Archeologists in South Korea have discovered the elongated skull of a woman who lived 3,000 years ago and have determined that – unlike other elongated skulls caused by artificial cranial deformation – hers developed naturally. What’s more, an analysis of her DNA shows that her descendants are alive today in eastern Asia. Do they have elongated skulls too? Where are they?
Dong Hoon Shin, a bioanthropologist at Seoul National University College of Medicine in the Republic of Korea, co-authored a study published in PLOS ONE detailing this discovery that was unusual in many respects. For one, he says it’s extremely rare to find any preserved skeletons from the Silla Kingdom, which existed from 57 B.C. to A.D. 935. An exception was this one, discovered in 2013, of a woman who died in her 30s.
Piecing together the bone fragments found in the grave, the research team was surprised it was able to build a complete skull and then shocked to discover its elongated shape. The width of the skull was less than 75 percent of its length, making it longer and narrower than the rounder skulls of people in that area, which have widths measuring over 80 percent of their length.
The researchers first assumed this was another case of cranial deformation due to head binding. However, closer analysis by study co-author Eun Jin Woo, a physical anthropologist, determined that the skull did not have the telltale flat bones in the front of the skull caused by binding.
The skull in this study did not show the shape changes in deformed crania. In this regard, we think her head should be considered as normal variation in the group.
The “group” Woo is referring to is the genetic group identified by the mitochondrial DNA (mtDAN) extracted from the skeleton. This mtDNA, passed from mother to daughter, has been found to exist in rare instances today in the East Asian haplogroup F1b1a. A haplogroup is a genetic population sharing one common male or female ancestor.
The study also looks at the diet (strict vegetarian) and religion (Buddhist) of the woman but does not draw any conclusions as to the cause of her elongated skull nor if her descendants would also have the trait.
Was this a rare genetic abnormality? Was the Silla Kingdom visited by aliens? We’ll have to track down people in the haplogroup F1b1a to find out.