They're not entirely uncommon. Ancient skulls found with elongated heads that resemble that of what many recognize as the "gray alien." A church in a ghost town called La Noria was the spot where Chilean Hunter Osca Munoz discovered a tiny skeleton with the same familiar elongated shape. Immediately the mummy became a source of speculation.
"Ata" the name the mummified skeleton from the Atacama Desert where it was found, it turns out, may not be an alien after all. Some researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University say that "Ata" was actually a premature baby whose misshapen head was due to a hereditary disease. The results of their research have been published in the journal Genome Research.
As far as speculation goes, it's still unclear whether the baby was stillborn or died shortly after being delivered. During the five-year-long investigation, scientists discovered several genetic mutations. These mutations were purportedly the cause of malformations of the bones and skull, short stature, scoliosis, the appearance of ten pairs of ribs as well as deformations of the muscles and bones.
Scientists used references genome samples from chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys to rule out the skull being animal rather than human. Genomic samples showed that the baby was indeed Chilean in heritage. Extracted material from ribs was used for gene sequencing. Chromosomal analysis showed that Ata was a girl. Oddly, Ralph Lachman of the Department of Pediatric Radiology at Stanford discovered that several parts of the girl's bones actually appeared to be those of a 6 to 7-year-old.
The final conclusion the team reached was that Ata suffered from a rare form of bone degeneration which results in advanced aging of bones. The mummification allowed for the preservation of the child's skeleton which made research more feasible. Furthermore, it was estimated that Ata died only about 40 years ago.
Munoz, who discovered the mummy, never disclosed exactly how or where he found the mummy. He claims he found the body wrapped in a white cloth with a purple ribbon inside a leather bag. The fact that the skeleton was discovered near a church and graveyard in this manner has led some to theorize that this could have been connected to a case of attempted grave robbery which is common in the area.
Some researchers are now considering that Ata had a ritual burial but was then removed from her final resting place by grave robbers who were wishing to sell the remains. Munoz himself sold the mummy to an antique dealer. Ata had changed hands several times with the last buyer being a Spanish collector. A call for the baby's skeleton to be returned to Chile for a proper burial "according to the customs of the local people" will hopefully be heeded so that Ata's remains may rest in peace.