Paracas is a desert peninsula located within the province of Pisco in the Inca Region, on the southern coast of Peru. It is here that Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello made a surprising discovery in 1928: a huge, elaborate cemetery containing tombs filled with the remains of individuals with the largest elongated skulls found in the world. These have become known as the ‘Paracas skulls’. In total, Tello found more than 300 of these elongated skulls, which are believed to date back about 3,000 years. DNA analysis has been performed on one of the skulls and expert Brien Foerster has published preliminary information about these enigmatic skulls.
It is well known that most cases of skull elongation are the result of cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding, in which the skull is intentionally deformed by applying force over a long period of time. It is usually accomplished by tying the head between two pieces of wood or tying it with cloth. However, while cranial deformation changes the shape of the skull, it does not alter its volume, weight, or other features characteristic of a normal human skull.
The Paracas skulls, however, are different. The cranial volume is up to 25 percent larger and 60 percent heavier than conventional human skulls, meaning they could not have been intentionally deformed by bandaging/flattening the head. They also contain only one parietal plate, instead of two. The fact that the skulls’ features are not the result of cranial deformation means that the cause of the elongation is a mystery, and has been for decades.
An artist’s impression based on a skull from Paracas. Photo credit: Marcia Moore / Ciamar Studio
Mr. Juan Navarro, owner and director of the local museum, called the Paracas History Museum, which houses a collection of 35 of the Paracas skulls, allowed samples of 5 of the skulls to be taken. The samples consisted of hair, including roots, a tooth, skull bone and skin, and this process was carefully documented using photographs and videos. Samples of three skulls were sent to the geneticist, although he did not receive any information about their origin until after carrying out the genetic tests, so as not to create preconceived ideas.
The results of a DNA analysis of one of the skulls are now available, and Brien Foerster, author of more than ten books and an authority on the ancient long-headed peoples of South America, has just revealed the preliminary results of the analysis. He reports on the geneticist’s findings:
It had mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) with mutations unknown in any human, primate or animal known so far. But some fragments that I was able to sequence from this sample indicate that, if these mutations are maintained, we are facing a new human-like creature, very distant from Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans. The implications are, of course, enormous. “I’m not sure it even fits into the known evolutionary tree,” the geneticist wrote. He added that if the Paracas individuals were so biologically different, they would not have been able to interbreed with humans.
The result of this analysis is only the first of many phases of analysis that will be carried out. The next tests will involve replicating the initial test and performing it on other skulls, so that the results can be compared and see if there are any characteristics specific to Paracas. We will update when more details emerge.