Original article in Spanish: https://pensar.org/2024/01/de-la-sensacion-a-la-condena-la-historia-detras-de-las-denominadas-momias-de-nazca/
On September 12, at a Public Hearing in the Mexican Congress on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, ufologist Jaime Maussan unboxed what he claims were the desiccated bodies of two "non-human beings". On November 8, he repeated the visit in a second hearing that dealt with these supposed beings. However, the first one was enough to turn Mexico’s parliamentary seat into the epicenter of an earthquake that left no one in the dark. This article explores the background of the events surrounding these and other remains that form the backbone of the history of the infamous "tridactyl mummies of Nazca".
In addition to tridactyly, they have a whitish coating, which, according to the promoters of the case, is composed of diatomaceous earth. Only the most famous were baptized: Maria and Wawita are "hybrid beings" -adult and baby, respectively-; Josefina, Alberto, Victoria, Luisa, Clara, Mauricio, Edgarda and Artemis are 60 cm "humanoid reptiles".
In early October, two new specimens of the latter "species" were seized at DHL facilities when they were to be shipped from Palpa, Peru, to Mexico. The Minister of Culture, Leslie Urteaga, directed the process and affirmed that they would be analyzed, since they could be part of a network that traffics in pre-Hispanic remains.
The controversy lies in the authenticity of the remains. On the one hand, there is the position of the professionals -supported by those who promote the case- who advocate for the authenticity and investigation of these "beings". On the other hand, the scientific community warns that the remains correspond to pre-Columbian mummies that have been manipulated, and even mutilated, for commercial exploitation.
However, it is paradoxical that the common trait among the defenders of the authenticity of these remains is the inexperience in the study and conservation of ancient mummies. It is also incongruous that this alleged "great find" has been dismissed by the scientific community and that no analysis has been published in prestigious indexed journals. In contrast, the dissemination of these results has passed without any academic scrutiny on the website of one of the groups promoting the case.
This has not prevented the mummies from making headlines, viral videos, ufological congresses, segments in television programs, documentaries that deal with paranormal phenomena or hearings in the Mexican Congress. On the contrary, it has motivated the dissemination of Galileo’s fallacy -a commonly used flag in pseudosciences- in order to justify academic opposition and indifference.
The following are some of the objections and objections raised in defense of the authenticity of these remains.
"The skeleton of the mummies shows perfect harmony. There is concordance between the joints, the end part of each bone is perfectly coupled with the bone that follows it."
The CT scans and X-rays, analyzed by experts from different countries, confirm that Maria and Wawita are pre-Hispanic human mummies. Regarding Wawita, one of the radiologists that integrated the initial investigation team, affirmed that the fingers and toes were mutilated. As for Maria, the forensic archaeologist Flavio Estrada points out that the phalanges and metacarpals of the thumb and little fingers and toes were removed. Likewise, to lengthen the toes, they added phalanges of hands. Dr. Maricarmen Vega agrees with this conclusion, adding that a similar procedure was performed on the hands. In separate lectures, they both demonstrated that the added bones do not mate with the original bones of the hands and feet.
According to specialists, X-rays and CT scans of the 60 cm bodies reveal a rudimentary assemblage composed of splintered human and animal bones, as well as joints lacking mobility. They also highlight the remarkable variations in bone density observed in the same skeleton, indicating that the bones belong to different sub-adult individuals. These conclusions have been presented in several conferences and informative articles.
"No specialist from the scientific community has conducted an in situ analysis of the mummies. To date, those who oppose the case have only reviewed images circulating on the internet."
Paleoradiology is one of the most important disciplines in the study of mummies. Its various procedures, such as radiography or computed tomography, make it possible to analyze skeletal remains or mummified tissues without damaging them. This, together with the digital transmission of the images obtained (DICOM files) through these procedures, has standardized remote analysis. Regardless of the location of the computer from which this material is accessed, the conclusions will be the same. That’s how the specialists demystified the skeletons of these bodies, by analyzing DICOM files and high-resolution images.
"The presence of the brain in the skulls of small mummies rules out any possibility that they were assembled."
Paleontologist Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, forensic archaeologist Flavio Estrada, forensic veterinarian Jhon Islachin and French paleontologist Julien Benoit have pointed out that the skulls of these bodies were made from the skull of South American camelids. They add that the "face" was worked on the occipital region of skulls extracted from pre-Hispanic burials, which explains why the brain remains inside the neurocranium.
"If the mummies have been modified, why does radiocarbon dating indicate that they are ancient remains?"
Because ancient remains have been manipulated. This conclusion is supported by paleontologist Rodolfo Salas-Gismondi, French anthropologist Alain Froment, bioarchaeologist Elsa Tomasto, forensic anthropologist Flavio Estrada, forensic veterinarian Jhon Islachin, Russian paleontologist Alexey Bondarev and French paleontologist Julien Benoit. Making forgeries from ancient material is not a sui generis activity. The documentary Der Spanische Meister (The Spanish Forger, 2016), from the German channel Deutsche Welle, addresses this issue and highlights the importance of technical and scientific review in cases involving the promotion and trade of cultural goods. On the other hand, the looting is the most widespread way of obtaining archaeological material in the region of the alleged find. The documentary Peru’s City of Ghosts (The Nazca Enigma, 1999), produced by the BBC and Discovery Channel, shows the massive trail of destruction left by looting in the desert of Cahuachi, in Ica.
"Analysis reveals mummies have DNA of unknown origin."
All reports highlight that the samples have a high degree of contamination. This leads to a greater variety of impurities, including DNA that is not yet catalogued in current databases. Therefore, the presence of uncatalogued DNA is not an extraordinary finding and attributing an "unknown origin" to it is ambiguous and biased. However, the samples also contain - although in minor proportions- human DNA. Dr. Lars Fehren-Schmitz, founding member of the UCSC Human Paleogenomics Lab, reviewed the reports and noted that all agree that the DNA of the specimen under study is human. Dr. Elsa Tomasto detailed these conclusions in the conference "Searching for ET - Myths and Frauds in Intergalactic Contacts", held in the auditorium of the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru.
"The laboratories that performed the DNA analysis on the mummies would not risk their prestige in a crude fraud."
The laboratories only do the work for which they are paid. Hence, none of them has made a statement to endorse the authenticity of these remains. This is evidenced in the communiqué issued by the UNAM to disassociate itself from any misinterpretation of the radiocarbon dating of alleged samples of these mummies.
"The mummies have not been modified because it is impossible for huaqueros to be able to "put together" a mummy."
To consider a group of huaqueros as the only ones responsible for the modification of these remains would be a false dilemma. The truth is that a project of this nature is not impossible to carry out. As examples, it is enough to mention two investigations that Jaime Maussan promoted in previous years: the Being of Metepec and the Fairy of Mexico. Both "specimens" were submitted to radiological and DNA analysis in laboratories in different countries. At the time, Jaime Maussan assured that they were "hybrid creatures" and that his research was "an event that could change our history". It is now known that both bodies were elaborated by expert taxidermists.
"The scientific community opposes the case because the investigation of these bodies would rewrite human history and have a global impact on a political, religious and social level."
To address this assertion, we will quote the statements of French anthropologist Alain Froment, PhD in anthropology from the University of Paris and former scientific director of the Musée de l’Homme. In October 2017, he gave an interview on this subject.
"Any scientist who wanted to publish this discovery [...] would ridicule himself. That is the reason why it has not been published [...] It may appear in the media, continue on the Internet, we understand why, because there is a clear interest of people in the subject. But from a strictly scientific point of view, after having analyzed and dismantled the structure of these skeletons, there is no matter for publication".
In this context, it is pertinent to shed light on the sum of efforts that cemented the notoriety that these remains currently enjoy.
Inkarri was the first collective to become involved in the investigation. This NGO based in Cusco, Peru, is chaired by French explorer Thierry Jamin -recognized in Peru for attempting, ten years ago, to excavate Machu Picchu. At the beginning of 2017, Inkarri launched the-alien-project.com - the closest thing to the official website of the mummies - and an online donation campaign that raised EUR 39 510. According to the overview, the funds raised would pay for the analysis of the first "recovered" remains that appeared on the Internet at the end of 2016.
Gaia is a subscription-based streaming platform that addresses topics lacking scientific backing, such as mysticism, contacteeism, conspiracy theories and the New Age movement. In 2017 it launched a documentary series on the investigation of these remains. It should be added that it also financed and managed a large part of the analyses that were carried out in the early years. According to the annual report published by Gaia, the programming at the time contributed to the increase in subscriptions by 80% compared to the previous year.
Jaime Maussan is an experienced Mexican ufologist. Many of the investigations and reports of sightings that he divulged in his programs and Mexican media resulted in controversial mistakes that dented his credibility. A few months after the case jumped to the Internet, he began to spread it through his program Tercer Milenio, social networks, television interventions and ufological congresses. Since 2017, some of Maussan’s productions are part of Gaia’s on demand repertoire, including a series on the case.
The genesis lies in the "story" of a huaquero nicknamed Mario, who claims to have extracted the remains from a cave located in the intangible polygonal area inscribed on the World Heritage List of the Nasca Lines. There is no archaeological context or record of pre-Hispanic remains that have been subjected to this mummification technique. When the inspection of the site indicated by Mario was carried out, no archaeological evidence of funerary characteristics was found. Likewise, the file refers that the supposed place of the finding was raised in recent times, probably "as a result of mining activity".
Mario’s real name is Leandro Benedicto Rivera Sarmiento. According to the newspaper Los Andes, in 2007 he was captured in Puno together with ten people for swindling under the modality of the "waterfall story, gold tumi and the theft of species". In 2010, different media outlets accused him of being a member of the Palpeños de Ica gang, dedicated to looting archaeological remains of the Nasca culture. On January 28, 2018, the program 66 Minutes of the French channel M6 broadcasted a report on the Nasca mummies. The fourteen minutes of the investigation take place between Cusco, Ica and Lima; where they conduct some interviews and gain access to the mummies. The most revealing part is exposed in a conversation recorded with a hidden camera, where Mario claims to have another mummy valued at USD 100,000.
In 2017, following reports of excavation in an area of intangibility, the Ministry of Culture (Mincul) and the Public Prosecutor’s Office conducted proceedings that resulted in the formalization of a complaint. On April 19, 2022, the Judiciary sentenced Leandro Benedicto Rivera Sarmiento to four years of imprisonment and the payment of PEN 25 000 for the crime against cultural property in the modality of attacks against Archaeological Monuments to the detriment of the State.
Since the mummies burst onto the Internet, their whereabouts were immersed for more than two years in a halo of uncertainty and secrecy. The uncertainty ended in August 2019 when the vice-rectorate of the San Luis Gonzaga de Ica National University (UNICA) decided to house four of the baptized mummies at its headquarters. This fact was made official three months later in the framework of an annual congress (CONINTI) organized by the vice rectorate. The speakers in charge of presenting the case were their own promoters: Jaime Maussan and Thierry Jamin. The exposition about the remains was in charge of two professionals who guarantee their authenticity: José de la Cruz Ríos López and Dimitri Galietski. Both were part of the team of professionals that starred in the documentaries produced by Maussan and Gaia.
On the other hand, despite their lack of expertise and experience in the analysis of mummies, four professors announced at the same event that they would analyze the bodies to determine their authenticity. The paradoxical thing is that UNICA archaeologists did not participate in the investigation of this archaeological find. The reason goes back to the beginning of 2019, when the professors and the Student Center of the Professional School of Archaeology spoke out against the investigation in their house of studies.
The Mincul and various academics have pointed out that the investigation lacks the authorizations required by the legal framework. That is to say, the excavation at the discovery site, the extraction and subsequent export of samples, the analysis and the current custody were carried out without any permit. This constant has established informality as a distinctive feature of the case. That is why since they arrived at UNICA, the Mincul has requested, without success, the pertinent regularization and the delivery of the archaeological remains. The irregularities do not seem to worry the promoters. On the contrary, they support the investigation and maintain that Mincul does not want the truth to be known and plans to destroy the remains.
It should be noted that for several years UNICA has been plunged into a crisis marked by a series of accusations and legal proceedings against its authorities. As a result, the institutional management and the student body have faced severe repercussions. In October 2019, the National Superintendence of University Higher Education denied the institutional licensing for not meeting the basic quality conditions. After struggling for more than two years, the university corrected some of its deficiencies and obtained the license.
In the middle of the year, the authorities who opened the doors to these remains were removed amid serious accusations. However, in the second hearing in the Mexican Congress, one of the professors in charge of the investigation presented a pronouncement from the university. It concluded that "the dessicated bodies are completely authentic" and "show no signs of having been manipulated or modified in any way". The paradox is that the interim rector, who signed that document, was also removed for irregularities in his appointment.
The pronouncements of experts on mummies -although sporadic and chronologically dispersed- converge in a unanimous rejection that elucidates the reason for the academic indifference towards the investigation of these bodies. The scientific community has repeatedly warned that these are pre-Hispanic remains whose appearance has been modified for media purposes.
In light of the above, we gathered the opinion of Miguel Botella López, Professor Emeritus of Physical Anthropology at the University of Granada and one of the world’s leading experts in physical and forensic anthropology. His career includes notable contributions to paleoanthropology, such as the analysis of Neanderthal remains; as well as the analysis of the remains of Christopher Columbus, his younger brother Diego and his son Hernando. In addition, he led the team that -with the support of tomographic analysis- diagnosed two carcinomas in two Egyptian mummies, making them the oldest documented cases of breast cancer and multiple myeloma. In the field of forensic anthropology, he has collaborated with the authorities of several countries in solving cases and identifying victims of drug trafficking and armed conflicts.
In response to the dissemination of the narrative attributing an alleged anomalous nature to these remains, he stated the following:
It is something that deeply outrages me. It seems unbelievable that something so crude could have been proposed. And even worse, that there have been people who can reach such a high level of credulity in the face of something that is clearly a crude and gross fraud to the point of unspeakable. This matter could well have been the subject of jokes if it had been raised as such, but it has already gone beyond the limits and it is necessary to say, without the slightest hesitation, that it is nothing but a manipulation of human remains mixed with animal bones, with the intention of deliberately deceiving people willing to believe anything, no matter how simple and crude it may be. It could perhaps be forgiven that an unwary person could fall into the trap of a fraudulent manipulation, but in this case it is not possible to think at all that it was something of innocent people who were deceived. No, it is an intentional fraud that has been created and hosted by people who live off the tale. And on top of that, they claim a false scientism, try to convince that they provide unsustainable evidence and deliberately manipulate the information without the slightest modesty. All this, without taking into account that, in all likelihood, they are ancient remains of heritage value.
My message to young people who need explanations about many of the things that surround them would be not to try to find answers where there are none. We cannot understand everything we do not know, and it is not necessary to resort to foreign elements to try to clarify them. Science provides new knowledge every day, but it is not necessary to resort to strange elements to explain our vision of the world, and much less to appeal to such evident supertruths as the one that concerns us.
In short, I reiterate that it is a crude and intentional manipulation of human and animal remains, to offer the vision of supposed beings that have been the subject of so many sensationalist news that should not even have been given the slightest attention.
It is evident that the acceptance of the case in the scientific community will always be a chimera. The reasons why it became popular in ufological circles are obvious, and the illusory possibility that these confirm a wide spectrum of beliefs will continue to drive its dissemination for a long time to come. Nevertheless, its notoriety evidences that the dissemination ended up catapulting its plot to the altars of modern myths.
Luca is an article writer, member of the Secular Humanist Society of Peru and collaborator of the Russian sciences popularization project Anthropogenesis.