Skulls show women moved across medieval Europe, not just men

March 12, 2018 by Frank Jordans
Skulls show women moved across medieval Europe, not just men
Undated photo provided by the State collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy Munich shows strong, intermediate and non-deformed skulls, from left, from the Early Medieval sites Altenerding and Straubing in Bavaria, Germany. Scientists investigating unusual skulls found at dozens of 5th and 6th century burial sites say they appear to provide evidence of long-distance female migration at a time when the continent was being reshaped by the collapse of the Roman empire. (State collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy Munich via AP)

The newcomers who arrived in the little farming villages of medieval Germany would have stood out: They had dark hair and tawny skin, spoke a different language and had remarkably tall heads.

Now scientists who investigated the unusually shaped skulls say they provide evidence that women also migrated long distances across medieval Europe, not just men. A genetic analysis showed the women traveled from what is now Romania, Bulgaria and northern Greece at a time when the continent was being reshaped by the collapse of the Roman Empire.

In a study published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say the women's elongated heads—a result of binding done after birth—suggest they might have been high-class individuals.

"These women looked extremely different to the local women, very exotic if you will," said one of the researchers, Joachim Burger, a population geneticist at the University of Mainz, Germany.

With colleagues from Europe and the United States, Burger compared the genetic profile of almost 40 human remains unearthed from 5th and 6th century burial sites in Bavaria, along the Isar and Danube rivers.

They expected to find the telltale signs of centuries of Roman presence in the area—soldiers from the Mediterranean leaving their genetic mark on the location population. Instead, it looked "very central or northern European—blond and fair-skinned, like modern-day Scandinavians," Burger said.

Photo provided by the State collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy Munich shows an artificially deformed female skull from Altenerding, an Earyl Medieavel site in Bavaria., Germany. Scientists investigating unusual skulls found at dozens of 5th and 6th century burial sites say they appear to provide evidence of long-distance female migration at a time when the continent was being reshaped by the collapse of the Roman empire. (State collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy Munich via AP)

The exception was a group with deformed skulls. Known from various cultures across the world, artificially elongated skulls may have been considered a form of beauty or denoted high status because of the time and effort required to bandage a child's head, said Burger.

While the practice is often associated with the Huns who swept into Europe from the East during the 5th century, the genetic makeup of the women found in Bavaria showed little Asian ancestry, suggesting that either head binding had been adopted by people living in southeastern Europe or emerged there independently.

"This is a sound study with quite interesting results," said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He had no role in the research.

"Usually large-distance movements involve more males—explorers, soldiers, political elite, etc.—and short range movements are more common for females (spouses moving to their husband's family)," Hublin said via email.

While it's unclear why the women—apparently without men—traveled such a long distance, the study's authors speculate that they may have represented strategic alliances between distant populations across Europe.

"They must have come on purpose," said Burger. "It's not a single case, there are quite a few of them."

Despite their foreign origins, the women integrated into Bavarian society, according to the researchers. They wore the same clothes as the locals and were buried with the same artifacts. Burger said further research is needed to see whether the women intermarried with the local population.

Explore further: Farming was spread into and across Europe by people originating in modern-day Greece and Western Turkey

More information: Krishna R. Veeramah el al., "Population genomic analysis of elongated skulls reveals extensive female-biased immigration in Early Medieval Bavaria," PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1719880115

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7 comments

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Dug
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 12, 2018
Article title as a stand alone communication - gets the award for the most obvious - if not the dumbest of the day. Most everyone figured that there were a few women in medieval Europe. You know so the men weren't stuck with reproduction by themselves.
betterexists
not rated yet Mar 12, 2018
Can Those Skulls be made to Talk ?
TrollBane
5 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2018
So the Coneheads do not come from France? ;)
Osiris1
1 / 5 (3) Mar 12, 2018
Self-reproductioin never successful. No masterbation is! On the length of the skulls, a casual look seems to indicate higher volume brain cases. Did anyone ever do a study of possible DNA there that is not present anywhere else on earth?... except in a small area centered on a a smaller central point in the remote past about 12,500 or so years ago?
Bogie99
not rated yet Mar 12, 2018
#me too
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2018
In Pre-Industrial societies women were a common trade item. Considered as extra-hands for all the work that had to be done. But also extra-mouths that had to be fed. When all too often, there just wasn't enough to go around.

After the Fall harvests were gathered. There would be trade fairs. Excess women were sold away. The lack of reliable birth-control methods meant there were always too many people. Low-tech meant resources were scarce and unreliable.

Yes, you could hunt during the frozen winter but once Spring started and the melt turned into mud? Nobody was going nowhere.

By then, last Autumn's stored foods were near exhausted. And it was too early for gathering plants or hunting beasts.

The other problem to resolve with long-distance trade in women as described in this article? Was all too often the locally marriageable men & women of were already blood-kin.

Further research might trace DNA through the native & imports lineages?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2018
willis just LOVES storytime here at physorg. Which to him is any time he gets the notion to make things up rathers than look them up.

Hey - what do you expect from a guy who starts the bulk of his posts with I and me? His own head is his best resource. Or more succinctly, his ass.

"women were an integral part of Pre-Industrial families. Not only were the women important to Pre-Industrial European families, but so were the households. Much of the money was made in the households, and this is where families either succeeded or failed. The household and women of Pre-Industrial Europe played an integral role in the economy of the families, and more importantly, the women of these households kept them running …"

Fact fabricators are just liars.

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