In 2003, an ancient, six-inch-long corpse was found near a church in a ghost town of South America’s Atacama Desert. To many collectors and scientists at the time, the unusual anatomical makeup of the mummified remains suggested proof of extraterrestrial life. But those theories were most recently put to rest after a team of scientists from the University of California-San Francisco and Stanford University reportedly determined that the skeleton is not an alien, but actually the remains of an indigenous Chilean girl, The New York Times reports.
In addition to its remarkable size, the skeleton reportedly has a long skull, giant eye sockets, and 10 ribs, rather than the normal 12. On Thursday (March 22,), the team of scientists presented new data that determined the bones contain DNA that shows that it belongs to the human species. Furthermore, the researchers identified as many as 54 mutations in its DNA caused by a hereditary disorder, which explains the bizarre form. The mutations include: skeletal dysplasia, rib anomalies and dwarfism, according to reports.
“It is quite surprising how many mutations this child has,” Atul Butte, director of the Institute for Computational Health Sciences at the University of California-San Francisco told Gizmodo. “And that’s pretty relevant today. Children with rare and undiagnosed diseases are now more frequently getting genetic sequencing, and typically we in the medical field search for the ‘one gene’ with the problem.”
After reconstructing the body, scientists determined that the girl – whom they refer to as Ata – lived less than 500 years ago, approximately around the 16th century, NYT reports. In addition to being of Chilean descent, they also discovered a lineage of European and South American ancestry. In a new study in the Journal Genome Research, scientists found that Ata’s bones were as developed as a six-year-old’s, although she was no bigger than a modern human fetus.
“I was amazed by how much you can tell from the genetic blueprint,” Genome Research scientist Sanchita Bhattacharya told NYT. Scientists are still trying to determine all of Ata’s mutations and genetic details. Butte said that their discoveries will most likely help with finding cures and therapies for children with rare mutations today.