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Atacama skeleton

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Ata's skull

Ata is the common name given to the 6-inch (15 cm) long skeletal remains of a human fetus[1][2] found in 2003 in the Chilean ghost town of La Noria, in the Atacama Desert. DNA analysis done in 2018 on the premature human fetus identified unusual mutations associated with dwarfism and scoliosis, though these findings were later disputed. The remains were found by Oscar Muñoz, who later sold them; the current owner is Ramón Navia-Osorio, a Spanish businessman.[3]


DNA analysis on the premature human fetus identified unusual mutations associated with dwarfism and scoliosis, although other research contested genetic abnormalities, finding that the skeleton showed normal fetal development. There is unfounded speculation by people such as UFO theorist Steven M. Greer that Ata is an extraterrestrial. Such speculation led to Ata's inclusion in the 2013 UFO film Sirius and captured the attention of Stanford University geneticist Garry P. Nolan, who contacted the production team and analyzed the remains of the skeleton.[4] The results of his DNA analysis show the skeleton to be human[5] and not of extraterrestrial origin.[1][6]


Although initially thought to be older, the fetal remains have been dated to as recently as the late 1970s,[2] and have been found to contain high-quality DNA, suitable for scientific analysis. The remains have an irregularly shaped skull and a total of 10 ribs (as opposed to 12 for adult humans),[5] and potential signs of oxycephaly.[7] Considering that the frontal suture of the skull is very open and the hands and feet not fully ossified, anatomist and paleoanthropologist William Jungers has suggested that it was a human fetus that was born prematurely and died before or shortly after birth. An alternative hypothesis by Nolan is that Ata had a combination of genetic disorders that led to the fetus being aborted before term, and pediatric radiologist Ralph Lachman has said that dwarfism alone could not account for all the features found in the fetus.[7]

During the DNA analysis by Nolan, the B2 mtDNA haplotype group was found in the remains. Haplogroups identify human genetic populations that often are associated distinctly with particular geographic regions around the globe. Combined with the alleles found in the mitochondrial DNA contained in the remains, the findings suggested that Ata is indigenous to the western region of South America.[7]

In March 2018, Nolan published additional results, stating that the fetus had a rare bone aging disorder, as well as other genetic mutations in genes associated with dwarfism, scoliosis, and abnormalities in the muscles and skeleton.[8][9][10] The researchers identified 64 unusual mutations[11] in 7 genes linked to the skeletal system,[9][12] and they noted that finding so many mutations that specifically affect skeletal development has never been reported before.[10][11][13]


A subsequent study, published in September 2018 by an international research team led by New Zealand's University of Otago Associate Professor of Bioarchaeology Siân Halcrow, questioned the March 2018 study by Nolan, stating: "As experts in human anatomy and skeletal development, we find no evidence for any of the skeletal anomalies claimed by the authors. Their observations of 'anomalies' represent normal skeletal development in the fetus, cranial moulding from delivery, and potential post-mortem taphonomic effects" and that the team was "sceptical" concerning the genomic results. The authors also raised ethical concerns about the work by Nolan, saying that "studies such as these that do not address ethical considerations of the deceased and their descendant communities threaten to undo the decades of work anthropologists and others have put in to correct past colonialist tendencies."[14]

The publisher of the earlier study, Genome Research, responded by stating that the ethical standards did not cover work on "specimens of uncertain biological origins, such as the Atacama skeleton," but also stated their intention to review their own policies on such studies.[15] The authors of the Genome Research article published a response acknowledging the ethical concerns and calling for the repatriation of the remains. They distanced themselves from possible ethical missteps by largely claiming ignorance about the handling of the remains and the circumstances of the discovery, and noting that they were presented with roughly a cubic millimeter of bone to analyze.[16]

See also[edit]

  • Alyoshenka, a similar fetus allegedly found in a village in Russia


  1. ^ a b Reichard, Cara (20 May 2013). "Professor debunks theories of skeleton's alien origins". Stanford Daily. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b Origin of 'six-inch mummy' confirmed. BBC News. 22 March 2018.
  3. ^ Spiegel, Lee (16 April 2013). "Steven Greer 'Sirius' Documentary to Unveil Pictures of Alleged Tiny Space Alien (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post.
  4. ^ Zimmer, Carl. "Was a Tiny Mummy in the Atacama an Alien? No, but the Real Story Is Almost as Strange". New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  5. ^ a b Stone, Richard (3 May 2013). "Bizarre 6-Inch Skeleton Shown to Be Human". Science Now. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  6. ^ Barrabi, Thomas (1 May 2013). "Tiny 'Alien' Skeleton: Tests Reveal 'Atacama Humanoid' From 'Sirius' Documentary Has Human DNA". International Business Times. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Bryner, Jeanna (29 April 2013). "Alien-Looking Skeleton Poses Medical Mystery". Livescience. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  8. ^ Strickland, Ashley (22 March 2018). "Mystery of 'alien' skeleton solved". CNN.
  9. ^ a b Bhattacharya, Sanchita; Li, Jian; Sockell, Alexandra; et al. (22 March 2018). "Whole-genome sequencing of Atacama skeleton shows novel mutations linked with dysplasia". Genome Research. 28 (4): 423–431. doi:10.1101/gr.223693.117. PMC 5880234. PMID 29567674.
  10. ^ a b No, It's Not an Alien — Here's What That Tiny, Pointy-Headed Skeleton Really Is. Mindy Weisberger, Life Science. 22 March 2018.
  11. ^ a b Guarino, Ben. "A tiny skeleton found in Chile might look like an alien, but her genes tell a different story". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  12. ^ This strange 'alien' skeleton is actually a human fetus with genetic bone defects. Warren, Matt. Science, 22 March 22, 2018. doi:10.1126/science.aat6685
  13. ^ "Tiny Mummy's 'Alie' Appearance Finally Explained". 22 March 2018. Archived from the original on 22 March 2018. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  14. ^ Halcrow, Siân E.; Killgrove, Kristina; Robbins Schug, Gwen; Knapp, Michael; Huffer, Damien; Arriaza, Bernardo; Jungers, William; Gunter, Jennifer (September 2018). "On engagement with anthropology: A critical evaluation of skeletal and developmental abnormalities in the Atacama preterm baby and issues of forensic and bioarchaeological research ethics. Response to Bhattacharya et al. "Whole-genome sequencing of Atacama skeleton shows novel mutations linked with dysplasia" in Genome Research, 2018, 28: 423–431. Doi: 10.1101/gr.223693.117". International Journal of Paleopathology. 22: 97–100. doi:10.1016/j.ijpp.2018.06.007. ISSN 1879-9817. PMID 30025270.
  15. ^ Georgiou, Aristos (20 July 2018). "'Alien' Atacama Mummy Genetic Study Findings Raise Serious Concerns". newsweek.com. Newsweek. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  16. ^ Nolan, Garry; Butte, Atul (30 March 2018). "The Atacama skeleton". Genome Research. 28 (5). Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory: 607–608. doi:10.1101/gr.237834.118. ISSN 1088-9051. PMC 5932602. PMID 29602903.

Further reading[edit]