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Monday, July 25, 2016

Extra Fingers and Toes Were Revered in Ancient Culture

In the great houses of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, having an extra toe was one way to garner a lot of respect.
A unique prehistoric Pueblo culture thrived in the high desert of Chaco Canyon about a thousand years ago. Scientists have known aboutpolydactyly among these people for years, based on images and skeletal remains showing extremities with extra fingers and toes. But past research revealed only hints about its importance to the ancient culture.
Initially intrigued by the divine powers attributed to polydactyls among the Maya, researchers led by anthropologist Patricia Crown of theUniversity of New Mexico conducted a comprehensive review of evidence for the condition at the canyon’s sacred Pueblo Bonito site.
The findings, published today in American Antiquity, indicate that the society did not view six-toed individuals as supernatural, but this form of polydactyly did grant them exalted status in life and in death.
“We found that people with six toes, especially, were common and seemed to be associated with important ritual structures and high-status objects like turquoise,” says Crown, who is also a past National Geographic grantee.

On the Right Foot

To determine how common polydactyly was among the Chacos, the researchers conducted an analysis of 96 skeletons excavated from Pueblo Bonito during prior expeditions. The team analyzed full skeletons that were painstakingly reassembled over many years by co-author Kerriann Marden, a biological anthropologist at Eastern New Mexico University.
The anthropologists found three polydactyl individuals among the 96 skeletons, all with a sixth toe on the little toe-side of the right foot.
That may not sound like a lot, but at 3.1 percent of the Chaco population, it represents a much higher rate of polydactyly than what’s seen in modern Native Americans: Today only 0.2 percent of them are affected. More broadly, in the United States just 0.13 percent of Caucasians and 1.4 percent of African Americans are reported to have extra digits, though scientists suspect many cases may go unreported...

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