A tiny mummified skeleton with a cone-shaped head found in Chile, believed by some to be the remains of an alien, is actually a female human baby who likely had a handful of rare genetic mutations, a study has found.
The skeleton, nicknamed Ata, was in a leather pouch when she was discovered behind an abandoned church in a deserted mining town in the Atacama Desert in 2003.
She was just 15.2 centimetres long and had 10 pairs of ribs rather than the usual 12.
Ata’s bone age was also accelerated, leading experts to initially estimate she was six to eight years old.
Speculation spread that Ata was an extraterrestrial life form or preserved non-human primate. (Supplied: Emery Smith)
Speculation spread that Ata was an extraterrestrial life form or preserved non-human primate, and 2013 documentary Sirius questioned whether Ata could be evidence of alien life.
But her appearance could be explained by rare genetic mutations linked to dwarfism, scoliosis and other bone and growth disorders, forensic analysis of Ata’s genome by scientists at the University of California San Francisco and Stanford University, published in journal Genome Research, has found.
“We now know that it’s a child, and probably either a pre- or post-term birth and death,” Garry Nolan, who began studying Ata in 2012 after a friend called saying he may have found an “alien”, said.
The skeleton’s intact condition suggested it was likely no more than 40 years old, Dr Nolan said.
He said he hoped further research into Ata’s precocious bone ageing could benefit patients in the future.
“Maybe there’s a way to accelerate bone growth in people who need it, people who have bad breaks,” he said.
“Nothing like this had been seen before.
“Certainly, nobody had looked into the genetics of it.”
Dr Nolan called for Ata’s remains to be returned to their country of origin and “buried according to the customs of the local people”.