-dated.

Simon Mays, a skeletal biologist, said: "Our work has yielded few clues on why skulls changed, but we have cast serious doubt on some of the current theories. Despite the best efforts of science, we're still in the dark to explain why it happened."

Another report, in the Guardian, has more detail, including the important point that the changes are only found in male skulls.

And yet another report is here.

It's all very mysterious. I was aware that archeologists had found some changes in the shape of English skulls over the last thousand years, but I didn't know it was a change found elsewhere in Western Europe, or that skulls had changed in one direction and then back again in a few centuries.

And before anyone says 'Black Death', and has me chewing the carpet, I must point out that the change between the 11th and 13th centuries precedes the Black Death.