Archive for the ‘ New Age ’ Category

An underwater city west of Cuba

Underwater pyramids west of Cuba

A computer-generated image of the supposed pyramids and other city features west of Cuba

Whatever happened to this story? Back in December 2001, the media were abuzz with claims that “explorers… have discovered what they think are the ruins of a submerged city built thousands of years ago”. It was a big claim that got attention from respectable sources, such as National Geographic, as well as the more woo-woo crowd, such as Linda Moulton Howe of cattle mutilating aliens conspiracy fame. The news was greeted with delight by those who believe Atlantis to have been a real place rather than a political fable by Plato. More specifically, it appealed to those who, following the supposed psychic medium Edgar Cayce (1877–1945), believe Bimini in the Bahamas to be a part of the sunken island.

Sonar data supposedly showing sunken structures

The initial side-scan sonar data supposedly showing sunken structures

What were the claims based on? In 2000, Paulina Zelitzki and Paul Weinzweig, owners of Advanced Digital Communications (a company that appears not to have a website), were one of four companies commissioned by the Cuban government to undertake sonar surveys off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula at the western tip of the island. Advanced Digital Communications had previously had success in locating the remains of the USS Maine, which sank under mysterious circumstances in Havana Harbour in 1898, during the Spanish-American war. It was hoped that they could locate further sunken ships. They were astonished to find in the survey off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula that some of the sonar images appeared to depict symmetrical features aligned to a grid. This prompted them to undertake a second survey, using a submersible robot. It was this second survey that returned data that seemed to show pyramids and other structures. Indeed, according to Paulina Zelitsky, the images suggested that the “city” was built from blocks of cut and polished granite.

An analogue of the Face on Mars?

An analogue of the Face on Mars under the sea off Cuba?

Here, at last, was something that seemed to be good physical evidence for the existence of an advanced civilisation at a time when sea levels were much lower (the inference being that this would have been during the Pleistocene Ice Age). Some of the claims repeated on the web included the identification of a sphinx, a structure resmbling Stonehenge and a monument identical to the “Face on Mars”. All of this is under 600-750 m (2000-2500 feet) of water, a very long way down indeed. It was so deep that it caused problems for the Advanced Digital Communications team, who could not explore the site in the detail needed to confirm their ideas.

In order to get better data, Paulina Zelitsky began raising funds for a third expedition to the site. It was announced in October 2004, in a story that seems not to have been picked up by the world’s media (although various New Age and fringe type websites noted it), but “they could not complete the mission due to technical deficiencies of the submarine that rendered it unable to take images from the marine bottom”. One wonders why they went under-equipped when on the verge of so important a discovery. Nevertheless, Zelitsky announced that they would be returning in 2005, with funding from National Geographic Society. Since then, silence (apart from its inevitable appearance on Ancient Aliens).

Problems, of course

Pleistocene sea levels around western Cuba

Pleistocene sea levels around western Cuba: pale blue shows exposed land now under water, while the approximate position of the site discovered by Paulina Zelitsky is marked with a yellow cross

The depth of the alleged remains is the biggest problem of all: during the Pleistocene, sea levels dropped as water was locked up in the ice sheets that developed around the globe. At the maximum extent of the ice, the drop in level was around 100 m, which is very different from the 600-750 m depth of the alleged remains. At no point during the Ice Age would they have been above sea level unless, of course, the land on which they stand has sunk. This is the claim made for Atlantis: according to Plato’s account (the only primary source for it), it was destroyed σεισμῶν ἐξαισίων καὶ κατακλυσμῶν (“by violent earthquakes and floods”). However, if we take Plato at his word – as we must if we assume Atlantis to have been an historical place – the violence of its sinking makes it improbable that an entire city could have survived plunging more than 600 m into an abyss.

Remember that this was μιᾶς ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς χαλεπῆς (“in one fearful day and night”); also recall that διὸ καὶ νῦν ἄπορον καὶ ἀδιερεύνητον γέγονεν τοὐκεῖ πέλαγος͵ πηλοῦ κάρτα βραχέος ἐμποδὼν ὄντος͵ ὃν ἡ νῆσος ἱζομένη παρέσχετο (“and this is why the sea in that are is to this day impassable to navigation, which is hindered by mud just below the surface, the remains of the sunken island”). Rapid sinking would devastate structures; the persistence of mud just below the surface suggests that the sinking was not to a depth of 600-740 m. Unless we are prepared to jettison Plato’s text – the sole source for the story of Atlantis – we cannot identify the features found by Paulina Zelitsky with Atlantis.

The next problem involves trying to understand what the sonar shows. All the fancy graphics showing pyramid-like structures are computer generated: they are not photographs of things seen under the sea. All the detail is limited to the resolution of the side-scan sonar, which is not good enough to determine whether the supposed structures exhibit 90° angles, let alone confirm the claims that some stones are covered in hieroglyphs. The initial images, which do not have the three-dimensional data provided by the side-scanning sonar, show rectilinear but not rigorously right-angled features, so I suspect that the angularity of the generated images is an artefact of the processing, much like many of the details claimed for the ‘Face on Mars’. We have some interesting sonar images that are basically like ink-blot tests: they need interpreting and the interpretation is entirely dependent upon the preconceptions an biases of those looking at them. Paulina Zeltisky was predisposed to see artificiality, because that is what she was being paid to do (even if the artificiality she was specifically interested in involved sunken ships). Others have seen geological formations.

So, what happened to the story?

Although some conspiracy theorists have suggested that either Paulina Zelitsky’s findings from 2004 or 2005 were suppressed by Teh Military or she was prevented from returning to the site, again by Teh Military, in reality, the story simply went cold. Despite initial enthusiasm in some quarters, including from the Cuban marine geologist Manuel Iturralde-Vinent, experts were not convinced that Paulina Zelitsky had really discovered a sunken city. Zelitsky continues to work as an oceanographic engineer based in Ontario (Canada) and has not announced any plans since 2004 to return to the site. Although some may see this as evidence that she has been warned off it, it is more likely that she has been unable to persuade anyone to finance an expedition in search of something that in all likelihood doesn’t exist.

The story was given a new lease of life thanks to its exposure in Ancient Aliens, but no new information about it has emerged. After the initial flurry of excitement, once scientists began to look critically at the data, especially the sonar images, the story could be seen to be nothing more than hype. For anyone outside the small band of “alternative researchers” and New Age true believers, the story simply died for lack of evidence. But when did a lack of evidence ever stop woo-woos making unsupported claims?

Over 1,000 Mayan Codices discovered in museum basement”: really?

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The Dresden Codex

A page from the Dresden Codex, one of only four Maya books to survive, unless this story is true

Here’s something that seems to have passed by the mainstream archaeological news outlets. A press release by someone called Gregg Prescott MS, a Self-Growth Expert, claims that “Over 1,000 Mayan codices were discovered in the basement of a Los Angeles museum, presumably owned by Randolph Hurst [the source of this abstract wrongly gives the name as Randolph Hunt] and donated to the museum. Two other codices were found by the Maya Itza Council and have been analyzed for the past 10 years. If that’s not enough, 7 additional codices were found by a treasure hunter. Carbon dating has authenticated these sacred texts and professional photographs have been taken for the Maya Itza Council to analyze the meaning behind these lost codices”. This is a remarkable discovery, to put it mildly. So why has the archaeological community not been agog at the news?

The first problem is that we are not being given the sorts of details that help check the story. At which Los Angeles museum were the codices found? There are lots of them. Not to be told which one holds them in its collections is a worrying oversight. Secondly, what is the Maya Itzá Council? It’s difficult to find out much about it, although it seems to be affiliated to the Council of World Elders, dedicated to “Healing the Earth for World Peace”, a laudable aim that no-one other than a crazed psychopath would disagree with. It has its own museum, which is a treasure-trove of New Age wonders, including a crystal skull, dated by the Hopi people to “approx. 30 000 years of age”. The leader of the Maya Itzá Council and its representative in the Council of World Elders is a Maya named Hunbatz Men. The pronouncements of the Council seem to be taken seriously by UFO buffs and alternative spiritual practitioners. The third problem is the discovery of two codices by the Council. Where did it find them? Fourthly, what qualifications do its members have for their analysis? The decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs is still in its infancy and many puzzles remain to be solved: do members of the Maya Itzá Council have the relevant expertise to read them? The fifth problem is the identity of the treasure hunter who found seven more codices. A sixth problem revolves around the details of the radiocarbon dating. Can we see some actual dates? Which laboratory performed the analysis? Finally, no visual evidence is being offered us. Can we see some of the “professional photographs”? I’d be happy to see a photograph taken with a mobile ’phone camera!

Hunbatz Men

Hunbatz Men, leader of the Maya Itzá Council

Apparently, Hunbatz Men has asked for the codices from the unnamed museum, but “upon conferring with the museum’s curator, he was denied due to the new antiquities laws”. Those darned politicians, always putting laws about museum property in the way of genuine researchers! Why can’t they be allowed to hand over unique and priceless antiquities to the representative of a group working towards world peace? What killjoys! Apparently, “[i]t would take considerable time, around 10 years or so, to purchase these items”. It sounds like a curious museum that would even contemplate the sale of a collection of Maya codices whose contents would doubtless transform our knowledge and understanding of the Maya civilisation.

Never mind, Hunbatz Men is leading a pilgrimage of thirteen crystal skulls from Manhattan (why?), which began on 27 October 2011, and will end with a ceremony in Los Angeles on 11 November. Are any readers going to this event? It’s billed as a Gateway Event and “the Ceremony of the Thirteen Crystal Skulls, a ceremony that was last performed 26,000 years ago, will be open to the general public”. Something not to be missed. Unfortunately, I’m on the other side of the Atlantic and I’m sure that I’ll be doing something too important to miss next Friday to be able to pop across to Los Angeles to attend. Pity. Never mind, the “event is expected to be televised to 2.5 billion people. After the ceremony, the Mayan elders will speak to the world for about 30 minutes”. Perhaps I’ll catch it on the television, if I can be bothered to tune in. It will probably be at an unearthly hour, given the difference in time zones, so I may well miss it.

The thirteen crystal skulls

The thirteen crystal skulls are bringing their ancient wisdom to seed a vortex, perhaps somewhere near you!

On the way from east to west coast, the party will be “stopping at sacred power points along the way to perform ceremonies that will seed each vortex with the ancient wisdom of the Crystal Skulls”. One can only assume that these are not the dreaded vile vortices, but something much more wholesome. At least there don’t appear to be any on the North American mainland. Phew! On reaching Arizona, “there will be an historic meeting with the Hopi and Tibetan Elders at the Hopi Mesa”. I hope we’ll be told about the relevance of the Tibetan elders to this pilgrimage of nineteenth-century carved skulls. After this conclave, the group will move on (inevitably) to Sedona “to prepare for a Crystal Skull Ceremony to be held in the heart of the Red Rocks, on the land that for the Indigenous Tribes People has always been Sacred Ground”. Heady stuff!  You can even take along your own crystal skull to be blessed by Hunbatz Men.

Bernard Perona, now known as "Drunvalo Melchizedek"

Bernard Perona, now known as “Drunvalo Melchizedek”

Tied into all this is someone called Drunvalo Melchizedek, who runs something called the School of Remembering. According to the online biography on his website, he is the author of four books (The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life Volumes I & II, Living in the Heart and Serpent of Light: beyond 2012), “the first person in the world (in modern times) to mathematically and geometrically define the human body light body” [sic] and is a consultant for a magazine called Spirit of Maat. It almost goes without saying that he is a resident of Sedona.

It turns out that his real name is Bernard Perona. His books have been panned by critics. On perusing his Wikipedia page, I spotted the Flower of Life, something I’ve seen before, sent to me in several anonymous emails over the years. Intriguing. Drunvalo Melchizedek no longer runs the Flower of Life workshops, so I’m not sure about the connection. He is somehow associated with Hunbatz Men, promoting him and his pilgrimage. Everything seems to tie in to the 21 December 2012 “end” of the Maya Long Count Calendar (the correlation between the Mayan calendar and our own is not as well established as the promoters of 2012 would like it to be, though), which Melchizedek believes will also see the end of the precession of the equinoxes (although he does not explain how precession will be stopped and what cataclysmic effects this will have on the seasons that are so vital for food production).

We are quite clearly in New Age territory. New Agers aren’t known for their rigorous testing of factual claims. Indeed, they tend to pour scorn on ‘materialists’ who insist on testable evidence, preferring to rely on revealed, channelled and traditional wisdom. This makes me doubt that we’ll be shown any evidence for this miraculous discovery of a previously unknown hoard of Maya codices. If we go back to the source of the story, Gregg Prescott MS (what do those letters stand for?), we find that he’s linked to a re-release of a film 2012, promoting some very New Age ideas about the end of the Maya Long Count.

I have a faint suspicion, that I hardly dare articulate, that these codices don’t exist, at least, not in our plane of existence, and that it’s all a hoax connected with some 2012 bollocks. But it would be wrong of me to be so uncharitable, wouldn’t it?

Stop press! Update 6 November 2011, 16.27

A photograph of one of the alleged newly discovered Maya codices

One of the alleged newly discovered Maya codices, from Nohan Normark’s Archaeological Haecceities

Thanks to Johan Normark, I am going to eat my words. Some evidence has been produced for the existence of the codices (well, one of them, at least) in the form of a photograph. It’s a very odd looking Maya codex. The layout and the artwork are nothing like the four known codices. I suppose we could put that down to having only a very small sample against which to compare it. As I can’t read Maya hieroglyphs, I have no idea whether the text is readable or gibberish. But the illustrations leave me (almost) speechless. We appear to be looking at a treatise on acupuncture! The illustrations are not in a Mesoamerican style but look childish and lacking in the baroque decorative elements that are characteristic of Maya art. It seems safe to conclude that with the photograph than Johan has managed to locate, we are dealing with a very clumsy hoax.

When pseudoscientists turn nasty

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

Stars, Stones and Scholars cover

Stars, Stones and Scholars: the book

A week ago, I received an email from somebody known as Nazani who had written a review on Amazon.com. It’s of a work by Andis Kaulins, a lawyer and prolific blogger, called Stars, Stones and Scholars. Interestingly, the author reviews the book himself and gives it a five-star rating. It’s also the only review available on the Amazon.co.uk website; Nazani’s is found only on Amazon.com. I don’t understand the workings of Amazon’s review system, so I don’t know if this is usual or not for an English-language work.

The email said that “About 2 weeks ago I posted a negative review of Andis Kaulins’ book “Stars, Stones, and Scholars.” on Amazon.com.  Kaulins has responded by threatening me with a libel suit, even though the bulk  of my review was quotes from his own journal.  I’m not wooried about any suit, but I feel this bully needs to be poked with a stick.’. This is a worrying development. Of course, people can post negative reviews.

What I suspect upset the author was the start of the review (taken from the Google cache of the page): “Andis Kaulins is a nutter. From his Lexline journal…”, with the next four paragraphs of the review consisting of Kaulins’s own words. The final paragraph reads “So there you have it- you name the pre-4000 BC site, and he’s come up with some contorted explanation about why it must be incorrectly dated. Needless to say, he doesn’t accept carbon dating. There’s also a strong streak of “the Europeans/Hebrews did it first” in his theories.”.

Very clear threats from Andis Kaulins

Very clear threats from Andis Kaulins posted on Amazon.com

Kaulins posted a lengthy and threatening comment to the review, complaining “… Have you nothing better to do with your time? You sometimes allegedly review 2 or 3 books per day, obviously never reading any of them. Besides, calling someone names like this on the Internet is libel per se – a serious criminal offense – made even more blameworthy by your hiding behind an anonymous facade and not posting a single word about the book under review, but simply picking other topics out of context from other sites on the web – thereby posting original copyrighted material not belonging to you at all – a violation of the author’s copyright in addition to you4 libel offense. The question is – for what amount of money should you be sued for these offensive materials and what can you afford? A good jury might take you for every penny you have. Here is the reputation being libelled – it looks to us like a legal action against you will be a VERY expensive proposition for you. …”. There is a lot more to the comment, but I have quoted only the threatening parts.

Presumably under this threat of legal action, Nazani edited her review so that the start now reads: ““Andis Kaulins is a nutter.” I am revising this to say that Kaulins is not nuts, he is a very clever man who spends so much time blogging that it seems unlikely that he has time to conduct actual archeological research. Be sure to read his threatening reply to my review. True enough, I only skimmed through this book, but why would I want to read the work of a guy who spends so much time bad-mouthing credentialed scientists? A scientist would not threaten people who merely quoted a few of his controversial ideas. His scholarship has been criticized by Eric C. Cline (From Eden to Exile,) and researchers at the University of Chicago: [...] Kaulins may have a few valid ideas about depictions of astronomy by ancient man and the importance of the Baltic languages, but they’re getting lost in his shrill denunciations of mainstream academia. Read his bio, his own academic background is in law, not linguistics or archaeology.”.

Andis Kaulins

Andis Kaulins

Who is Andis Kaulins, apart from a lawyer who is ready to threaten somebody with legal action over a review of a book, something that strikes me as a bit of an over-reaction? According to LexiLine (“A Renaissance in Learning” – modesty is not a feature of this site!) and a number of other sources, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Nebraska (in 1968), a Juris Doctor from Stanford University Law School (1971), was a lecturer at the University of Trier from 1998 to 2002 and is currently (March 2010) a freelance Dictionary Author at Langenscheidt Fachverlag. He is clearly a very intelligent and well educated man. But as Nazani points out, his intellectual milieu is the law, not archaeology. Again, according to LexiLine, he “examines the alleged knowledge of mainstream historical science from the standpoint of evidence”, asking “What does the probative evidence actually tell us about man’s past? Does this evidence support the historical judgments that have been made by the mainstream?”.

Now, these are approaches we see in the works of several Bad Archaeologists. Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock, for instance, are very fond of holding up evidence as if they are barristers in a court of law, presenting only those bits that they believe bolster their case. This is the reverse of the way real archaeologists work: we try to deal with possible objections to our hypotheses, using evidence that at first sight appears to contradict our ideas and showing why it does not. In other ways, he is like David Rohl or Immanuel Velikovsky, in that if archaeology disagrees with the Bible, then it must be archaeology that’s at fault.

Sobekemsaf II and Montju

Sobekemsaf II and Montju: how stupid of us not to recognise that it’s really Moses and Yahweh!

Kaulins has a tendency to prejudge matters. Where there is no historical or archaeological evidence for the existence of a biblical character, he simply identifies them with somebody else. No trace of Moses in the archaeological record? Why, he’s actually known to Egyptologists as Pharaoh Sobekemsaf II of the Seventeenth Dynasty. “Very few equivalences in ancient times are so certain as the equivalence of Ramses II with King Solomon. Indeed, no mainstream scholar has been able to present even the most minimal requisite evidence necessary to rebut my challenge to current chronology”, although the url to that challenge does not work. Where the chronology worked out by ancient historians and archaeologists appears to contradict the fables of the Bible, then a new chronology must be constructed around the biblical system. Unfortunately, many of the pages dealing with chronology are missing from the LexiLine website, which makes it very difficult to find out what the “challenge to current chronology” consists of in its entirety, let alone rebut it.

Simple! Everyone else is wrong. Why on earth can’t we all see that?

Turning to the specific book that Nazani criticised, the basic thesis is outlined on Megaliths.net, “The Megaliths as Astronomy and Land Survey System”. According to the Amazon.com summary of Stars, Stones and Scholars, Andis Kaulins “shows that ancient megalithic sites are remnants of ancient local, regional and worldwide Neolithic surveys of the Earth by astronomy”. Kaulins’s own review of the book on Amazon.com says that it is “a pioneer analysis of prehistoric art, megalithic sites, astronomy, archaeology and the history of civilization”. Looking through the book, we can see that he accepts untenable ideas about the past, such as the existence of ley lines, a fantasy dreamed up in the 1920s by Alfred Watkins. He finds cup-and-ring marks on stones that depict constellations in the southern hemisphere (such as Musca) that were not defined until the sixteenth century: remember that constellations have no objective reality in the sky, that they are arbitrary groupings of unrelated stars and that different cultures make different groupings. His mangling of linguistics allows him to state that the name of Merlin – who is identified as a genius behind megalithic carvings that no-one else has yet recognised! – can be derived from a root “MER- meaning “measure, survey” in ancient Indo-European” when it comes from Welsh Myrddin, probably derived from the Brittonic placename Moridunon, now Carmarthen (Caerfyrddin in Welsh), meaning “sea fort”.

There is little point in trying to do a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal. The evidence simply does not stack up. While Andis Kaulins is evidently an accomplished lawyer and translator, I find nothing in his excursions into archaeology, ancient history and biblical exegesis that is really worth spending time on.

Update

As expected, Andis Kaulins has responded on his website, characterising my post as “libelous”. Of course, this post is not in any sense libellous. It is a criticism of Kaulins’s ideas: ideas cannot be libelled, even under the ludicrous English libel legislation.

I’m not going to do a detailed refutation of what Kaulins conisders a rebuttal of my post, simply make a few comments. Firstly, the post is not and never has been by “anonymous posters” or an “unseen foe”: my name is here for all to see beside my posts. A simple click on the About Bad Archaeology tab will tell the reader a little bit more about the writer. Pointing out that his book does not mention ley lines, he states “many of these [megalighic sites] are land survey markers sited by ancient astronomy”. It’s actually worse than that: at the very start of Chapter 1, he makes the ludicrous assertion that “All Neolithic sites in England and Wales, as marked on the Ordnance Survey map of Ancient Britain, form a map projection of the stars of the northern and southern heavens… Sites later than the Neolithic show that the ancients adjusted for precession of the solstices and equinoxes.”. There is no point in trying to refute this: just ask yourself if the Ordnance Survey Map of Ancient Britain shows “all” the sites in England and Wales that can be dated to the Neolithic period. Even if the term “ley lines” does not occur in the text, we are looking at the same concept of geodetic marking that writers such as John Michell extrapolated from ley line theory.

When it comes to the history of the constellation Musca, it simply had not been defined before 1597/8. That medieval European scholars believed that “the southern heavens contained a constellation near the pole similar to our Bear” has no bearing on the prior definition of Musca. Remember, constellations have no real existence and are defined by human convention; they vary from culture to cultura and Musca is a modern European invention. End of story!

The criticism that I am using nothing more than a folk etymology for the origin of the name Merlin is backed up by a statement in Wikipedia for which there is no citation. No alternative is given in Wikipedia, but the statement seems to come from an entry in Celtnet, which seeks to explain how the name of a poet at seems originally to have been Latinised as Lailoken, representing a Welsh Llallawg, was transformed into Myrddin. It’s that process that is described as a “false etymology”, not the derivation of Myrddin from Moridunum (although it should be noted that the writer proposes an untenably etymology for Myrddin in the next paragraph). The consensus among Celtic scholars seems to be that Merlin is a ‘ghost’ name, derived by false etymology from the Welsh placename Caerfyrddin (English Carmarthen), misunderstood as “Fort of Myrddin” instead of the correct “Fort Moridunum”.

I don’t see any reason to do a rebuttal of the “challenge to Egyptology and Astronomy, which depends on such imponderables as the assertion that “The Horus Falcon Names are a Calendar of Kings”, at least of the Archaic Period, that the cosmetic grinding hollow on the Narmer Palette is actually a representation of a solar eclipse or that, after Huni, Egyptian kings did not use the Horus name. I leave it to others better qualified in Egyptology to point out that these ideas are just plain wrong.

The “Starchild skull”: palaeopathology meets alien abduction

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

Whitley Streiber's alien

The face of the type of alien alleged to have abducted novelist Whitley Streiber, as painted by Ted Seth Jacobs

In 1987, a new image became a cultural icon: the almond-faced alien with shining black eyes that adorned the cover of Whitley Streiber’s Communion, painted by artist Ted Seth Jacobs. From that moment on, virtually every alleged encounter with alien beings reported in the English speaking world involved creatures of this type, commonly referred to as ‘Greys’. This is not the place to delve into the complex world of alien typology, but it is worth noting that Greys seem to be a largely American alien, with other regions reporting predominantly different types of creature (such as the South American preference for dwarves, the European preference for Nordics, all of which suggests a strong cultural component to the phenomenon). However, during the burgeoning of the stories of alien abduction during the 1980s and 1990s, the Grey quickly established itself as the abductor par excellence if only because the majority of abduction accounts come from North America and the USA in particular.

A Grey alien?

A Grey alien or a fake?

Photographs of Greys and other aliens are notoriously unreliable and easily faked. Many look like models (indeed, many photographs of supposed aliens touted on the web turn out to be stills taken from Hollywood films or television dramas), some are crudely retouched photographs of humans, some are misidentifications of shadows and so on, and at least one shows a dead human pilot horribly burnt following a crash (the wire rims of his spectacles are glearly visible). Photographic evidence, as so often in UFOlogy, is useless. So what other evidence might there be for their presence on earth? Not the fantasies of Erich von Däniken, who has been unable in a career spanning more than forty years, to produce a single artefact of extraterrestrial origin, despite his penchant for ascribing virtually all of humanity’s cultural achievements to assistance given by aliens. Enter the “Starchild skull”, a real enough skull that is claimed to be physical evidence for a dead alien right here on earth.

The skull is supposed to have been discovered in the 1930s by an American girl from El Paso (Texas, USA) in a mine near Copper Canyon in Mexico, about 160 km south-west of Chihuahua. After her death in the 1990s, the skull and an adult’ from the same site were given to Ray and Melanie Young who, with the assistance of Lloyd Pye, founded The Starchild Project in 1999 as Melanie, a neonatal nurse, was convinced that the skull could no be the result of ordinary human deformities. Radiocarbon dating was carried out in 2004 by Beta Analytic of Miami (FLorida, USA), which gave a determination of 900 ± 40 bp, which calibrates to Cal AD 1117 ± 59; an earlier test on the adult skull gave exactly the same result. Over the past eleven years, the Project has promoted the skull, principally to UFO and New Age groups, among which the term “star child” is used to refer to alleged human/alien hybrids or to “the next stage in human evolution”.

The so-called "Starchild skull"

The so-called ‘Starchild skull’

Such hybrids have been reported by numerous “alien abductees”, whose (usually hypnotically recovered) accounts of their abductions often refer to the aliens’ obsessive interest in their reproductive organs. Some claim to have undergone frequently painful and disturbing procedures to remove eggs and sperm; some claim to have become pregnant as a result of their treatment and subsequently to have discovered that they are no longer pregnant following a further abduction. There are accounts of abductees being shown humanoid but emotionless children during an abduction and being given impressions that these are their own offspring.

Whatever the objective reality of alien abduction experiences (and it will be no surprise that I suspect it to be a wholly subjective phenomenon), physical evidence for the existence of the aliens themselves would be a powerful support for the veracity of the abductees’ stories. So how well does the “Starchild skull” match the available descriptions of Greys? First, we have to acknowledge that we are evidently dealing with the skull of an infant (based on the eruption of maxillary teeth, it has been estimated that the individual was aged around five or six years old when it died, although if we really are dealing with an alien or even an alien/human hybrid, it is a moot point whether we can use human tooth eruption data to assign an age at death!).

A reconstruction of the appearance of the "Starchild"

A reconstruction of the appearance of the “Starchild” around the time of its death

If we assume that the dental data can be used, then we have to recognise that the development of Greys from infancy to adulthood might well involve morphological changes to the shape of the face as subcutaneous fats are redistributed. This is the “puppy fat” that gives human children rounded faces and chubby cheeks that most lose during puberty. The reconstruction shown here – made by those promoting the skull as alien, it should be noted – depicts a child of distinctly human appearance. There are problems, of course, in that we do not have a mandible with which the reconstruct the appearance of the lower part of the face, but it has to be said that the eyes are much too close together, the nose too prominent and the width of the upper part of the head proportionally much greater than would be expected if this is the skull of a genuine Grey alien. We could always argue, of course, that if it is a human/alien hybrid, then human characteristics are dominant in this individual (although this would be a post hoc rationalisation).

Lloyd Pye has had DNA tests performed on the skull in 1999 and 2003; a promised third test in 2009 has not yet been published, if it ever happened. The 2003 extraction of mitochondrial DNA (that inherited from the mother) showed it to belong to haplogroup C, a typical Native American type. Thus, the child’s mother was beyond doubt a Native American, not an alien. Intriguingly, the adult skull recovered with the child’s yielded mtDNA of haplogroup A, another Native American type, but which means that the skull cannot be that of the child’s mother, which would by definition have mtDNA of the same haplogroup. However, the team was unable to extract any nuclear DNA, which Pye insists is evidence that the father was not human, as nuclear DNA was extracted from the adult skull. However, there are greater difficulties in the extraction of nuclear DNA from ancient bone than in the extraction of mitochondrial DNA, so the lack of nuclear DNA from the “Starchild skull’ is not at all mysterious. What Pye does not dwell on are the 1999 DNA test, which identified both X and Y chromosomes, which show that the child was a boy; Y chromosomes can only be inherited from the father (men have an XY chromosome pair, women an XX chromosome pair), so the child’s father must have been as human as his mother.

So why does the skull look so unusual? Although Lloyd Pye quotes doctors who state that it cannot have been a pathological condition, he ignores similar skeletal remains that are clearly the result of hydrocephalus, a condition in which the skull fills with cerebrospinal fluid in and around the brain and which can be fatal. Another condition that can yield similar skeletal pathologies is progeria, in which symptoms resembling premature ageing are caused by a genetic mutation. The scientific evidence shows very clearly that the “Starchild skull” is that of a very sick human boy who probably died from the condition that caused the unusual pathological features of the skull. To promote this unfortunate Native American, whose remains are being displayed for public entertainment, is immoral, does an immense disservice to his memory and is something that under the American NAGPRA legislation is probably illegal.

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Israel Finkelstein

Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, Tel Aviv University

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