At some point and time in the very distant past, someone realized that the binding of an infants head over periods of time, just might, in fact, be responsible for the deformation of the infants head. It could have accidentally resulted from cradleboarding, in essence, strapping the infant securely to a cradle bound to one's back, to prevent dropping the little fellow or lass. This practice would come to be known as artificial cranial deformation (ACD), and was intentionally used in order to set certain strata or classes as different from other populations. It's almost as old as man himself, dating at least to the Neanderthal period.
The earliest evidence of ACD occurs at least forty-five thousand years ago with the Shanidar I and 5 Neanderthal skulls from Iraq. Anthropologist Erik Trinkaus links this to the earliest evidence of purposeful burial of the dead in a reference I would presume surmises distinct respect in some way or another of those buried with ACD. The earliest reference to ACD occurs with the description by Hippocrates of some people from the Black Sea region whom he describes as having "an artificial elongation of the head by compression during infancy" and suggests that "those with the longest heads were considered the most noble."
Methods used to create cranial deformation varied but basically dealt with binding an infant's head shortly after birth and continuing this pressure until the desired shape was reached, usually in less than two years. At the protohistoric King Site in Georgia, archaeologists discovered a type of deformation known as parallelo-frontal-occipital, which resulted in the flattening of the back of the head and left a horizontal groove across the forehead. When excavating an archaeological site with burials, both grave goods, those items placed with one's burial, and location of burial, can be indicators of status among the inhabitants. Anthropologist Lewis Binford held the assumption that, "individuals treated differently in life also will be treated differently in death." Where ACD is present, it sometimes helps to delineate these starta when items in a burial, specifically male burials, tend to be items connected with hunting or warfare, and the burials involved also have ACD. This connection at the King Site suggested ACD was possibly specific to a class defined as warriors.
As with most of anthropology, theories abound and arguments persist, but ethnographic literature and extant cultures, such as the Flathead Indians along the Columbia River used ACD as "a badge of aristocratic descent." Some early Peruvian Indians referred to the practice of artificial cranial deformation "as a custom of appearing fierce in war." The association between artificial cranial deformation and social organization and ,even, warfare appears to be a strong one and my example here was only meant to touch on a previously culturally acceptable way of seperating classes in a society, much as many accepted and not-so-accepted practices revolve around us today.
Examples of ACD may be viewed at:
The King Site. Edited by Robert Blakely. 1988
Prehistoric Man. Daniel Wilson. 1862
Trinkaus in "Cultural Anthropology" 23:198-199. 1982
Lewis Binford; Mortuary Practices: Their Study and Their Potential. 1971