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Artifacts on human and seal skulls from Kodiak Island.

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ARTIFACTS ON HUMAN AND SEAL SKULLS FROM
KODIAK ISLAND
ALES HRDLICKA
U. S . National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Raslr ington, D. C .
T W O PLATES
Earlier this year the writer published1 a report on “The
Diseases of and Artifacts On Skulls and Bones From Kodiak
Island. ” After the appearance of this article my attention
was called to mentions in literature of the occurrence of two
of the kinds of the described objects outside of Rodiak Island.
These mentions were missed and should be made known in
these connections; moreover, there is a recent report on one
of the items that may be noted.
I n addition, a repeated study of an additional specimen
from Kodiak has made it very probable that there is another
example of unique artifacts on a skull which deserves a
publication.
Artificially perforated husnaaiz b o w s
Harlan I. Smith, in his excavations east of Comox, Pnget
Sound,2 found a skeleton of a youth the skull of which showed
“a nearly circular hole carefully cut from the upper side
through the lower part of each orbit.” An example of artificially perforated bones for suspension is also reported by
Miss Laguna in her 1934 report on excavations in Kachemak
Bay, Cook’s Inlet.3
‘Smithson. Misc. Coll., Wash., 1941, vol. 101, no. 4 (Smiths. Publ. 3640).
*Smith (H. 1.)-Archeology
of the Gulf of Georgia a n d Puget Sound. Mem.
Am. Mus. Hist., 1907,IV,pt. VI, p. 322.
3 L a g u n a (F. de)-The archeology of Cook Inlet, Alaska. Phila. (The University Museum), 1934.
411
412
ALES
HRDLI~XA
Drilled human bones were found by Miss Laguna also in a
child’s skeleton uncovered at Cottonwood, Kachemak Bay
(p. 46):
“The lower jaw had a small hole drilled through the base
of the left ramus. There may have been a similar hole in the
opposite ramus, but it was broken off, or had disintegrated.
On the upper jaw, two holes had been drilled through the
alveolar, one under each nostril.’’
Artificial eyes
The find of such eyes is reported in 1934 by Miss Laguna.‘
She states (p. 43) :
A double burial, that of a man and a child of about 5, was
found in the site on Yukon Island, and with it were two extra
skulls; and there were “artificial eyes, carved from bone,
inside the eye-sockets of the four skulls”; besides which “on
the man’s skull and the two trophy skulls was a layer of white
clay that covered the face and jaw from the frontal bone to
the inside of the mandible and extended across between the
mastoid processes, that is, from ear to ear.”
While (p. 45) another “artificial eye (‘7) ” lay with two shell
beads under the skull of a young adult (male 4 1 ) in the Cottonwood site.
A fact of much interest with which neither Miss Laguna nor
Doctor Oetteking who in her volume described the skeletal
remains she recovered, could have been acquainted, is that
according to many indications the lower if not all the deposits
in which she excavated in Kachemak Bay were not of Eskimo
but of Pre-Koniag origin, and were the same with the bulk of
those on our site in Uyak Bay. The skulls illustrated in her
paper show clearly the Pre-Koniag type, the two localities
were quite near each other, and the Kodiak natives even into
the Russian time were known to have had intercourse with
those of the Cook’s Inlet whom they regarded as related
people.
’op. cit., pp. 43, 45,
pl. 51; same mentioned also on pp. 113, 166-167.
ARTIFACTS O N SKULLS, KODIAK ISLAKD
413
The latest report of artificial ivory eyes in skulls is that of
H. L. S h a p i r ~ .It~ relates to the Rainey site a t Point Hope.
and reads: “Skulls were equipped with large ivory eyeballs,
inlaid with jet pupils.’’
No such finds have thus f a r been reported from any other
part of the Eskimo region, from other parts of Alaska, or
any part of America in general. There are several items in
this connection that need some consideration.
The Pre-Koniag Kodiak Island skull with the ivory orbits
on which the writer reported in the first paper, was not of
Eskimo type. I n the case of Miss Laguna’s specimens the
skulls that bore the ivory eyeballs are not reported, but
among those that are described in her volume there were none
that could be attributed to the true Eskimo. On the other hand
all the skulls known to us from Point Hope, including those
brought in 1940 by Rainey, though of somewhat different subtype from those of the neighboring regions, are true Eskimo,
as are all the living survivors of the place.
The ivory eyeballs from the three localities (Kodiak, Kenai
Pen., Point Hope) differ somewhat but the basic facts of the
practice are the same, which makes it highly probable that
it was transmitted from some one of the localities to the others.
However, the Kodiak skull was from the later Pre-Koniag
time, which could hardly be older than the present millenium,
and the same was probably true also of the Kenai specimens,
while Rainey and Shapiro estimate the age of their burials
as much greater. This presents an incongruity which will call
for explanation.
Symmetrical perforation iw the roof of the orbits
The specimen was discovered by us in our site at Uyak Bay
in 1932, in one of the “nests” of burials of the Pre-Koniag
period. It is a complete beautifully preserved skull with its
lower jaw, and there was probably also the rest of the skeleton,
but the bones were so mixed with those of the other skeletons
of the heap that they were unseparable. The “nest” lay in
3Science, October 17, 1941, 360.
414
ALES H R D L I ~ K A
the “red” or later pre-Koniag deposits, was probably one
of the results of a wholesale massacre at one time, and contained the remains of at least six bodies of individuals of
various ages, mostly women. None of the bones or skulls in
the nest showed anything pathological, and constitutional
diseases that might affect the bones, aside of senile arthritis,
were wholly absent from the population.
The skull, now no. 366,709, U. S. National Museum, is a
normal skull of a female of not over 50 years of age. It is one
of the best and most typical specimens of that period, and
shows not a vestige of any disease or abnormality.
The teeth, all present (save three that fell out after death
and were not recovered) show about medium wear, otherwise
they are normal. The three main vault sutures are closed,
but this had evidently taken place quite late, is no rarity in
the Kodiak skulls, and has resulted in not the slightest deformity. Everything about the specimen, it may be repeated,
is medium, normal, and typical of the pre-Koniag people. Its
principal measurements are as follows :
Vault:
Cm.
Maximum length ............................
Maximum breadth ...........................
Basion-bregma height ........................
Mean diameter ..............................
Cranial index ...............................
Mean height index
H
( =fm). . . . . . . . . . . . .
17.7
13.4
14.3
15.13
75.7
92.9
Face :
Total height (with allowance for wear of teeth)
12.8
Upper alveolar point-nasion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.7
Diam. bizygom. max. .........................
12.8
100.0
Facial index, total ...........................
Facial index, upper ..........................
602
Nose :
Height . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Breadth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5.35
2.5
47.6
415
ARTIFACTS O N SKULLS, KODIAK ISLAXD
Orbits:
m.
Height, right ..............................
Height, left .................................
Breadth, right ..............................
Breadth, left ................................
Index, right ................................
Index,left ..................................
3.5
3.5
3.9
3.8
89.7
92.f
Upper dental arch:
....................................
....................................
......................................
Length
Breadth
Index
5.3
6.7
79.1.
The main value of these measurements lies in the fact that
they are in no way exceptional for a female skull of the people
(Pre-Koniags) to which the woman belonged; and that the
two orbits, which are the parts affected in this case, show not
only normal dimensions but also a close symmetry.
The lesions. Each of the orbits of this skull presents in its
roof a peculiar large and almost identical opening. The size,
shape and symmetry of these openings may be seen in the
photos. They are each 3.2 cm. long by 2.0 on the right and
2.1 em. on the left in greatest breadth. The axis of their length
as well as breadth is closely alike on the two sides, and so
also nearly is their lumen, the left opening being slightly the
larger. Their edges in general are sharp but in a few places
clull, o r as after a break; and there is no unusual thinning of
the bone about the openings. They certainly are not due to
any disease or injury, and can only be, it would seem, inborn
defects, or artificial-in either of which cases they would
represent a unique condition.
Against their being of congenital origin, however, is the
lack of precedence of any such condition in medical records;
its absence in any of the other hundreds of specimens recovered from the site ; the entirely normal state of the skulland doubtless also of the rest of the skeleton, for though the
exact parts belonging to the skull could not be separated, none
of the bones of the nest showed anything abnormal; the
absence of any unusual thinning of the remaining parts of the
416
ALES
HRDLI~KA
roof of the orbits; the fact that on both sides but especially
on the left the opening runs across a bone ridge (ridge due
to a brain sulcus) ; and the presence, along the outer and upper
margin of the opening, of a shallow but plain-especially on
the r i g h t 4 to 6 mm. broad, furrow-like depression, which
is unknown to the anatomy of the roof of the orbit and strongly
suggests the presence in life, and that for a long time, of some
sort of a plate which would hold the brain from protrusion.
On the right side the groove is smooth, but on the left its
surface is somewhat rough, as would be caused by irritation.
A close study of the specimen therefore inclines necessarily
away from the concept of congenital defects and towards that
of operative causation, many years before the death of the
subject, without the removal of the eyeballs, and with a thin
probably bone plate on each side serving as a stopper against
brain protrusion.
No such operation has even been heard of, in any people.
It involves some almost fantastic conceptions, a great daring
as well as skill of the operator, and probably no small suffering on the part of the subject, though the operation was highly
successful. But the people had slaves with whom they could
do whatever they wished; they did, our excavations have
shown, many strange things with human skulls and bones;
and they doubtless had very good practical knowledge of
human anatomy.
A t all events, here is a specimen with lesions in orbits which
cannot, it appears, be explained otherwise, strange as the
matter may seem, than by an operation.
We do not know as yet the limits of the region that once
was inhabited by the Pre-Koniag people. It embraced much
of, if not all, of Kodiak Island; the results of Miss Laguna’s
excavations show plainly that it extended to the Kenai
Peninsula; and most recently a typical fine skull of the same
type was sent by Doctor Chase of Cordova to the U. S. National
Museum from a cave near the Copper River. Thus evidently
the region once occupied or reached by the strain was a large
one, and the depth of the deposits they left shows that they
ARTIFACTS ON SKULLS, KODIAK ISLAND
417
lived there for many centuries. A further excavation of their
sites should give many an additional specimen of their peculiar
practices. The Yukon Island site of Kachemak Bay, the bulk
of which is still untouched, deserves in particular a further
attention.
OPENINGS O F THE INNER EARS OF ANIMALS
The Pre-Koniags and also the Koniags of Kodiak Island
left evidence of a peculiar practice which could only have been,
it seems, of a thaumaturgic nature. It consisted in the breaking
out of the temporal bone of seals-no other animal-and in
opening, by breaking o r cutting, the inner ear. Scores of such
temporal bones with opened inner ear were recovered, showing
that the practice was common; and since then we found that
the same usage had also been frequent in the Aleutian Islands.
Just what the reason and object of the strange procedure
may have been can only be surmised. It bears a witness to the
anatomical knowledge of the people-they must have known
that the organ of hearing was situated in the internal ear,
and they opened this either to destroy this source of hearing,
or to get at the ear ossicles, which may either have been
destroyed or used in some fetishistic manner.
The seals were known to possess acute hearing. The success
of the hunter with his primitive weapons depended on his close
approach to the quarry. If he could, through sympathetic
magic, destroy or master the seal’s hearing he would be much
more successful.
This appears to be the most plausible explanation of the
practice here dealt with; and the easy spread of such beliefs
and practices was sufficient for its wide extension over southwestern Alaska. Whether the practice was known also to the
Eskimo is uncertain.
SUMMARY
The paper is a report on a case of unique, large, bilateral
and symmetrical defects in the roofs of the orbits of a normal
female Pre-Koniag skull from Kodiak Islancl. The defects
418
ALES HRDLIEKA
are indications that the two openings had been closed in life
by some thin plates.
I n addition, the author reports a peculiar and generalized
practice of pre-Russian Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands,
consisting of the breaking or cutting open of the internal ear
in separated temporal bones of seals, for the purpose probably
of removing the ear ossicles, and counteracting thereby, f o r
greater success in the hunting of the animals, of their acute
hearing.
PLATE 1
EXPLANATION OF EIGUEES
Outside and inside views of female Pre-Koniag skull no. 366,709, U. S. N. M.,
showing apparently artificial perforation, made in life, of the roof of the two
orbits.
ARTIFACTS O N SKIJLLS. KODIAK ISLAND
AI&
HRDLI~KA
PLATE 1
PLA'l'E 2
EXPLANATION OF FIGI-RES
Seal temporals, with lxokea-in (specimen on the left) or cut (specimen in
middle and t h a t on right) opening into the internal ear, for the removal, probably,
of the auditory ossicles.
El
c
rn
E
421
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