What’s The Real Deal About The Atacama "Alien"? (IFLScience! 17 July 2014)
Researchers made a mysterious discovery in Chile’s Atacama Desert in 2003. This tiny skeleton looked human, but had many features that left scientists scratching their heads. When the images hit the internet, many people assumed the only explanation could be aliens. Thankfully, more reasonable heads prevailed and the remains were subjected to a battery of forensic testing in order to identify how this anomalous skeleton, nicknamed Ata, came to be.
So what made this specimen so peculiar? For starters, the skeleton was only 15 centimeters (6 inches) long. Many initially speculated that the remains were from a premature birth or miscarried fetus, though others disregarded the whole thing as a hoax.
Ata’s size isn’t the only thing that perplexed researchers; a host of physical deformities did not make it entirely clear if the skeleton is human or a non-human primate. Humans have 12 ribs, but this individual only had 10. The skull indicated the organism could have had turricephaly, which gives the head a cone-shaped appearance (which really didn’t help dissuade people from thinking Ata was an alien). Additional deformity of the face and jaw made the head look squished, giving it an appearance that was even further away from a typical human.