Jul 29, 2016 I Paul Seaburn

Having Six Toes on a Foot Was Once a Status Symbol

If you’re a 12-toed guy struggling to make it in this ten-toed world, you may want to find a time machine and travel back about a thousand years to the Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. According to new research, a group of people once lived there who respected, honored and exalted those among them with an extra piggy on a foot.

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.

Anthropologist Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico co-authored a study, published this week in American Antiquity, about a high preponderance of six-toed people – the condition is known as polydactyly – among a prehistoric Pueblo culture in the Chaco Canyon. Of the 96 skeletons of Chacoan people found at the canyon’s sacred Pueblo Bonito site, 3 of them had an extra toe on the right side of their right foot. That’s 15.5 times the average occurrence of polydactyly among modern Native Americans.

Six-toed imprint on a Pueblo wall

What gave the Chacoans another toenail to trim with a flint? Previous research on polydactyly shows it’s a dominant, non-recessive, hereditary trait which is not caused by inbreeding nor a genetic disease. Study co-author Kerriann Marden suspects prenatal exposure to something hazardous, either environmental or possibly a food the pregnant mother ate. With the way the extra-toed were treated, perhaps the mothers may have even tried to have polydactyly babies.

The Mayans were known to worship six-toed people (and others with body anomalies) as gods, but the Chacoans weren’t that extreme. Handprints and footprints with extra digits appear on walls in rooms used for rituals and ceremonies. One skeleton was buried with jewelry on the six-toed foot but nothing on the other one. Special extra-wide sandals were found with space for the extra toe.

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Another six-toed wall imprint

The sandals and artwork may be the key to why the extra toes got respect. The Chacoans art seemed to be focused on hands and feet and they appear to have paid special attention to sandals and footwear in general. Perhaps that fixation made those with two pinkie toes special.

Perhaps it was just because they could step on more ants.


Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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