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306. Cranial Deformation in Ancient Egypt?

Author(s): Cyril Aldred

Source: Man, Vol. 53 (Dec., 1953), pp. 194-195
Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
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Nos. 303-306 Man
Islam. (Pagans, one is rather startled to see, are entered under 'No
It is a pity that the North Borneo census did not further follow
the Sarawak one by including a chapter discussing the ethnic classi-
fication used. The Sarawak census report also included an illuminat-
ing appendix by Harrisson, the Government Ethnologist. It is true
that these are also lacking in earlier North Borneo censuses, but such
discussions in this would have enabled one to make more of the
figures. This is not merely to instruct anthropologists. These
census reports, failing professional ethnographic studies, are the
chief records of the present condition of the people, and material
for the future writers of the history of the country. More important
for census organizers is the fact that shaky ethnography leads to
untrustworthy or unusable statistical conclusions. Tables 2 and 3,
for example, indicate what would be very profitable points of
ethnographic investigation. There seems little getting away from the
conclusion that the Murut are decreasing, but when one sees that
the stable and prosperous Dusun have increased since I93I by only
6-68 per cent. and that the Other Indigenous have increased by
70-45 per cent. one wonders how much the variations are due to
the ethnic classifications used by the two censuses. The 'Orang
Sungei' (a problem here) have increased by 95-70 per cent. The
Kwijau, who are supposed to have increased by 205 25 per cent. in
the period I92I-3I, have decreased by 78-45 per cent. in I93I-5I-
No reliable verdict on the Murut can be reached without a separate
examination of the Kwijau; but the Kwijau in their turn must be
examined in relation to the Dusun, and the Dusun in relation to the
Orang Sungei. The Superintendent of Census seems to have been
aware of such problems to some extent (e.g. p. 47), and because of
this one would have been interested to learn more about his princi-
ples of classification. Tribes for which there are figures in previous
censuses might well have been separately enumerated: e.g. the
Tambunwa and the Idahan were included with the Dusun, but
tribes that in I93 i numbered 5,ooo and 3,000 should not be sub-
merged without strong reason.
Some specific suggestions: when the time comes to plan the next
census it would be useful to engage the services of a professional
anthropologist (in a university long vacation, perhaps) to help plan
the ethnic classification on which to base the census statistics; the
report should include a discussion of this by the anthropologist;
and-what no census report should be without, and this one is-
there should be an ethnic map illustrating the groups distinguished.
Mr. Jones has written a clear and instructive report, and the tables
are well arranged and clearly printed. Our knowledge of the peoples
of North Borneo has been considerably increased.
Webs of Fantasy. Cf. MAN, I953, I52, 229, 28I
SIR,-Dr. Mair invites me to justify my application of
30 4
the term
to the theories of social anthropo-
I have read many recent works on social anthro-
pology, both British and American, and have been led to conclude
that in general the writers
describe savages as 'primitive,' which seems to mean that they
were isolated from the beginning to the coming of the Euro-
believe that savage tribes developed the whole of their cultures
for themselves, even if they speak a dialect of a widespread
believe that savages are inventive, yet never look for the inven-
tive savage;
believe that savages devise their own rites, yet never indicate
any that are not traditional;
believe that all customs arose to meet needs, though some, such
as those which forbid the eating of wholesome foods, obviously
did not;
describe savages as 'preliterate,' which seems to mean that they
have not yet invented an alphabet;
hold that similarities in belief are due to the similar working of
the human mind, while ignoring the converse, that dissimilar
beliefs must then be due to the dissimilar working of the
human mind;
ignore the evidence for degeneration in savage cultures;
ignore the fact, well attested by history, that cultural advance
is a rare and complex phenomenon;
ignore the evidence for diffusion even when it is indisputable,
such as that domesticated cattle were introduced into Negro
believe that all savage institutions are of non-historical origin,
and were developed to fulfil the functions which they now
fulfil, though all the institutions of civilized societies are of
historical origin, and have mostly changed their function.
Some of the above seem to me fantastic in themselves, and the
others to lead to fantastic conclusions.
Usk, Monmouthshire RAGLAN
The Game of 'Kubuguza' among the Abatutsi. Cf. MAN,
I953, 262
30 5
SIR,-Mr. Merriam's paper is an important con-
tribution to our knowledge
of the group
of mancala IV
games, in which captured beans are not removed from the board,
but are added to the capturer's beans and sown on his side of the
board. It supplements an account of an Urundi variety which
R. de Z. (now Sir Robert) Hall made about 20 years ago when
first stationed in Tanganyika. Collation of different descriptions of
mancala IV games is laborious, because no two recorders of these
games use the same terms of notation. When dealing with mancala
in my History of Board Games other than Chess, Oxford, I952, I had
to devise a common list of terms and system of lnotation which
would serve for all mancala games and which I hope will be used by
future recorders: hole for the compartments in which the beans are
placed store for the compartments in which captured beans are
kept; bean for the pieces; lap for each element of what Mr. Merriam
calls 'cumulative moves'; lift for the pick-ups of beans from a hole;
sow for the deal of the lifted beans one at a time in successive holes;
all of which have been used in the same way by previous recorders.
Beginning from each player's end left-hand hole, and proceeding
anti-clockwise, I use italic letters, upper case one player and lower
case for the other-on the 4 x 8 board, A-P, a-p-to denote the
A necessary preliminary to a game is to ascertain that both players
have the right number of beans, and this is done not by counting
them but by arranging them equally in the holes of the board;
Abatutsi do this as in Mr. Merriam's fig. i. Each player then
rearranges his beans, generally simultaneously, to obtain the array
from which he desires to begin the game. In forming this arrange-
ment he does not necessarily observe the rules of move, nor is it
necessary that the two players arrange their beans in the same way.
Mr. Merriam does not give any example of this rearrangement,
unless that shown in fig. 5 is one, but Sir Robert Hall gives the
0 0 3 0 3 0 3 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 I7
The full description of this children's exercise is very welcome for
comparison with similar exercises, which are played on the mancala
II board. H. J. R. MURRAY
Heyshott, Midhurst, Sussex
Cranial Deformation in Ancient Egypt? Cf. MAN, I953, 242
SIR,-Some demur is necessary at Mr. Siroto's bland
30 6
acceptance in his review of The Webster Plass Collection
of African
Art that artificial cranial deformation existed in
Ancient Egypt if only as a transitory and limited fashion during the
XVIIIth Dynasty. Presumably he refers to the royal family during
D)ECEMBER, 1953 Man Nos. 306, 307
the reign of Akhenaten, when heads are usually represented with
such distortion that some theorists have been led to advance the sug-
gestion, among many others, that artificial deformation must have
been practised. For such general deformation in Ancient Egypt there
is absolutely no evidence despite the countless human skeletons that
have been exhumed and examined. The alleged fashion in Court
circles during the Amarna period can be adequately explained as an
artistic convention-the expression of a truly revolutionary art that
for various reasons consciously attempted to break with the tradi-
tions of the Pharaonic style. Such distortion was not confined to the
head; the whole body was represented in a 'new' way that is no less
bizarre. Just how violent this revolution was can be seen in the re-
markable colossi of Akhenaten from Karnak. That such 'expression-
ism' is only a convention is shown in the traditional-style reliefs
from the tomb of Kheruef and in other Theban reliefs of the early
co-regency, which show Akhenaten as a 'normal' Egyptian. There
are also representations of Princess Ankhes-en-pa-aten in certain
stelx and in the tomb reliefs at Amarna which show her with a de-
formed cranium; yet no such distortion is evident in her appearance
under Tut-ankh-amun, when the exaggerations of the Amarna style
were avoided. Moreover in the famous painted wall fragment from
Amarna in the Ashmolean Museum, the princesses Nefer-neferu-
aten and Nefer-neferu-re are shown with fully deformed heads even
though their ages could not have been more than three or four years
at the most.
Lastly we have some proof in the mummies of Smenkh-ka-re and
Tut-ankh-amun that artificial deformation was not practised even in
the case of the royal family, and despite the fact that in the few
representations that can plausibly be identified as of Smenkh-ka-re,
he is shown in all the conventions of the later Amarna style. Tut-
ankh-amun was not much younger than Nefer-neferu-ra and there-
fore would presumably have had his head deformed as much as hers,
if such practices had been followed. Both he and Smenkh-ka-re had
unusual platycephalic skulls, but they inherited this trait from their
ancestor Yuya; and though both Elliot-Smith and Derry have
closely examined the remains of these three men neither has ad-
vanced the least hint that their skulls were artificially deformed.
Since members of the royal family were inextricably inter-married
at this period it is safe to assume that all their heads were more or less
platycephalic, and as such unusual but not unnatural.
Royal Scottish Museuin, Edinburgh CYRIL ALDRED
Mr. William Fagg, British Museum, adds the following note:
'As the too gullible perpetuator of the myth which Mr. Siroto cor-
rected, only to be himself taken in the rear by Mr. Aldred, I should
like to thank both for turning the error to such good ethnological
account. I wonder, though (as one who does not think that all cul-
ture, or even all African culture, came from Egypt), whether
travellers' tales of a Central African people whose standards of
beauty caused them to lengthen their heads may not conceivably
have had some influence upon the art forms of the Egyptian expres-
sionists, rather as rumours of the "primitive" influenced those of the
expressionists and fauves of the twentieth-century revolution. It
is doubtful whether we can ever prove that the Mangbetu existed or
deformed their heads in those days; but the trait seems likely to be
a very old one.'-ED.
Stonehenge and Midsummer. Cf. MAN, I953, I5I, 228, 260
SIR -Professor A. T. Hatto's main theses may be thus
X7 stated:
The complex of trilithons cum bluestone horseshoe
cum bluestone circle is to be regarded as a planned unitv in
which the trilithons are intended as female sexual symbols
(vulvx) and the bluestone horseshoe and possibly the circle
also as male sexual symbols (phalli).
(2) The concentric arrangement of the elements in this
complex imitates the arrangement of participants in concentric
dances connected with fertility rituals, the complex being in
fact the translation into stone of such a dance.
(3) The orientation of the horseshoe 'cove' towards the
midsummer sunrise is also connected with fertility rituals, the
'cove' being regarded as a symbolic uterus into which the
sun's rays penetrate.
(4) The outer lintelled sarsen circle is to be interpreted as a
'ritual fence.'
(5) Any calendrical function of the structure is to be regarded
as of secondary importance.
These propositions will now be considered in Qrder.
(i) That the trilithon-bluestone complex as it now exists forms a
planned unity may be conceded, but it cannot be regarded as
certain that it was originally so. The point of importance in this
connexion is that the bluestones were definitely erected later than
the trilithons I: it is however impossible to determine the length of
the interval between the two operations. If this was not more than
a year or two it would not be inconsistent with the two elements
having formed part of the original plan, since the erection of the
whole structure must have taken a considerable time. But if the
interval could be shown to have been substantial this would seem
to indicate that the bluestones were an addition to the original
design, which would have included only the trilithons and the
sarsen circle (together, of course, with the ditch and other incor-
porated elements from 'Stonehenge I'). In this event, in order to
preserve Professor Hatto's theory as to the relationship between the
trilithons and the bluestones it would appear necessary to assume a
definite change in the ritual and ideological associations of the
whole structure as accompanying the addition; this of course is not
impossible, but the introduction of a further assumption, incapable
of proof, into his argument does nothing to strengthen it.
Consideration may next be given to his novel and ingenious
suggestion that the trilithons are female symbols. On this point it
seems impossible to concede any validity to the arguments from the
alleged symbolism of burial chambers which he adduces in support
of his theory. No evidence exists to justify his statement that pre-
historic man conceived burial 'as a return to the womb which is
symbolized in the burial vault,' 2 and the alleged symbolism has
therefore no factual basis 3 and is in fact a mere guess that cannot
legitimately be used in support of his claim that so-called 'trilithon
entrances' in megalithic tombs are sexually symbolic. Properly
speaking, the term 'trilithon entrance' should be confined to a
portal formed by two columnar jambs and surmounted bya mono-
lithic lintel of comparable cross-section; but such entrances are
actually not specially common in megalithic tombs and are as often
found in domestic and secular buildings.4 They are generally
associated with drystone masonry walling, where their use offers a
simple and efficient method of forming an entrance, and there
appears really to be no need to look beyond the practical advantages
of this form of construction for an explanation of its use in any
type of building.
The rejection of these arguments leaves, as the sole evidence for
the alleged symbolism, thefacies and styling of the trilithons. They
are themselves unique; but it would appear legitimate to suggest
that if either the trilithon, or the more naturalistic image consisting
of the sexual triangle and lower limbs of a female figure, from
which the trilithon might be derived by stylization, had been at the
appropriate period a recognized sexual symbol it might be expected
to be found occurring in the form of figurine or amulet. Such
forms appear however to be lacking. In the absence of any such
corroboration it appears to me that the stylistic features adduced by
Professor Hatto are inadequate to commend his theory.
Turning to the bluestones, these are also claimed as sexually
symbolic (as phalli) and Professor Hatto further contends that the
bluestones in the horseshoe stand in a deliberate and definite relation-
ship to the trilithons, considered as female symbols.5 If, as has been
argued above, the claim made for the trilithons is to be regarded as
erroneous, the latter contention falls with it and it would seem
unnecessary to discuss the point further here 6; but this does not
necessarily affect the proposition that the bluestones are to be taken
as phalli, and on this point I am personally of the opinion that a
good case may be made out for this as far as the horseshoe blue-
stones are concerned. This view is based primarily on the styling of
the surviving stones, which undoubtedly have a certain phallic
appearance; in this case, of course, we have very numerous examples
of phallic representations with which the bluestones may be