Cranial Deformation

Cranial Deformation, head flattening, head binding is a form of body alteration in which the skull of a human being is deformed intentionally. It is seen in ancient civilizations across the hemispheres. This procedure takes place while still in infancy. A board would be placed and attached to the infant’s head. This was done once they were four or five days old. All children underwent cranial Deformation in the Pre Classic period. which was from 500-300 BC. However, in the Classic period from 250-900 AD only nobility went through the cranial deformation process. This was concluded through archaeological digs.

The first skull shape found was oblong. In order to achieve this the parents would attach boards to the children. The bright side of oblong shaping was that it did not interfere with the child's ability to move about. Where when the corn shaping took place in the Classic period; it was not uncommon for a couple to lose a child from the hardships of undergoing head flattening.

There were two ways to go about changing the shape of the skull around the time of birth. The first was by compressing the infant’s head with pads and adjusting the bindings to one’s liking. The second way was to put the child into a constricting child's bed that was designed for the practice of cranium reshaping itself.

Why was the child's head shaped to resemble corn? Corn is the root of the Mesoamerican civilization. Without corn there wouldn't be a country. Corn was the first crop they mass produced and would become part of the Mesoamerican diet. Shaping children's head to corn was believed to bring them closer to the divine rulers. Yet, it also showed ones place within Mayan society. If your head shape resembled that of the maize God, then that let everyone know you were of noble status. It also displayed where one was positioned in the social hierarchy. This was in addition to the bloodline. Sometimes the bloodline wasn't enough only because queens would come from other areas for political reasons and it could cause blurred lines as to who the royalty was especially if she picked a man who was once a commoner as her mate and partner.

The process of head binding was not pleasant in the slightest. Many children suffered while going through the transition. The process at its worst could ultimately end in a child's death, which was not uncommon. The reason death was not so uncommon was because the children would be left there in the same position until the allotted time had passed. So essentially the children were left in one place until the transformation was completed. Often times there were holes left behind the ears. This was a result of the magnitude at which this procedure was performed.

One can conclude that while head flattening was painful, and at times deadly, it was part of the Mayan culture. It gave the people the chance to believe in something greater. It also provided a sense belonging and place in society.