mayan-papoose

If you rewind the tape of evolutionary history and then re-run it*, there are no guarantees things will turn out the same. You can thank healthy doses of random chance for that. Any given branch of life might just not show up. The same idea would apply to rewinding the Betamax of human history; small seemingly insignificant events could end up rewriting entire textbooks.

That being said I’m going to risk a prediction: As soon as evolution saw it fit to grant our ancestors bipedal locomotion, we were doomed to ceremoniously deform baby craniums.

Because we’re meddlesome and get bored easily.

I’ve never watched a chimp give birth, but I hear their** pelvises are quite appropriately shaped for delivering their young. Human pelvises on the other hand are not as great. They’re pretty narrow in fact. Walking upright reduced the size of the bony birth canal while our swelling heads/brain-mass (encephalization) demanded a wider pelvic area. The evolutionary balancing act between the two is known as the obstetrical dilemma. One of the solutions to this has been to give birth to a developmentally premature baby, and one of the features of such babies are the fontanelles. The ‘soft spot’. These membranes between an infants skull bones allow for a decent amount of flexing while passing through the birth canal*** (fontanelles can be traced as far back as the australopithecines, 3 million years ago).

The fontanelles ossify over a period of two years, at which point the skull becomes a lot harder to deform –which leads us to infant artificial-cranial-deformation.

Skull shaping traditions aren’t rare. They’ve been seen on every (inhabited) continent (and many islands) and in many cases have arisen independently. I guess it’s only natural for someone to hold a newborn baby, play around with its soft head and think ‘where can I go with this?’. Proto-neolithic Homo sapiens and even neanderthals practiced it 47,000 years ago. Native Americans and the Mayans are known to have practiced this as well, most likely as a status symbol indicator (similar to Egyptian traditions). Why? Because baby heads are squishy and we can’t help ourselves (unintentional deformations due to sleep positions and cradleboarding may also have lead to intentional deformation techniques), and if there’s one thing that’s true about our nature it is that if something can be done, you can be damn sure it will be. If baby-head-extruders isn’t proof of that, I don’t know what is.

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This post was brought to you by Neptunium (Np).
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*We really need to update this ‘rewinding the tape’ phrase (which is used so often in this context) to something more modern like ‘if we go back to an earlier chapter in the blue-ray of evolution’, but I’m not going to be the first to do it1.
** and other non-human higher primates
***Fontanelles also allow space for rapid brain growth after birth.

1I’d like to congratulate Nadir on ushering us forth into a new techno-linguistic paradigm. While he explicitly stated this was not his desire, such is how history works. This moment will forever be carved—nay—etched—nay—Chinatown DVD ripped into the annals of history. Forever. -Maki