Genetically determined morphological integration directs the evolution of skull shape in humans. The study is based on the analysis of 390 skulls, decorated according to local tradition, from the ossuary in Hallstatt, Austria which houses an exceptionally valuable collection for anthropological research.
The more than 700 items of skeletal remains are famous for their painted decoration, depicting flowers, leaves and crosses, with the name of the deceased printed on the forehead of most of the skulls. By cross-referencing with local registers of births, deaths and marriages, experts have been able to use the collection to reconstruct the genealogical relationships of the population from as far back as the 17th century and make informed estimates of the influence of genes on skull shape.
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How an Irish giant and an 18th-century surgeon could help people with growth disorders
Ireland is a land of giants, but could a genetic variation be behind the myth? And could it help people with growth disorders?
In April 1782, a real, live giant appeared in London. Charles Byrne was said to be a majestic 8ft 4in (2.54 metres) in height and able to light his pipe on street lamps. Now, the macabre events that took place after his death have finally allowed modern genetics to deliver a new twist to the story of the “Irish Giant” – and could change the lives of patients today.
From double-headed cows to eight-legged pigs, the Georgians paid handsomely to gawp at all manner of wondrous creatures, and also people afflicted by rare conditions: bearded women, dwarves and giants. After death, many found their way to John Hunter, the anatomist and founder of modern surgery, who was an obsessive collector of anatomical curiosities. It is almost certain that he met Byrne – perhaps one of the tallest men ever to have lived – and decided that he had to have his skeleton.
Photograph: Márta Korbonits, Brendan Holland in front of the skeleton of Charles Byrne preserved in the Hunterian Museum, London, Linda Nylind for the Guardian
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