Daily Archives: September 24, 2008

Variability of the Upper Palaeolithic skulls from Předmostí

Variability of the Upper Palaeolithic skulls from Předmostí near Přerov (Czech Republic): Craniometric comparison with recent human standards

J. Velemínskáa, , , J. Brůžekb, c, P. Velemínskýd, L. Bigonia, A. Šefčákováe and S. Katinaf

One of the largest skeletal series of the Upper Palaeolithic period from Předmostí was destroyed during the Second World War, but the study of this material continues up to the present. The discovery of Matiegka’s original photographic documentation on glass plates [Velemínská et al., 2004. The use of recently re-discovered glass plate photo-documentation of those human fossil finds from Předmostí u Přerova destroyed during World War II. J. Nat. Mus. Nat. Hist. Ser. 173, 129–132] gives an opportunity to perform a new and detailed craniometric analysis of five adult skulls in their lateral projection.

The craniometric data were analysed using specialised Craniometrics software, and the analysis included morphological and dimensional comparisons with current Central European norms. The aim of the study was not only to monitor the skull shape as a whole, but predominantly, to evaluate the size and shape of various parts of the splanchnocranium.

The Upper Palaeolithic skulls are significantly longer, and male skulls are also higher than the current norms. The crania of anatomically modern humans are characterised by two general structural features: mid-lower facial retraction and neurocranial globularity. The height of the face of the Palaeolithic skulls corresponds to that of the current Central European population. The face has a markedly longer mandibular body (3–4 SD), while female mandibular rami are shorter. The skulls are further characterised by a smaller gonial angle, the increased steepness of the mandibular ramus, and the greater angle of the chin. These changes in the size and shape associated with anterior rotation of the face produce a strong protrusion of both jaws, but the sagittal inter-maxillary relationships remain unchanged. The observed facial morphology is similar to the Czech Upper Palaeolithic skulls from Dolní Věstonice.

This study confirms the main diachronic changes between skulls of Upper Palaeolithic and present-day human populations.

It seems the ancient Europeans had big strong jaws. I have an example of one of the skulls here…


26,000 year old face carved in mammoth ivory.

From Dolni Vestonice, site of many fine paleolithic finds. It’s thought to be a female face.

Ancient Scots mummified their dead in peat bogs

Bronze Age Britons practised the art of mummification at the same time as the Egyptians. And it appears that the ancient Britons invented the skill for themselves.

Archaeologists unearthed the skeletons of a man, a woman, and a 3-year-old girl under the floor of a prehistoric house at Cladh Hallan on the Scottish island of South Uist. Although no mummified body tissue remained, other evidence was found. The adults’corpses were locked with their knees close to their chests, similar to Peruvian “mummy bundles”. “The bodies must have been trussed up that way because you can’t bend a body like that normally,” says Jeri Hiller, a. biophysicist at the University of Cardiff, UK, who examined the skeletons.

Hiller thinks that the bodies were immersed in an acid peat bog for a few months – long enough to remove some of the soft tissue but keep the tendons and ligaments intact. The acid would also slowly demineralise the bones, an effect that could be tested. Hiller’s analysis showed a breakdown of minerals in the outer 3 millimetres of the bones (Antiquity vol 79, p 529).

This is the only example of mummification in Europe, she says,”It’s nothing like the techniques used in Egypt. People used the natural resources, available to them to carry out this incredibly sophisticated process.”

Longer item here. It seems trying to preserve the dead is a global phenomenon.

The Dali crania, Shaanxi province China.

One of those awkward ‘doesn’t fit the OOA’ paradigm skulls, from China. It was found in 1978, and it’s age is very roughly 209,000 years old. It’s described as being morphologically halfway between modern humans and Homo Erectus, so it’s been placed in the ‘archaic’  Homo Sapiens category for now.

A more thorough discussion of the skull here.