Referred to affectionately as "Ata," (for Atacama Desert) this 6-inch long skeleton was found in an abandoned mining town in Chile in 2003.
Some thought it must be quite old, but dated back only a few decades and had high enough quality DNA to be tested. Looking at its odd features, it was believed that Ata suffered from oxycephaly, a condition in which the top of the head looks conical due to early closure of skull sutures.
There has also been talk that Ata might have been a premature infant with a skull that was not yet developed fully.
Yet another hypothesis is that Ata had progeria, a condition that causes early rapid aging.
Adding one more concept to the origins of Ata, it has been tossed around that perhaps it was a form of severe dwarfism, like "primordial" dwarfism.
DNA evidence ultimately showed it to be indigenous to the region. However, when studying Ata's bones, it was found to be equivalent to a 6 to 8-year-old's development. There appear to be only two options for this scenario; either Ata was an extreme type of dwarf or Ata was a fetus that had progeria and rapidly aged in utero. They are left with, thus far, no signs of a dwarf gene, so they are looking into the possibility that Ata was the result of some kind of malformation due to a toxic exposure, like what thalidomide (used in the 1950s for morning sickness) did to the offspring.
I can't help thinking about the heavy mining in Chile and these abandoned mining towns that were likely polluted with many toxic heavy metals including arsenic, copper and lead.
That in this day of medical knowledge and DNA sampling, Ata is still a mystery, remains a rather romantic puzzle for all who study the characteristics; odd shaped skull, wrong amount of ribs, age that appears to be 6-8 years of life, exceptionally tiny size and thus far no evidence of dwarfism on genetic analysis.
We have not heard the end of this mystery and, in fact, other tiny skeletons have shown up in other locations. More on that later....