Locals in the small village of Onavas, digging an irrigation canal in 1999, found the skulls. According to Live Science
, the site identified as a pre-Hispanic cemetery and referred to as El Cementerios, contained the remains of 25 human burials, 17 of which were children between 5 months and 16 years of age. Thirteen had deformed skulls, elongated and pointy at the back and five had mutilated teeth.
reports that the practice of deforming skulls of infants was common in Central and south America. ABC News
reports that Moreno said that scientists found similarly deformed skulls in other parts of Mexico, including Guasave.
The recent finds provide the first evidence that the practice of skull shaping was also known in northern Mexico. But pre-Hispanic American civilization is not the only ancient civilization that engaged in the practice of remolding the soft skulls of young children. The practice is widespread in Africa and was also known in Ancient Egypt. Images of some of the Ramesside Kings of Ancient Egypt in their childhood, with elongated skulls, suggest it was a common practice in Ancient Egypt. The Yoruba of West Africa also practiced the art of shaping infants' skulls to make it elongated and pointy at the back end until recent times. The practice arises among the Yoruba because of the belief that elongated and pointed skulls are more aesthetically pleasing than skulls with smoothly rounded posterior.
According to Cristina Garcia Moreno, archaeologist at Arizona State University: "Cranial deformation has been used by different societies in the world as a ritual practice, or for distinction of status within a group or to distinguish between social groups. The reason why these individuals at El Cementerio deformed their skulls is still unknown."
explains that dental mutilation involves changing the shape of the teeth by filing or grinding teeth it. Cranial deformation is typically accomplished by applying force to the growing infant's skull, for instance, by binding wooden boards against the skull.
Researchers believe that the high incidence of children at the burial site suggests that the children died after excessive pressure or force was applied to reshape their skulls.
Garcia denied popular stories, especially by UFO-Alien enthusiasts, that such skulls are evidence of an alien race in ancient times. Garcia said: The most common comment I've read from people that see the pictures of cranial deformation has been that they think that those people were 'aliens.' I could say that some say that as a joke, but the interesting thing is that some do think so. Obviously we are talking about human beings, not of aliens."
Garcia concluded: "The most important implication would be to extend the northern boundary of the Mesoamerican influence."
According to Live Science
, other skeletons were found with earrings, nose rings, bracelets, pendants and necklaces. But researchers are uncertain why some of the dead were buried with ornaments. They also cannot explain why only one of 25 skeletons was female.
The Daily Mail
reports that this is the first time that use of ornaments made from sea shells have been found in Sonoran territory and suggests extension of the limits of the influence of Mesomerian culture farther north.
The researchers say they plan to extend their excavation of the site during the next field season to determine the size of the burial site and find new burials. Garcia said: "With new information, we also hope to determine whether there was any interaction between these and Mesoamerican societies — how it was and when it happened."