TSU, 212 | Moderation: Prof. J. Apakidse - 17.15-17.40

A study on Ethnic Background of the Population that Practiced Artificial cranial Deformation (Based on the Examples of the Early Middle Age Samtavro Cemetery)

Nino Tavartkiladze (Staatliche Ivane Javakhishvili Universität Tbilissi)

Intentional cranial deformation is a unique phenomenon widely spread among different peoples. Among the skulls of all chronological periods and cultures found on the territory of Georgia, the earliest evidence of artificial deformation dates back to the IVth millennium BC and can be observed for a long duration of time. However the practice of artificial deformation had not been a constant occurrence, so the frequency and forms of deformations in different periods vary considerably. It is most common in the early medieval period at Samtavro burial ground (Mtskheta). There are 579 different skulls presented from different Georgian sites of early middle ages, of which 126 are deformed, which makes up to 21,7% of the total number. From Samtavro graveyard there are 132 skulls presented, of which 43 are deformed, adding up to 32.5% of the total number. The mean age of non-deformed skulls was 36.1 and that of deformed skulls was 41.3. This means that the practice of artificial cranial deformation has not been affecting life expectancy.

Most of the scientists believe that the core reason behind the deformations is a social aspect. They believe that those who modified skull shapes belonged to higher social class. However this is not confirmed by the archaeological data of Samtavro graveyards: there are no differences between funerary inventory of graves, types of burials and funerary practices. If the social aspect was the case, individuals with high social status or different ethnicity would have been buried with the differences in inventory and types of graves. And also the deformed ones and non-deformed ones would not have been buried together in collective tombs. Some of the physiological stress markers are present on both deformed and normal skulls. Hypertension is particularly frequent on the occipital bone, on the parietal bone, and on the glabella. Such a high incidence of hyperostosis in the population indicates the presence of many negative factors. Both deformed and normal individuals lived in the same ecological environment, with more or less the same food system and lifestyle.

Another interesting fact is that deformed skulls from Samtavro cemetery had a very high incidence of metopic sutures. This indicates that among the deformed individuals that were studied there may be a large number of close relatives. Anomalies often involve bones such as: Os. Incae bipartitum, Os. triquetrum, crown and sagittal suture.

The study of gender and age distribution of the population buried at the Samtavro burial ground, average life duration of individuals with and without cranial deformation, types of their burials and funerary inventory, anomalies and markers of physiological stress, ecological environment and the food system has led us to a conclusion that the practice of deformation was carried out by the local population.