Since the dawn of civilization, we humans have gazed at the night sky wondering if we really are alone in the universe. Countless sightings of alien life have been reported throughout human history (E.T. even gets a mention in The Bible), but we have yet to definitely prove its existence.
Prior to his passing, Stephen Hawking said that the “idea that we are alone in the universe seems, to me, completely implausible and arrogant”, as science has proven the existence of so many planets and stars that “it’s extremely unlikely that we are the only form of evolved life.”
Until now, one of the most convincing pieces of evidence in favor of alien life was a six-inch skeleton that was found in Chile back in 2003. It’s been a source of fascination for the past 15 years, and scientists have finally been able to explain the truth behind it using the power of DNA testing.
The skeleton itself was found in the Atacama Desert by an amateur collector, Oscar Muñoz. More specifically, in a deserted Chilean town. Dubbed ‘Ata’ because of where it was found, the skeleton’s origins certainly sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Muñoz discovered the skeleton inside a leather pouch. It was wrapped in a white cloth and had a number of unusual features which caused him – and thousands of others – to conclude that it had to be alien. Due to Ata’s small size, it was thought to be a mummified extraterrestrial.
Even though it was a mere six inches in length, the skeleton was in perfect condition. Unlike most human skeletons which have 10 ribs, it had 12, and this, coupled with Ata’s particularly large eye sockets and oversized head which ended in a point, certainly suggested the skeleton was alien.
For 15 years, however, the truth behind Ata remained unknown and the skeleton itself ended up in a private collection. It was only after the release of the 2013 documentary Sirius that people began to demand an explanation for what exactly Ata’s skeleton was beyond the proof of alien life
Now, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University have proven that despite Ata’s alien appearance, the skeleton itself is human – namely a human female who died a mere 40 years ago and had dwarfism, according to the Daily Mail.
This discovery was the result of five years worth of deep genomic analysis. Although the skeleton was initially believed to belong to a child who died between the ages of six and eight, scientists have now concluded that Ata was either a fetus or a baby who died shortly after birth.
During the complicated process of discovering the truth behind the bizarre skeleton, scientists discovered several mutations in genes that govern bone development. UCSF researcher Sanchita Bhattacharya said that there were a total of 64 gene variants which damaged Ata’s bones.
These variants were subsequently linked to issues including skeletal problems, problems in the collagen production, and spine curvature.
Garry Nolan, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, began the investigation of Ata in 2012.
In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “She was so badly malformed as to be unable to feed.”
“In her condition, she would have ended up in the neonatal ICU, but given where the specimen was found, such things were simply not available.”
While Ata’s story might not have provided the proof that people have been looking for when it comes to alien life, her tiny body and the discoveries made through the process of analyzing it, have the potential to help other babies and fetuses with similar problems in the future.
“Maybe there’s a way to accelerate bone growth in people who need it, people who have bad breaks,” Nolan said of Ata’s skeleton. “Nothing like this had been seen before. Certainly, nobody had looked into the genetics of it.”
“We now know that it’s a child, and probably either a pre- or post-term birth and death,” the professor continued. “I think it should be returned to the country of origin and buried according to the customs of the local people.”
So what exactly could cause deformities like Ata’s? Well, the location of where her skeleton was found could provide an explanation. It was discovered near an abandoned nitrate mine and nitrates are known to damage DNA.
However, not everything about Ata is explicable, and scientists were unable to provide a definitive cause for her cone-shaped skull, although they speculated it could be the result of oxycephaly, or turricephaly, which causes the bones in the cranium’s sutures to close prematurely.
“While this started as a story about aliens, and went international, it’s really a story of a human tragedy,” Nolan said. “A woman had a malformed baby, it was preserved in a manner and then ‘hocked’ or sold as a strange artefact. May she rest in peace.”