Image Gallery: Odd Alien-Looking Skeleton Poses Medical Mystery

Teensy Skeleton

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

A 6-inch-long (15 centimeters) skeleton was found in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The skeleton showed several anomalies, including its alienlike skull, teensy body and the fact that it had just 10 ribs rather than the 12 that healthy humans normally have.

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High-Head Syndrome

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

The skull showed signs of turricephaly, or high-head syndrome, a birth defect in which the top of the skull to be sort of cone-shaped due to the premature fusing of some of the skull's sutures, according to Johns Hopkins Pediatric Neurosurgery.

Skeletal Exam

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

Garry Nolan, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford School of Medicine, and his colleagues analyzed the mummified specimen in the fall of 2012 with high-resolution photography, X-rays and computed tomography scans, as well as DNA sequencing.

Human?

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

The researchers wanted to find out whether some rare disorder could explain the anomalous skeleton — for instance it had just 10 ribs as opposed to 12 in a healthy human — the age the organism died, as its size suggested a pre-term fetus, stillborn or a deformed child, and whether it was human or perhaps a South American non-human primate.

[Read full story on the "alien" skeleton]

DNA confirms human match

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

5. The DNA analysis suggested the specimen is human and not a South American non-human primate.

Mother ID'ed

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

6. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA, stored in the cells' energy-making structures and passed down from mothers to offspring, suggested the individual had been born to a an indigenous woman from the Chilean area of South America.

Skull anomalies

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

7. The specimen's skull showed signs of underdevelopment in the mid-face and jaw, the researchers found.

Medical mystery

alien-looking skeleton from Atacama desert.

(Image credit: Sirius, YouTube Screengrab)

8. The oddities found in the specimen's bones suggest some type of dwarfism, though "there is no known form of dwarfism that accounts for all of the anomalies seen in this specimen," wrote Dr. Ralph Lachman, professor emeritus, UCLA School of Medicine and clinical professor at Stanford University, in a report to Nolan.

More Alien-Looking skulls

skull binding, deforming skulls

(Image credit: Cristina García / INAH.)

This wouldn't be the first time alien-looking remains have been brought to the attention of science. The alien-like skulls of children were discovered in a 1,000-year-old cemetery in Mexico.

Mexican cemetery - skull wrapping

skull binding, deforming skulls

(Image credit: Cristina García / INAH.)

Researchers who examined the children's skulls said they had been deliberately warped and illustrated a practice of skull deformation that was common at the time in Central America.

Nazca Skull

deformed peruvian skull

(Image credit: Didier Descouens, Creative Commons)

A deformed skull dating to between 200 B.C. and 100 B.C. and belonging to an individual of the Nazca culture, which flourished along the Peruvian coast.