Acta Anthropologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 42 ›› Issue (04): 540-553.doi: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2023.0016

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Discovery and study of artificial deformation in ancient Chinese human remains

LI Haijun1(), LIU Liming2, ZHANG Yidan3, XIAO Xiaoyong1   

  1. 1. School of Ethnology and Sociology, Minzu University of China, Beijing 100081
    2. School of History and Cultural Heritage, Xiamen University, Xiamen 361005
    3. School of Archaeology, Oxford University, UK, Oxford OX1 3TG
  • Received:2021-06-28 Revised:2022-07-26 Online:2023-08-15 Published:2023-08-10


Through the study of artificial deformation of ancient ancestral remains, it is not only helpful to understand past cultural customs, aesthetic orientation and ancient medical treatment and technological abilities, but also beneficial to infer possible organizational structure and hierarchical differentiation of past society. Studying the origin and spread of various artificial deformations can also be helpful to reveal cultural exchanges and differences between regions and ethnic groups. At present, there are several types of artificial deformation discovered in China, such as cranial perforations, intentional cranial modification, mouth-plugging practices, artificial modification of teeth, foot binding, etc. However, these kinds of artificial deformation lack a general summary, and suffer from various inetrpretations such as origin, purpose and meaning of artificial deformations. This paper attempts to systematically sort relevant cases of artificial deformation, summarizing main types, and analyzing characteristics including spatial and temporal distribution, sex and age distribution, and tools and methods used in artificial deformation activities. This paper also summarizes specific debates such as purpose and meaning of cranial perforations; whether cranial trepanation existed in prehistory; meanings and relationships of intentional cranial modifications; purpose and meaning of mouth-plugging practice, reasons for Neolithic tooth extraction; and origins of foot binding. Furthermore, this paper uses specific cases to analyze and explain the value of ethnological perspectives and methods in the study of artificial deformation, affirming its important role.

Key words: Ancestors, Human remains, Transformation

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