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Deliberately distorted skull unearthed in a necropolis of the Late Empire

in Obernai (Alsace, Bas-Rhin), France, 2013

A brief extraction from      

French Archaeologists Discover Beautifully Preserved Deformed Skull. George Dvorsky.

        In advance of the construction of an industrial business park by the associated communes of Pays de Sainte Odile, Inrap finished a large archaeological excavation at Obernai, Alsace, France, under the curation of the State (DRAC Alsace). Surprising discoveries were made, but the necropolis with a substantially elongated skull (Fig. 1) dating back 1,500 years were among the most fascinating.
        The necropolis contains eighteen graves orientated west-east. Objects were found in four tombs. The richest of the deceased was an young woman wearing two small gold pins that were holding a piece of clothing or a veil on her chest. Two pendants were attached to her belt, and various objects were attached to them: a silver mirror, like those used by Alans-Samartian populations (Caucasus); several large beads of coloured glass and amber; and a toiletry kit (tweezers and earscoop). This woman also had a triangular brush (Fig. 2) made from deer antler and decorated with geometric motifs, solar symbols, and horse heads at its extremities.


        But what really identified her as a well-born individual was her ovoid skull, the result of intentional cranial deformation — the practice of binding the head of infants with straps or cradleboards to elongate and flatten their skulls. Cranial deformation was frequently associated with the elites of some Easteren societies and affirmed their high status. Needless to say, this woman was a very important, most likely a very high ranking person.
        Similar graves, which are usually isolated, have been discovered in Northern Gaul, Germany and eastern Europe. They are accompanied by abundant grave goods. They thus appear to be the graves of high dignitaries and their families, of eastern origin, incorporated into the Roman army during the “great migrations”. The Obernai necropolis is one of the few large groups of discovered in France. It is the first evidence of the presence of an eastern community over a long period of time in Alsace at the end of the Roman Empire. In addition to the grave goods, the eastern origin of the individuals is shown by the presence of a deformed skull.

        AMMENDMENT BY About 30 to 50 % of skulls left by ancient Proto Bulgarians (VII - IX c.) are subjected to artificial cranial elongation. The artificial cranial deformation is also prominent for other tribes relative to protobulgarians, once living north of Black sea and Caucasus, part of which migrated to Bavaria and Spain. The west-east orientation of burials is not typical for Protobulgarians during the pre-Christian period although significant number of such burrials are discovered in recent north Bulgaria. There are documented migrations of large groups of Proto Bulgarians to Bavaria, Italy and Western Europe, for example that of the peoples of Alciok and Alcek, a brother of Asparukh.
        Alcek (Altsek, Altzek, or Alzec) was the leader of an Utigur Bulgarians  that settled in the villages of Gallo Matese, Sepino, Boiano and Isernia in the Matese mountains of central Italy. Alcek was the youngest of bat Kubrat's sons, and the one to drift away the most from Old Great Bulgaria after its fall to the Avar Khaganate. In 631 a war for the throne broke out between an Avar leader and Alcek. Eventually defeated, Alcek and his people fled to Bavaria (Fig. 3) where they asked the Frankish king Dagobert I for a land to settle in. At first the king allowed them to settle, but one night he ordered his army to slaughter the Bulgarians. Only 700 out of 9,000 families survived the slaughter and fled to Italy, where they gained permission from the King of the Lombards, Grimoald, to settle in the area of Ravenna. A part of them went south to the Duchy of Benevento, where Alcek was granted with the Italian title of gastald. In his lifetime, Paul the Deacon recorded that the descendants of these Proto Bulgarians still spoke their language, as well as Latin.




  Figure 1. The skull of the noble woman, the necropolis at at Obernai, Alsace, France, dating back 1,500 years.
























  Figure 2. Triangular brush made from deer antler and decorated with solar symbols, and horse heads at its extremities. A possession of the noble woman, buried at the necropolis at at Obernai, Alsace, France, dating back 1,500 years.


















  Figure 3. A map of Proto Bulgarian migrations after the breakdown of Old Great Bulgaria of Kubrat.