Long skulls found in Europe may have belonged to brides from the East

The riddle of elongated skulls from Bavaria has been around for more than half a century: the first of them were found in the 60s during excavations on the territory of modern German cities on the banks of the Danube. All of them date from around the fifth century AD, and are found next to completely ordinary skulls of the same burial time throughout Europe and Asia. About what happened to these people, why their skulls are so elongated and what it means, historians still have no consensus.

To shed light on the mystery of long skulls, Joachim Burger from the University of Gutenberg in German Mainz and his colleagues sequenced DNA extracted from the remains of people with elongated skulls and normal skulls from nearby burials. Ten men and 13 women with normal skulls, as it turned out, they were fair-skinned, blue-eyed and fair-haired, and generally resembled the modern inhabitants of Central and Northern Europe. But the DNA of 13 women with elongated skulls indicates a more oriental appearance: brown eyes and dark hair; most likely, these women looked like modern inhabitants of the south of Europe, especially the Bulgarian and Romanian women.

The reason for the lengthening of the head, according to Burger, was the artificial deformation of the skull - a practice common in medieval Central Asia and in some other places; evidence of its existence already in the II century is found on the territory of modern Romania; Apparently, there it was applied to both boys and girls.

But in Bavaria, only female long skulls are found, and Burger and colleagues believe that the owners of the deformed skulls came to the west from Romania - possibly as brides. Ritual deformation of the skull is a long and laborious process, it was usually done in rich families, an elongated head often served as a sign of a high social status and wealth of the family. Perhaps long-headed Romanian women entered into dynastic marriages with representatives of the Danube communities, German historians say. It is not known whether Western brides traveled east.

Critics of Burger's theory point out, firstly, the lack of evidence that the deformation of the skulls was intentional. A soft children's skull is sometimes deformed by tight diapers or hard surfaces, this happened in the Middle Ages, and there is evidence of this. Secondly, opponents point out that for a dynastic marriage between European tribes of the fifth century 13 - too many brides; usually cost one or two. The burgher retorts the argument that archaeologists find a small number of elongated skulls in burials near each individual settlement, and 13 were collected from the entire region for analysis.

A study by Burger and colleagues is published in PNAS.

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