Texas A&M School of Dentistry

Research and Innovations

Digging his discovery

Wang's work at Chinese archaeological site yields elongated skulls

Dr. Qian Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, is not only the college’s Teacher of the Year, but his work at an archaeological site in China has led to the discovery of more than two dozen elongated skulls dating back between 5,000 and 12,000 years. The findings point to evidence of skull shaping. Wang, a paleoanthropologist, has been working at the Houtaomuga site with Quanchao Zhang, a bioarchaeologist with Jilin University in Changchun, China.

“This is the earliest confirmed discovery of intentional head modification in the world,” Wang says. “If this practice began in East Asia, it likely spread westward to the Middle East, Russia and Europe through the steppes as well as eastward across the Bering Land Bridge to the Americas. It may have originated independently in different places at different times.

“This is the earliest confirmed discovery of intentional head modification in the world,” Wang says.

“Though the exact meaning of this practice is still unknown, our evidence suggests that it is most likely related to the high socioeconomic status of these individuals or their families. The emergence of this practice could be a sign of the start of stratification of the social structure among pre-modern population or the beginning of socioeconomic disparity,” he says.

Wang initiated the Global Record of Health Project – Asia Module in May 2018. He leads an international team to systematically document the health, development and disease status of human skeletal remains from historic human populations in the past 10,000 years in Asia. Through this work, they seek to exam how human health status changes over time and varies with environment, economic mode, climate change, social disturbances and lifestyle.

The news of these findings has been featured in Science News, International Business Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Archaeology Magazine and the Daily Mail, among other news outlets.