Deformed skulls from the 5th century reveal details about European migrations

Hyperaxion Apr 30, 2020

Bones found in southern Hungary reveal how the local culture was impacted by the arrival of foreigners who fled the Huns and had been abandoned by the Romans.

The bones of 51 people with deformed skulls found in the Mözs-Icsei dűlő cemetery in southern Hungary are helping researchers to better understand European history. According to a study published last Wednesday (29) on PlosOne, the group lived in this region around the 5th century, at the beginning of the period of migration in Europe.

Deformed skulls from the 5th century reveal details about European migrations
Artificially deformed skull of an adult woman. (Credit: Balázs G. Mende. Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary).

At that time, the European population entered a rhythm of continuous cultural transformation as new foreign groups arrived in search of refuge, due to the invasion of the Huns in Central Europe and the fact that the Romans had abandoned the provinces of Pannonia, located in today’s Western Hungary.

To better understand these rapid changes, a group of archaeologists led by Corina Knipper, from the Curt-Engelhorn-Center for Archaeometry, in Germany, decided to study the remains found at the archaeological site of Mözs-Icsei dűlő, first excavated in 1961. The authors conducted new research at the cemetery and used a combination of isotope analysis and biological anthropology to investigate previously excavated burials.

Burial of one of the founders of the cemetery.
Burial of one of the founders of the cemetery. (Credit: PlosOne).

According to the new analysis, the population that lived near the cemetery at the time was remarkably diverse and used the site as a cemetery for at least three generations. Of the 96 bones discovered, a small portion belonged to the local founders, with graves built in Roman style. Another part of the remains belonged to foreigners who probably settled in the region during the migrations.

The burials of the third generation had Roman and foreign characteristics – such as artificially deformed skulls. According to the researchers, the practice of deforming skulls (by tightly binding them in childhood) dates back to the Paleolithic era, originating in Central Asia, in the 2nd century BC, and expanding through Europe, arriving in Hungary around the 5th century.

Artificially deformed skull of a girl who lived in the region.
Artificially deformed skull of a girl who lived in the region. (Credit: Wosinsky Mór Museum, Szekszárd, Hungary).

In total, 51 individuals, including men, women and children with deformed skulls were found at the Mözs-Icsei dűlő cemetery. Although further investigation is needed, experts believe that these findings indicate that at least one local culture emerged in Pannonia during and after the decline of the Roman Empire in the region.

“The application of new technology — isotope analysis — helped enormously to comprehend community formation and lifestyle during the fifth century,” the study co-authors István Koncz, Zsófia Rácz and Vida Tivadar told Live Science.

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