Fact Check: Atacama Skeleton Is NOT An Alien -- It's Human Fetus

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Atacama Skeleton Is NOT An Alien -- It's Human Fetus DNA Analysis

Does a picture on social media of a tiny skeleton found in Chile's Atacama Desert show an "alien creature from another planet"? No, that's not true: The skeleton in question has been extensively studied. Scientific analysis, including DNA testing, has determined that the mummified body is of human origin and likely represents the remains of a human female fetus with severe skeletal abnormalities caused by multiple mutations associated with bone disease.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on Instagram by jerryscience on February 1, 2024, under the title "In 2003, this 6-inch-long skeleton was found in an abandoned town in Chile." The post's caption said:

While the skeleton was initially thought to be that of a premature baby, x-rays showed that the bone development in the knees were equivalent to that of an 8-year-old child. Because of the inconsistencies between the anatomy of the skeleton and a typical human, many have debated that this is not a human, but an alien creature from another planet.
Tag someone

This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of writing:


(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Fri Feb 2 17:13:13 2024 UTC)

The skeleton

The tiny body, known as the Atacama humanoid skeleton or Ata, was discovered in the deserted mining town of La Noria in the Atacama region of Chile in 2003, according to a Genome Research paper (archived here) published in April 2018.

A Google News search (archived here) shows Ata has been widely studied and written about in the more than two decades since its discovery. The paper titled "Whole-genome sequencing of Atacama skeleton shows novel mutations linked with dysplasia" includes these photos:


(Source: National Library of Medicine screenshot taken on Fri Feb 2 18:23:03 2024 UTC)

Another collection of pictures, provided by Stanford University researcher Garry Nolan, was published on the Science website (archived here) on May 3, 2013, in a story called "Bizarre 6-Inch Skeleton Shown to Be Human." The images are below:


(Source: Science screenshot taken on Fri Feb 2 18:37:58 2024 UTC)

Nolan, who was involved in the research previously cited in this story, also co-authored another paper, titled "The Atacama skeleton" (archived here), which was published in the scientific journal Genome Research in 2018. The paper, reportedly scrutinized multiple times prior to publication, concluded that peer-reviewed DNA analysis makes "it possible to determine definitively that the DNA we obtained from the skeleton was that of a modern human ..."

By showing beyond a doubt that this is the skeleton of a Chilean human female, the current study and previous work at Stanford in 2013 have at last provided a definitive scientific basis to put a stop to unscientific accounts of the skeleton's true human nature and to accord it the dignity it deserves. As noted, we believe our results underscore the importance of a larger discussion on such samples, including other human remains in anthropological studies currently being discussed in the press.

This was a girl with many DNA mutations, not anything more exotic. Further functional studies of these alterations may lead to a clearer understanding of the genes that regulate bone development and might help the world diagnose and treat other children with genetic diseases driving bone growth abnormalities.

Read more

Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims involving aliens can be found here.

Want to inform others about the accuracy of this story?

See who is sharing it (it might even be your friends...) and leave the link in the comments.:

  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

About Us

International Fact-Checking Organization Meta Third-Party Fact Checker

Lead Stories is a fact checking website that is always looking for the latest false, misleading, deceptive or inaccurate stories, videos or images going viral on the internet.
Spotted something? Let us know!.

Lead Stories is a:


Subscribe to our newsletter

* indicates required

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Lead Stories LLC:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Most Read

Most Recent

Share your opinion