Mystery of 'Ata the alien' solved by DNA research
When a bizarre 15cm skeleton was discovered buried in a leather pouch behind an abandoned church in the Atacama Desert of Chile in 2003, it baffled the world.
The tiny figure had a cone-shaped head, the bones of a six-year-old and 10 pairs of ribs instead of the usual 12, leading to speculation that its origin could be extraterrestrial.
But now, after genetic analysis of the little mummy - nicknamed 'Ata' - scientists have concluded that its home planet is definitely Earth.
Test carried out by experts at Stanford University and the University of California confirmed the skeleton is a human female baby, who suffered an array of genetic mutations and probably did not survive long after birth.
Dr Garry Nolan, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, began the scientific exploration of Ata in 2012. "I had heard about this specimen through a friend. There were extraordinary claims put forward, and I managed to get a picture of it," said Dr Nolan. "You can't look at this specimen and not think it's interesting. So I told my friend, 'Look, whatever it is, if it's got DNA, I can do the analysis'."
The team took DNA from bone marrow in Ata's ribs, and compared it to human and primate genomes. It showed the mummy was human, and female, with a mix of Native American and European ancestry.