The Atacama Mummy, also known as “Atma,” and the “Alien Mummy,” was discovered 15 years ago in the Atacama Desert. Due to its striking features, a prominently misshapen head, missing ribs, and deformed face, it does not look like most skeletons that people see. Considering it is only about six inches long, some people thought it could be extraterrestrial. Researchers decided to take a closer look at Atma, and in doing so they have been cited as being significantly flawed, and probably crossing an ethical boundary.
According to the tests, the skeletal remains were determined to be human in origin, to the disappointment of alien hunters everywhere. Many paranormal enthusiasts still insist that Atma is an alien and the government is covering it up. Garry Nolan, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, told Live Science in an email that the odd appearance of the skeleton was due to several genetic mutations that had never been reported before. Nolan continued to detail how the mutations caused such a dramatic effect on the body, and that reverse engineering the sample could lead to breakthroughs concerning bone growth disorders and helping people whose bones have been catastrophically damaged to recover.
On July 18, a second team of researchers released their findings after studying Atma. Sian Halcrow from the University of Otago, New Zealand, led a team of international experts that conducted a closer examination of Atma. What they found is far less exciting than what Nolan and his team found. Halcrow’s team concluded that Atma was, in fact, human, but only about 15-16 weeks in gestation, according to a column appearing on Gizmodo. They further concluded that there was actually nothing unusual about Atma at all.
Kristina Killgrove, a co-author of the study and a bio-archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, stated in their paper that Atma would look odd to the average person, but only because the average person isn’t used to seeing mummies of fetuses 15-16 months into gestation. She further concluded that there were no skeletal abnormalities at all for a fetus at that stage of development. Their team wasn’t able to locate any of the abnormalities the Genome Research paper cited. Absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary in their expert opinion. Halcrow wrote the opinion for the study regarding ethics.
“Unfortunately, there was no scientific rationale to undertake genomic analyses of Ata because the skeleton is normal, the identified genetic mutations are possibly coincidental, and none of the genetic mutations are known to be strongly associated with skeletal pathology that would affect the skeleton at this young age.”
According to Live Science, the New Zealand team took Nolan and his team to task for crossing ethical boundaries in subjecting the remains to testing, saying the action was unnecessary as there was nothing out of the ordinary about the body. Another of the study’s co-authors, Bernardo Arriaza, a bioarchaeologist from the University of Tarapacá in Chile, gave his opinion that the fetus was from a more recent loss, probably a miscarriage. Killgrove also offered a further opinion regarding the lack of necessity for Nolan’s team to test Atma in the manner that they did.
“Given the fact that the mummified fetus was clearly human, the geneticists did not need to do further testing, but more problematic than that was, once they did test and find it was human, they didn’t immediately stop and question the forensic or archaeological ethics. Whether the fetus mummy was ancient or more recent, Chile requires permits for this sort of testing. We believe that these geneticists should have involved a specialist in developmental skeletal biology from the beginning as they would not have made rookie mistakes.”
Kilgrove concluded,”We also want to use this as a cautionary tale going forward — genetics experts need to be informed about ancient and modern laws and ethics surrounding testing.”
The Nolan study is being held up as a cautionary tale to inexperienced and overzealous researchers, showing that there is a proper methodology to follow when conducting any study, specifically ones that involve human remains. Furthermore, it was pointed out that in their zeal to make a groundbreaking discovery, ignoring proper methodology led them to cross ethical boundaries, and potentially even violate international law, as there are no filings as to how Atma was removed from Peru. A call to repatriate the remains of Atma has been made, as well as for some humanity in what has been cited as an over-sensationalized proceeding.
Neither Nolan or any of his team members responded to queries requesting their opinion of the follow-up study to theirs. The Chilean government is still involved insofar as they have questions regarding the providence of Atma, in relation to the Chilean National Monuments Council complaints lodged over the remains. Stanford University, where the Nolan study was conducted, had no comment, other than that the university had no part in the mummified skeleton being removed from its point of origin.