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Osteoware: Standardized Skeletal Documentation Software

Osteoware: Standardized Skeletal Documentation Software

The Cranial Deformation Module

The Cranial Deformation module assists in the documentation of intentional and unintentional changes in head shape caused by the application of external pressure to the cranium during infancy. The two basic forms of intentional cranial deformation are tabular and circumferential (Imbelloni 1930; Antón, 1989; Cocilovo et al., 2010). Tabular modifications include the posterior flattening associated with cradleboarding and the fronto-occipital forms resulting from tying bags, stones, planks or other devices across the forehead and occiput. Circumferential (annular) modification is produced through the winding of textiles or other pliant materials around the head.

Cranial deformation in Europe as a result of wrapping with a “bandeau”. This practice was common up to the early 19th Century (Dingwall 1931).

• Data entry based on the Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994) Standards extended recording form (Attachment 28).

• Separate scoring for anterior and posterior aspects captures complex forms of deformation.

• The searchable comments field enables data collection using any classification system.

The Osteoware module contains three data entry screens. The first two screens, Posterior and Anterior, document overall shape descriptions and the presence of pad or binding impressions from the deforming apparatus. Some Osteoware contributors have questioned the validity of interpreting various depressions in the modified skull as direct impressions of deforming materials. While we have retained this protocol from the Standards, we suggest this data be interpreted with caution.

Circumferential (annular) deformation due to circular binding with textiles. The angle of the posterior pressure to the Frankfort Horizontal is obtuse.

The data entry screen for ‘Posterior’ Cranial Deformation.

The data entry screen for ‘Anterior’ Cranial Deformation.

The ‘General, Comments’ data entry screen with Comments field for qualitative observations.

The scoring of non-metric features often associated with deformation on the ‘General, Comments’ page follows the Standards scoring except for the addition of Asymmetric Ascending Rami and Suprainion Depressions. Neumann’s (1942) classification system is included on the ‘General, Comments’ screen because Osteoware was originally designed for documentation of North American skeletal remains. However, many other classifications of cranial modification can be distinguished through a combination of the basic descriptive categories (tabular or annular, center of pressure, et cetera) so prevalence data are easily retrieved through database queries. Alternatively, regional or culturally specific terms to describe deformed crania can be added to the searchable comments text.


Antón SC (1989) Intentional cranial deformation and induced changes of the cranial base and face. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 79: 253 -267.

Buikstra JE and DH Ubelaker, eds. (1994) Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains. Arkansas Archeological Report Research Series No. 44. Arkansas Archaeological Survey Press: Fayetteville.

Cocilovo JA, Varela HH, and TG O’Brien (2010) Effects of artificial deformation on cranial morphogenesis in the South Central Andes. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. 21: 300-312.

Dingwall EJ (1931) Artificial Cranial Deformation. London: Bale, Sons and Danielsson.

Imbelloni J (1930) Die Arten der künstlichen Schädeldeformation. Anthropos. 25: 801-830.

Neumann G (1942) Types of Artificial Cranial Deformation in the Eastern United States. American Antiquity. 7: 306-310.