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PopAnth — Hot Buttered Humanity
Popular anthropology for everyone.

Aliens and archaeology

Why are we so obsessed with finding evidence of extraterrestrials?

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News recently reported that an alien thigh bone had been found on Mars. It wasn't a bone. It was a rock. But it still become world wide news. Why?

Aliens and archaeology have had a weird relationship for decades, and human remains in particular have been subject to this fanaticism. On the one hand, alien enthusiasm has caused for increased interest into certain topics like cranial modification and the Nasca lines.

On the other hand, archaeologists can find it extremely frustrating having to deal with questions about alien involvement in the construction of the pyramids or creation of crystal skulls.

Humans are fascinating and amazing creatures that have been able to pull together to create highly imaginative and awe-inspiring monuments. Since the beginning of our species, we've been creatively solving problems, pushing limits, and shaping the world in fantastic ways.

But for many people human creativity and awesomeness isn't the reason why we were able to create aqueducts or construct sky high monuments before the industrial revolution.

Aliens. Aliens are the answer.

Perhaps it is because we've hit a point in our human existence where our own earth is not as unknown as it was before. Perhaps they are searching for the Lost World of Sir Conan Doyle or the great adventures of Allan Quatermain. Movies and TV reveal our fascination with discovering the unknown within our midsts. Vampires, zombies, aliens: it's all about the mystery being found among us.

Space remains a lost and uncharted territory in many senses. With the possibility of exploring and colonizing space growing ever closer, the potential for aliens is even greater. Space offers the opportunity to find lost worlds and have the adventures of past explorers.

Here are some of the more popular 'alien'-related bioarchaeology finds.

The Paracas Skull

In 1927, a necropolis was discovered by respected Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello. He was able to recover 429 mummy bundles that contained remains dating to from around 800 to 100 BCE. The mummies were some of the best preserved to be found in Peru, and the find led to a better understanding of burial practices for this period.

Each mummy was wrapped in cotton cloths with detailed embroidery, placed in a sitting position facing north, and buried in the Necropolis. All were male and all were buried with high quality grave goods, suggesting that they were of a higher status than the average person.

Another way that their high status was recognized was that many of them had skulls that were heavily altered and elongated. The cultural deformation of skulls is well understood and documented in a number of cultures (you can learn more about the actual process here).

However, this explanation wasn't enough for some people. Some theorized that the deformation in the skull was a natural phenomenon, and these elongated skulls were evidence for a new type of species, likely with alien origins.

Over the last few years, there have been a number of pseudo-archaeologists who have got their hands on tissue samples from these skulls and argue that they have DNA proof that these are alien species.

Sadly for us, they aren't sharing any of the DNA tissue results, nor are we given any actual data, just their final conclusion that these are aliens.

If you'd like to learn the whole story, and just how bad their investigation was, I'd suggest checking out this amazing article about it on Bad Archaeology: The Paracas Skulls.

They are not aliens. They are humans with modified crania. No need to jump to alien conclusions.


By the name alone, you know this one is going to be dreadfully awesome.

In 1999, a paranormalist claimed to have obtained a child's skull from a couple in El Paso, Texas. The couple had originally acquired it from a mine tunnel in Mexico in the 1930s. The skull was found buried alongside the remains of an adult female.

As it is easy to see from the picture, the skull is extremely enlarged in the cranium, much like the aliens from Mars Attack! (obviously a good basis for what real aliens look like). The child was determined to be 4.5 to 5 years old (based on the dentition found in the skull) and the cranium is 1,600 cubic centimetres, which is 200 cm³ larger than the average adult's brain, and 400 cm³ larger than an adult of the same approximate size.

Based on these measurements, the paranormalist claimed that this child was the result of a normal female human breeding with an extraterrestrial or was perhaps the result of genetic experimentation.

Luckily for us, real scientists conducted two separate DNA tests in 1999 and 2003. The first found that the child was a human male that received an x and y chromosomes from each of his human male and human female parents.

The second recovered mitochondrial DNA from the skull, and determined that it is indeed a human child, though one that likely suffered from congenital hydrocephalus. More commonly known as "water on the brain," it is a medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the cavities of the brain. This leads to increased pressure and enlargement of the head of the individual. It can also result in death.

No aliens, just cranial modification.

There are a couple ways you can take this: 1) obviously this chick doesn't know the real truth, or 2) the human body is an amazing thing that can be changed naturally by disease or modified through human intervention: aren't we a cool species!

Personally, I think it's extraordinary how bones can respond to pressure, internally and externally. Sure, aliens would be cool. But I'm content for now to look at the fascinating human skeletal system, and watch alien movies in my free time.

They are humans with modified crania. No need to jump to alien conclusions.

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Modified Maya skull exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico, by Maunus
Modified Maya skull exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico, by Maunus