The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

I had no idea! Them Europeans had long heads, which then became round heads, and then reverted to long heads - all in a space of about 200 years.

Why did this spherocephalism (to coin a word) affect only men? Why did it revert? The current hypotheses are that immigration from Scandinavia brought in new physical and racial characteristics in mediaeval Europe. Simultaneously, the general cooling in local climate is said to have led the change from long to round - round heads have smaller surface areas, leading to less radiative loss.

Discoveries at Wharram Percy, an isolated hamlet of some 700 souls in Yorkshire, seem to demolish both these viewpoints. Firstly, the village is quite remote and appears to have been a sink-hole of plague and sheep blight. Next, immigration, contributing to the gene pool, should have affected both men and women, as pointed out in this report. (I wonder, though: what if the causative gene was on the Y-chromosome? This is perhaps answered by the fact that women's heads were also affected in other parts of Europe? See, e.g., the Bronze Age section here), whereas at Wharam Percy, only men's skulls show the transformation. Furthermore, average temperatures in Yorkshire during the 11th through the 13th centuries were half a degree Celsius higher than those today. And lastly, the heads went back to their long shapes at the end of the thirteenth century.

I saw several curious contributions from commentators to this report: helmets were placed on the infants' heads to ward off the plague (but did they think the girls needed no protection?); long heads were caused by genes that also conferred protection against the plague (again, why did this not affect the women?); etc. to varying levels of glibness.

So the puzzles remain.


The Archaeology of Human Bones, Simon Mays.
Wharram Percy: Investigative History, English Heritage.


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