The Aliens are coming! The Aliens are coming! Or maybe not….

One of the amusement of studying ancient history is how all those sophisticated Yanks seem to think “primitive” people are stupid, so anything they don’t understand is attributed to “Aliens”. As Chesterton once quipped: Once people stop believing in religion, they start believing in anything.

So now a tabloid is claiming an alien like skull was found in New Mexico.

300 Meters from the village of Onavas, archaeologists discovered a site
with 25 human burials, 13 of whom have cranial deformation. This image
shows cranial deformation in one of the human skulls.

Credit: Cristina Garcia / INAH


Reality check, please. A lot of Native America tribes practices skull shaping, including those in Meso America and those along the Pacific coast of Canada.

And no, it’s not copying “African” customs, as some of the comments seem to think: Mali’s fleet might have reached the Americas 700 years ago, but the skulls predate that by hundreds of years.

On the other hand, the photo looks just like this Nazca (Peru) skull from the Japanese mythology  blog, which discusses that headshaping was also done in Asia and in the Huns/Scythians.

So is the skull a local one, or from an outside tribe? How did a Peruvian skull get to New Mexico? Maybe the same way that chocolate got there. Trade.

Sci-Ence blog has this drawing to show how they did it…the first drawing, with the slanted board, would result in that type of skull.

This type of deformity is easy to do. Children lying in cradleboards tend to have heads flat on the back of the skull, which is why American Indian kids where people use a craddleboard tend to be so beautiful, with wide faces…

When we docs see a child/baby with a flat back of the head, we know it might be a sign of neglect: That the mom is letting the child flat on it’s back for hours instead of picking it up, cuddling it, etc.

Howver, this finding is normal if the child is in a culture that uses a cradle board, and also in some Hispanic cultures, where children are kept indoors (often left in a crib for hours) to protect them from harm. (Like most “soft signs”, how you interpret the physical finding depends on the rest of the history and examination.)

The Cradleboard is still used by women on the reservations, and may be making a comeback as all those one sixtyfourth Indians decide to claim their ancestral customs.

Photo Wikipedia Commons.

The original reason for the cradleboard was so mom could carry the child in her arms or on hosrseback, and/or place the baby out of danger when working (the song “Rockabye baby” about placing a baby “on the treetop” may be describing placing the child up out of danger in a cradleboard).

However, one note of caution: it is bad for some kids with hip problems.

A small percentage of children are born with hip dislocations or shallow acetabular heads that make the hip prone to dislocate (pop in and out of the socket). This is usually treated with a special frogleg splint or in mild cases with double diapering. Alas this is easily missed by physicians, even though we learn to look for it, since the mild cases go in and out and might be “in” when we do the routine hip examination.

Placing a child with the problem into a cradleboard actually turns the milder problem into a full blown dislocated hip, meaning the child has problems walking. If corrected late the problem can damage the hip socket and  lead to arthritis in older people. Most of the adult cases I’ve seen have been in Native American patients, but this might be because one third of my career was spent with the IHS.

NIH Website has an article on the problem of congenital hip dislocation.

And this Smithsonian article discusses paleoAmerican origins (although given the rate of DNA/RNA research it will proably be out of date in a year or two).

One addendum: A similar skull deformity can occur if the sutures (growth lines) of the skull close too early. Some ancient historians suggest that Athenian leader Pericles always wore a helmet to hide his pointy head.

Heh: That would make a good conspiracy theory: Ancient Athens was a center of learning because it’s leader was an alien. (and we don’t mean Pericles girlfriend)…


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Part of this article is posted at her blog

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