ANCIENT elites in South American societies bound their skulls to make them longer as a status symbol.
The Collagua people lived in the Colca Valley in south-eastern Peru 700 years ago, where they raised Alpacas and llamas for wool.
Their artificially extended heads showed they were members of high society, and could have helped foster a sense of community and collective identity, according to a new study.
According to bioarchaeologist Matthew Velasco of Cornell University the cranial modifications may have bound the powerful elite together.
Accounts from early Spanish visitors also report another ethnic group – the Cavanas, from the same region.
The records say that they also modified their bonces but made them wider and flatter rather than tall.
The Collagua used pieces of wood, tightly bound to the heads of babies to change how their heads grew.
The practice was banned by the invading Spanish in the 16th Century.
Mr Velasco’s research, published in the journal Current Anthropology looked at skull shapes from over 200 individuals from a 300-year period, and discovered that tall thin skulls became increasingly linked to high social status.
Chemical analysis of the bones revealed that Collagua women with purposefully distended heads were more likely to eat a broader diet than those without.
The team also observed that these women often had fewer injuries from physical attacks than women with unaltered skulls, Science News reports.
The study suggests the changes to head shape among those with power may have helped pave the way for a peaceful incorporation for the Collagua into the Incan empire.
Mr Velasco said: “Greater standardisation of head-shaping practices echoes broader patterns of identity formation across the south-central highlands and may have provided a symbolic basis for the cooperation of elite groups during an era of intensive conflict.”
The intensive fighting was due to the Incas sweeping in from the highlands of Peru and conquering less powerful civilisations.
They had one of the largest empires in the world in the 16th century before the Spanish conquistadors turned up.