More elongated skull drama.

skull3Cranial modification, particularly head-shaping, is not an uncommon practice in antiquity. I’ve written on it previously here and here. Recently, April Holloway of Ancient Origins writes that more DNA results are in on the elongated skulls that Brien Foerster and LA Marzulli, two self-described researchers, sampled.

In a nutshell, they sampled the skulls by collecting hair samples and powdered bone collected by drilling into the foramen magnum. The results showed that all the hair contained mtDNA that included the H2A haplogroup, most common in central and western Asia. They report a single mtDNA result from “the most elongated skull” of the samples, which tested as belonging to the T2B haplogroup, which ranges from the British Isles to Saudi Arabia. The highest concentrations are in the latter region.

The collection methods for the bone powder included drilling into the bone while wearing “full protective clothing.” There’s no mention of how the hair was sampled. In fact, there’s very little we know about the collection and handling methods or even the lab methods since all Brien Foerster’s camp reveals is that they were sent to “three separate labs for testing – one in Canada, and two in the United States.” There’s no inclusion of test results and lab methods for review. There’s no mention of the labs.

They rightfully predict that critics of their claims will attack the results by pointing out their lack of training and experience in sample collection, though Marzulli words it differently by saying that he’ll be attacked for not being a scientist. Yep. Pretty much.

The hair of these things might not even be original. If the hairs are original, then they’ve doubtlessly been handled and contaminated over course of decades. The collection methods of “drilling” for the powdered bone are also prone to contamination, so much so that even trained people follow very careful protocols, which they carefully document.

I, personally, have my doubts that the samples are genuine. Even the “lab work” is suspect. Where are the results? What specific labs were they sent to? Were these “family tree” labs? Or were they properly trained and experienced labs that are familiar with mtDNA recovery and analysis methods? What percentage of tested hairs and bones of these labs actually yield results is a key indicator of their experience. Contamination controls with labs that are experienced are greatly increased.

In their paper, Authenticating Ancient Human Mitochondrial DNA (Montiel et al 2001), the authors write, “The use of ancient DNA techniques in human studies haws been hampered by problems of contamination with modern human DNA. The main problem has been that the object of study belongs to the same species as the observer, and the complete elimination of the contamination risk is seemingly unlikely. Contamination has even been detected in the most specialized laboratories in this field[1].

There are other assumptions that Foerster and Marzulli would like us all to accept without question. Mostly having to do with cranial featres of the skull themselves. Things like the absence of a sagittal suture, cranial size. They assert that the single parietal bone is analmous, (therefore aliens?) and that the cranial volume is “up to 25 percent larger […] than conventional skulls.” Yet there is no mention of how the volume was measured and what that measurement is. With regard to the single parietal bone, LA Marzulli acknowledges that a condition called craniosynostosis exists, but then says that there is “no evidence of this disease in the Paracas skulls.” The evidence for this disease is… wait for it… the lack of a sagittal suture. Regardless, I suspect the suture he’s looking for is displaced due to the headbinding. It’s hard to tell since we are shown only a single photo of Marzulli holding a skull in front of him like a trophy fish.

The nonsense generated by Ancient Origins, Foerster, and Marzulli about elongated skulls is affront to the cultures that practiced various forms of cranial modifications. It looks strange to them, therefore aliens. A preposterous conclusion that removes practice and meaning from an ancient and beautiful culture. In many ways, the ancient aliens concept is a completely racist and definitely ethnocentric explanation. Notice how quick they are to associate an ancient culture with white people from Europe.

The DNA testing these guys are purporting to do create more questions than they seem willing to answer. Not questions about the origins of the DNA, rather questions about the veracity and validity of the science they’re pretending to do.

References and Notes:
  1. Montiel, Rafael; et al (2001). Authenticating Ancient Human Mitochondrial DNA. Human Biology, 73(5), pp. 689-713 []
About Carl Feagans 330 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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  1. Elongated Skulls and Christian Ethics | Dr. Michael Heiser
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