The producers of Ancient Aliens have done something unique. In episode 6 of the current season, “The Science Wars,” aired 2 June 2017, they conducted a scientific investigation of an elongated skull purported to be from the Paracas region of Peru. An eminent and highly qualified scientist, Dr. Todd Disotell, participated in the effort. Jason Colavito has posted a review of the full episode (1).
I give the producers of this episode credit for subjecting an artifact to laboratory examinations and seeking a competent scientist to advise them. Unfortunately, instead of precise and systematic research I believe we witnessed the genesis of myth-information. The DNA isolation effort was only partially successful and the results were characterized by Dr. Disotell as not definitive, but that did not inhibit wild speculation. My concern is that although there was agreement more work is warranted, the necessary experiments might never be performed and published. Instead, some half-baked presumptions based on a single, incomplete examination and findings that make “no sense whatsoever” will be allowed to stand as facts.
Fantastic claims regarding the nature of the Paracas skulls publicized outside peer-reviewed scientific journals are not new (2). Perhaps the Ancient Aliens producers will provide enough support to enable Dr. Disotell to complete the essential experiments and produce a formal scientific publication to enable the independent evaluation of his methods and conclusions. Have we witnessed a significant set of new discoveries or will the results turn out to be an embarrassing artifact? We have assertions that some long-established ideas regarding human migration history and more might need to be re-evaluated. Perhaps they do – let’s see the data.
Is it possible the results in hand reveal the skull was from something that was not human? Sure, that works provided you ignore the data actually in hand which shows the mother was human and choose to believe the complete lack of information confirms its father must have been an alien. An absence of data inevitably invites speculation, but as Dr. Barry Starr demonstrates, extrapolation of incomplete mitochondrial genetic profile results may lead the unwary to absolutely absurd conclusions (3). Imagine you had obtained a sample of mitochondrial DNA from President Barack Obama. Conclusions based on it alone would suggest Mr. Obama is unequivocally Caucasian because mitochondrial DNA can reveal only the genetic lineage of his mother. However, because we know his father was African, we immediately understand mitochondrial DNA testing results have some serious limitations.
A scientific investigation that uncovers half a story is useless at best and misleading at worst. Unfortunately, for this effort we do not even have half the story, but that may be enough to catalyze some enduring myths.
(1) Jason Colavito Blog, 6 June 2017. http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/review-of-ancient-aliens-s12e06-the-science-wars
(2) R. Chase. 2014. Calm Down, the Paracas Skulls Are Not From Alien Beings. Peru This Week, 13 February 2014. http://www.peruthisweek.com/blogs-calm-down-the-paracas-skulls-are-not-from-alien-beings-102258
(3) B. Starr. 2013. DNA Ancestry Tests: Simultaneously Powerful and Limited. KQED Science, 8 April 2013. https://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2013/04/08/dna-ancestry-tests-simultaneously-powerful-and-limited/