This is the last in my series on the The Bones of Monsters!
When you think “mutant” do you think about ninja turtles or perhaps the sewer creatures of New New York?
The term mutant has often been associated with supernatural, extraordinary or deviant characteristics that change ones biology so much that they are either consider super human, super weird or super scary. However, many mutations are not so nefarious, freakish, or fantastic.
On a genetic level, mutations change the structural components of DNA and RNA. These changes can cause no issue or may not be expressed in any discernable way. Sometimes they are fatal changes and the life form is destroyed before it is barely created. And then, there are times when the life form survives the mutation, but the effects are lasting and quite visible.
Once upon a time, we did not have the benefit of science, genetic testing, the knowledge of DNA, etc., to inform us of why babies were born with extra limbs, strange bodily afflictions, or why they later developed them later in life. These individuals were sometimes left to die, killed, sacrificed, labeled as bad omens, evil creatures, punishments, social pariahs, outcasts, and treated as subhumans. In other cultures, sometimes they used the difference as a sign of divinity, incarnations of gods, marks of higher purpose.
In any case, here are a few genetic mutations that left there mark on the skeleton of the individual.
This is a disorder that causes the brain and skull to be smaller than it should be. Some children born with this disorder were sold into circuses as side show acts. They were called ‘pinheads’. People born with this disorder can have a range of developmental disorders, and are often severely disabled.
Microcephaly can be caused by a number of disorders. It can be congenital or the result of chromosomal disorder.
How did micocephaly become associated with ‘monster’? Well, it doesn’t take a genius to know that beings are not always immiediately comfortable with that which they do not understand. However, ‘pinheads’ became quite popular in ‘freak shows’. They were given back stories with names and titles such as ‘Man-Monkey’, ‘Missing Link’ or ‘The Last of the Aztecs’.
These stories also played into the popular racists assumptions and myths of the savage and inferior non-white people.
P.T. Barnum hired William Henry Johnson, a man who had microcephaly, and renamed him ‘Zip, What Is It?’. His back story was that he was found near the Gambia River while a group of white adventurers were gorilla hunting. He was a member of a group of Africans who lived in trees and ran around naked. Johnson was born in New Jersey.
The Living Statue Syndrome
This is a disease that is very present in the skeletal remains as it attacks the skeleton. Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP) is extremely rare and terribly painful. It is a genetic condition that causes bones to form in muscles, ligaments, and other connective tissues. Essentially, a skeleton is formed on top of the skeleton.
Slowly the body becomes immobile, thus a living statue.
Sirenomelia, often referred to as Mermaid Syndrome, is a rare, often fatal condition in which the body forms a single lower
limb due to the fusion of the legs. This fusion looks like a fish tail.
One of my favorite blogs, wrote a fantastic piece that connected the presence of this syndrome to the myth of the mermaid in cultural and social history (http://thechirurgeonsapprentice.com/2014/09/09/disturbing-disorders-sirenomelia-mermaid-syndrome/)
Sometimes, it will present in a way that the individual will have two feet (sympode mermaid), one foot (monopode mermaid), or the absence of both feet (ectromelic mermaid).
There is very little known about this disease or why it happens.
In 2006, a young girl in Peru, Milagros Cerron, born with this disease, underwent successful surgery to separate her legs. While she seems to be doing well, she still requires many more surgeries to correct her internal organs and genitalia.
Even more recently, she has required kidney transplants.
I could talk about these types of genetic and skeletal disorders and the ways in which they are discussed, mythicized, revered, scandalized, etc. in culture. Maybe I’ll spend a whole month doing it one day!
But for now I leave you with this….