Re: Skull binding and Neandertals

Gerold Firl (
15 Nov 1995 12:47:04 -0800

In article <48d8jo$> Philip <> writes:

> It would seem that anatomical alteration is a somewhat permanent way of
>declaring 'I was born of X* and Y*, see!'.

Yes - perhaps we should apply this line of reasoning to the question of
circumcision. In the ethnic hurley-burley of the ancient middle east, a
marker of ethnic affiliation could have been an important social glue,
helping to maintain social cohesion in a centrifugal world.

A couple of supporting arguments: the assyrian technique of social
dispersion, where conquered peoples would be relocated large distances from
their homeland, led to the dissolution of many indigenous cultures and the
creation of new hybrids. This had enormous influence on hebrew culture, and
may have even been the *cause* of hebrew culture. Given the tendancy towards
cultural dissolution seen under such circumstances, circumcision is a well-
adapted method of group identification.

At times of potential dissolution, non-circumcised jews were killed or
forcibly circumcised by zealots who insured conformity to group norms. (see
campbell, _masks of god_)

Central african pygmies submit to bantu circumcision rituals in spite of a
total lack of belief in the nominal justification given by their village-
dwelling neighbors, simply in order to smooth the inter-cultural relations
between the negro planters and the pygmy hunters (turnbull, _forest
people_). I mention this to provide another example of the utility of
circumcision as a marker of group affiliation, as opposed to arguments based
on more material grounds. The similarity to foot binding and skull
deformation is interesting.

>This argument leaves a
>question in the balance, what was the social neccesity (if any) of
>preventing upwelling from the lower classes?

How about simple stability? If the peasants were to be devoting their
efforts towards elevating their social position, rather than producing an
agricultural surplus, where would that leave the elite? A permanent physical
alteration which is a prerequisite for entry to the upper classes, especially
one like skull-binding, which must be started in infancy and applied for a
long period of time, produces a very stable social structure. It takes a
violent revolution to change it. And if religious injunctions dictate the
congruance between the alteration and class, then conditions will have to
get very bad before it leads to revolt.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf