‘Hunnic’ modified skulls: physical appearance, identity and the transformative nature of migrations
Sayer, Duncan and Williams, Howard (eds.)
Mortuary Practices and Social Identities in the Middle Ages.
Exeter University Press
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The distribution of modified skulls from the Black Sea to southern
France has long been linked to the Huns. Historically, the advance of
the Huns into Roman territory in the fourth and fifth centuries has been
seen as the catalyst for the migrations of other barbarian tribes which
ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The archaeological evidence associated with these skulls provides a more varied picture of migrations and the effects they had on both the migrating and the receiving populations. First, the migration of nomadic peoples into the Roman provinces in the Carpathian basin was a gradual process that profoundly changed material expressions of identity there and led to the development of a ‘hybrid’ culture. Second, the distribution of women with modified skulls west of the Carpathian basin indicates directed movements of individuals, possibly in the context of an exogamous social structure. In a migration context, modified skulls are a clear physical reminder that
a person is ‘foreign’ or has a history of migration, and the physical traits of the body in themselves become a source of identity. Individuals with modified skulls, and the manner in which they were buried, thus provide a case study for examining the relationship between physical appearance, identity and the transformative nature of migrations
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