Standing just 6 inches tall—about the length of a dollar bill—with an angular, elongated skull and sunken eye sockets, the internet bubbled with chatter about the newly discovered potentially extraterrestrial dubbed Ata.
What is the Atacama Skeleton?
The story behind the Atacama Skeleton is a bit strange. A treasure hunter in Chile’s Atacama Desert discovered a tiny body in 2003. The body was wrapped in a white cloth and found inside of a leather bag, near a church in the ghost town of La Noria. The discoverer sold the mummified corpse but did not provide many details about the curious find. It’s speculated that the treasure hunter was likely a grave robber.
The unusual features of the Atacama skeleton sparked interest from many collectors. After the initial discovery, it traded hands many times before ending up in Spain.
In 2012, Steven Greer, a retired physician, and an alien investigator was invited to examine the humanoid remains for his film. The documentary, Sirius, details his ideas on extraterrestrials, cover-ups, and close encounters. Greer believed the skeletal remains were that of a little extraterrestrial humanoid.
Dr. Garry Nolan, a professor of pathology at Stanford University, reached out to Greer after news circulated. He offered to lead the investigation into the origins of the Atacama skeleton.
“I had heard about this specimen through a friend of mine, and I managed to get a picture of it,” Nolan says. “You can’t look at this specimen and not think it’s interesting; it’s quite dramatic. So, I told my friend, ‘Look, whatever it is, if it’s got DNA, I can do the analysis.’”
The researchers conducted DNA analysis, X-Rays, and CT scans of the Atacama skeleton. Nolan consulted with pediatric radiologist Ralph Lachman on his findings. Doctors Nolan and Lachman confirmed through CAT scans that there are partial internal organs including a heart and lungs. They verified the Atacama Skeleton was not a reproduction or a hoax.
Released in 2014, Sirius fueled wide-spread speculation about the origins of the Atacama skeleton.
Atacama Alien DNA Results
After five years of deep genetic analysis, in 2018, Nolan along with Atul Butte, director of the Institute for Computational Health Sciences at UCSF, pinpointed the mutations responsible for the unique specimen.
Butte and Nolan extracted a small DNA sample from Ata’s ribs and sequenced the entire genome. The researchers found mutations in not one, but seven genes known to govern skeletal development; what’s more, some of these molecular oddities have never been described before.
“We’re often searching for one cause—one super-rare or unusual mutation that can explain a child’s ailment. But in this case, we’re pretty confident that multiple things went wrong,” says Butte.
Their analysis points to a decisive conclusion on the mummified being. It turns out that the Atacama skeleton is a human female, likely a fetus, with severe genetic mutations. They found Ata had the bone composition of a six-year-old, a sign that she had a rare, bone-aging disorder. The fetus more than likely did not make it to term. They also determined the age of the skeleton–approximately 40 years old and that Ata was a descendent the South American region.
Speculation of a Cover-Up
In the original analysis, Dr. Nolan found that 8 percent of the DNA was unmatchable with human DNA. Clearly, something like that could make headlines! While that was odd, he noted that was due to a degraded sample, not extraterrestrial biology. After further analysis, a more sophisticated process was able to match up to 98 percent of the DNA, according to Nolan.
Similar skeletons have popped up in other parts of the world. Due to the strange nature of these tiny alien-like humans, it’s easy to see why some people might have a hard time believing.
While it is very likely that aliens do exist, the research here stamps out any remaining questions about this tiny, mysterious skeleton’s home planet. It’s without a doubt human.
Photo: Bhattacharya / Stanford University