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5,000-Year-Old Skeleton with Dwarfism Suggests Prehistoric China May Have Had Social Support

The discovery of a well-preserved young adult with human dwarfism is shedding light on how communities at the time responded to the disorder.

The discovery of a 5000-year-old skeleton is shedding light on how human dwarfism was viewed in prehistoric China. A new study by a University of Otago bio-archaeologist is revealing that the disability was accepted by the community at the time both in life and death.

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M53

The skeleton, called M53, is that of a young adult that lived during the Late Neolithic Yangshao period between 5300–4900 years ago in Guanjia – in the Henan Province on the Central Plains of China and suffered from skeletal dysplasia. This would have made M53 significantly different than the rest of the population.

“They would have been visibly smaller than all other adults in the population,” Associate Professor Sian Halcrow, from the University’s Department of Anatomy,  said in a statement.

“But they lived into adulthood so it’s likely they were the recipient of care from other members in their family or wider society.”

Community care

Some information could not be deduced from the skeleton such as its exact age and its gender. What was also difficult to deduce is what care the young adult received from its surrounding community. Still, Halcrow is positive it existed.

“That’s because the dysplasia likely had some associated health effects from an early age, and that would have meant M53 would have had extra care needs," explained Halcrow.

In essence, what Halcrow is saying is that M53 would have needed the care to survive and the fact that he/she reached adulthood indicates that that care was given. This points to an accepting and inclusive society at the time, one we could very much learn from now.

“I think it is important for us to recognize that disability and difference can be found in the past, but that these things did not necessarily have negative connotations, socially or culturally. The ancient historical texts show that they may have, in fact, been revered in some situations.”

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