Obelionic cranial deformation in the Puebloan Southwest



As a form of cranial deformation, obelionic flattening is rare. Originally named and described by Stewart (J Wash Acad Sci 29 (1939) 460–465), based on a small sample from Florida, it has been little noted since. Previously [Nelson and Madimenos, Paper presented at the Paleopathology Association annual meeting (2007)], we reported the discovery of two individuals from the Pueblo III Gallina site of Cañada Simon I who exhibit flattening of this type. Although technically undescribed in the Southwest before now, there are tantalizing clues in the literature that it occurred in low frequencies throughout the Ancestral Pueblo world. To determine whether the obelionic flattening found at Cañada Simon I was isolated or an indication of a more widespread phenomenon, we undertook a survey of crania from other Gallina sites, Chaco Canyon, and the literature (type of deformation can be determined on lateral photographs of crania properly positioned along the Frankfort Horizontal). We examined 146 crania (78 firsthand) of which seven exhibit obelionic flattening. Our results indicate that obelionic flattening should be added to the suite of cranial deformations that occur in the Southwest. Here, we propose parameters by which obelionic flattening can be described and differentiated from the more common lambdoidal and occipital forms and suggest that the three types of flattening form a continuum of cradleboard induced deformation, although the exact mechanism for obelionic flattening remains elusive. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.