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DNA Analysis of “Atacama Alien” Generates Controversy

In 2003, something strange was discovered in an abandoned nitrate-mining town, La Noria, which is in Mexico. The body was mummified, wrapped in white, tied with a purple ribbon. Instead of the usual 12 ribs, this skeleton only had 10, and despite having the proportions of an adult, it was only six inches tall. The oddest feature, however, was the oblong head. People immediately began talking about the female skeleton possibly being an alien. In 2013, the same year the skeleton nicknamed “Ata” was featured in a documentary about alien life, a microbiologist concluded that Ata was human. Also, the remains are only about 40 years old.

Conspiracy theorists believed Ata was an alien

In 2018, further tests on a tiny piece of bone looked into more of Ata’s genetic features in an attempt to understand her shape and size. Garry Nolan, the microbiologist who first studied the skeleton, wrote that Ata had a bone-aging disorder that explained her adult proportions, as well as other genetic mutations that can cause scoliosis and dwarfism. In total, researchers found 64 unusual mutations in Ata’s skeletal structure. Because of her tiny size, some experts believe Ata may have actually been aborted at 14-16 weeks. Not everyone agrees with Ata’s ultimate fate or even the genetic findings. Another expert believes she was stillborn or born prematurely. Others also say they couldn’t find any evidence of the skeletal anomalies outlined in Nolan’s report.

GENOME RESEARCH/E.SMITH

The main issue, however, is an ethical one. There is currently no ethical standard set in place on “specimens of uncertain biological origins” like Ata, but the authors of the response report were still critical of how Ata was treated. Before being analyzed, she was in the hands of a Spanish private collector, and many are concerned she’s being viewed like an oddity, especially since the first experience most have with the story involves aliens. At the end of the day, the story of Ata is very human and very tragic.