These viking ladies tried to start a trend for pointy heads, but it didn’t take off

What’s the weirdest thing you learned this week? Well, whatever it is, we promise you’ll have an even weirder answer if you listen to PopSci’s hit podcast.
The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week
hits Apple, Spotify, YouTube, and everywhere else you listen to podcasts every-other Wednesday morning. It’s your new favorite source for the strangest science-adjacent facts, figures, and Wikipedia spirals the editors of Popular Science can muster. If you like the stories in this post, we guarantee you’ll love the show.

Check out Weirdest Thing’s new page on Reddit to meet fellow Weirdos! 

FACT: History is full of people with pointy heads (on purpose)

By Rachel Feltman

While examining remains found on the Baltic island of Gotland, which was once home to many wealthy viking settlements, researchers found an unusual instance of body modification: three women from 1,000 years ago with elongated, cone-shaped skulls. But this find wasn’t unusual for the reasons you might be thinking. 

The practice of artificial cranial deformation has actually shown up loads of times throughout history, in lots of different parts of the world—on most continents, in fact. But on Gotland, it seems to have been a trend that stayed isolated to these three women (or maybe even just two—the paper notes that one of the skulls could reasonably be an example of a naturally kind-of-pointy head). 

This is the first time vikings have been seen with purposefully elongated heads. The closest folks who were widely doing this at the time were over by the Black Sea, which might just be a hop skip and a jump today, but was too far for casual cultural crossover. Some graves from several hundred years earlier in Bavaria yielded 13 women with elongated skulls, but they were reportedly genetically distinct from their neighbors, and might have come from Romania or somewhere nearby, where cranial manipulation was common thanks to the Huns. 

The biggest mystery isn’t how these women ended up with elongated skulls—we can’t know for sure, but there are lots of reasons a viking girl might be born or spend some formative years elsewhere, what with vikings being vikings and all that. But what’s intriguing is that these three bodies, which come from the same time period, are alone in their skull manipulation—it didn’t catch on. 

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about the history—and future—of cranial manipulation. Because yes, we still do it. We just prefer rounder heads now. 

(Also: No, they’re not aliens.) 

By Laura Baisas 

The world feels a bit scary right now, between another summer of potentially record-breaking temperatures and hurricanes, bird flu, wars, and an upcoming election. In A Field Guide to the Apocalypse: A Mostly Serious Guide to Surviving Our Wild Times, Athena Aktipis, a cooperation theorist at the University of Arizona and co-director of The Human Generosity Project, shows how you can change your mindset to better deal with all of this mayhem. On this week’s episode of The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week, I share some of my favorite—and most helpful—takeaways from her new book. Let’s get apocalypse-ready! 

If you want to find out more about Athena’s work, you can check out our previous profile of her here. You can also listen to her recent appearance on Rachel’s other podcast, Science Quickly

FACT: Termites poop out perfect little hexagons 

By Dr. Jessica Ware

Termites eat cellulose, but rely on the endosymbionts in their hindgut to digest it. After passing through their hind gut, their excrement exits their body past their rectal pads—which compress the frass, AKA poop, into hexagonal prisms!

Here are some other fun insect poop facts: Insects that feed on liquid tend to have liquid poop. Dragonfly nymphs have internal rectal gills that they can relax to bring water into their bum, and then they squirt it out quickly as a means of jet propulsion to escape predators—or just to move fast. 

For more fantastic bug facts, check out my show Insectarium on PBS.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top