Study: Ancient women with elongated skulls were medieval “treaty brides” traded for politics


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Scientists have a strange theory for how the 1,400-year-old remains of women who possessed features completely unlike the local population – including elongated skulls – ended up in present-day Bavaria.

Joachim Burger, an anthropologist and population geneticist at Johannes Gutenberg University, and colleagues posit the women were high-status “treaty brides” from Romania and Bulgaria sent to marry men of distant tribes to strengthen political ties.

In a study recently published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Burger and his team analyzed remains unearthed in graves located in present-day Bavaria. They compared the DNA of bone fragments from the graves with each other, and with DNA of modern populations throughout Europe and Asia. The DNA of people with normal skulls was homogenous, closely matching genealogical profiles of modern people in central and northern Europe. But the DNA from nine women with elongated skulls suggests they came from afar – likely Bulgaria and Romania.

Why the long, “tower-shaped” skulls? They were almost surely the result of artificial cranial deformation, a long and tedious process in which the skull of an infant is repeatedly bound until the head grows into a distorted shape. It’s been practiced for millennia…

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