A mysterious skeleton that some have described as “alien,” was discovered 15 years ago, leaving the scientific community somewhat perplexed. The remains are only 6 inches tall, though estimates based on the bones suggest similarities between a 6- to 8-year-old child. In addition to its size, the shape of the skull and eye sockets furthered the mystery.
The mummified skeleton, which was found in the Atacama Desert in Chile and referred to as “Ata,” also only had 10 pairs of ribs instead of the usual 12.
Some speculated that the remains could be of either an extraterrestrial life form or a primate that had not yet been identified.
Ata was discussed in multiple television shows as well as a documentary, titled “Sirius,” where UFO researchers debated the origin of the skeleton, according to a report by CNN.
However, authors of a study that involved five years of genomic analysis, can now shed some light on the origin of the Ata skeleton.
The study revealed that Ata is, in fact, human, though one with multiple bone mutations. Their findings were published on Thursday in Genome Research, a journal, and the research may assist with the diagnosis of various gene mutations in living patients.
While people initially assumed Ata’s skeleton was ancient, it was actually only around 40 years old at the time of its discovery in 2003. This meant that DNA was still intact, allowing it to be studied.
Gary Nolan, a profession of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University and a senior author on the study, originally became interested in Ata after learning about the discovery through a friend.
A sample of Ata’s DNA was extracted from bone marrow in the skeleton’s ribs, allowing them to conduct a whole-genome sequence analysis.
The information was compared to humans and primates, leading the researchers to determine that Ata was a human female of Chilean ancestry, and likely a fetus.
They discovered Ata had a rare bone-aging disorder, which explains why initial analysis suggested the bones were from a 6- to 8-year-old.
Dr. Atul Butte, another senior author on the study, was also brought in to assist with analyzing the genome.
Together, the researchers found mutations in seven genes, resulting in bone and musculoskeletal deformities like skeletal dysplasia, commonly known as dwarfism, and scoliosis. Abnormalities in the genes associated with collagen production were also discovered.
The combination of mutations was described by Butte as “rare.”
“To our knowledge, no one has ever explained all of these symptoms in a patient before,” said Butte, “and the changes in the DNA, or mutations, reflects this.”
The exact reason for the multiple mutations is still unknown.