So part of the Pedal Powered Anthropology project is to help laypeople better understand science. Particularly anthropology and its subfields, but since anthropology can conceivably cover anything ever, it’s all fair game as far as I’m concerned.
So let’s start now.
Hoaxes and pseudoscience aren’t unfamiliar topics, and I’m pretty confident that anyone who finds their way to this blog have come across a plethora of the stuff. Bigfoot and Nessy sightings and the associated hoaxes are probably the most commonly known. They’ve been around for pretty much ever.
Nowadays, however, it’s a bit different. With relatively little effort, a pretty cool looking hoax can be created, and (with the internet!) it can be distributed anywhere in the world. That kind of attention is unprecedented, and people seeking to make a name or following for themselves and maybe make a few bucks by preying on the uninformed have never had so many tools at their disposal.
But, most of these hoaxes fall apart under the smallest bit of scrutiny. Less than five minutes of research on google can let you know a lot about a topic, and about the individuals behind it–for good or bad. The problem is, people tend not to bother. So I’m gonna spend a few minutes talking about that friggin’ Peruvian “alien mummy” that’s been floating around since maybe early last week or so.
I started having people post on my personal facebook asking if I had seen it, or if I have any thoughts about it. Then later the same day, those friends who are often posting stuff from…lets say questionable sources, were posting the same video on their own walls, which got lots and lots of “wow” reactions from their friends.
Here’s a link to it. See for yourself if you’d like. But here’s an image if you don’t want to watch it or are sick of seeing it:
Now, my first reaction, before even watching the video, is that mummys don’t look like that. This thing looks like a bunch of modern plaster, slapped together over maybe some kind of frame. The skin of a mummy is leathered from the sun, not dipped in plaster. So that’s an obvious red flag. Doesn’t look like a mummy, doesn’t “look old.”
Next are the fingers and head. Peruvians were known to reshape skulls, so even though I wasn’t close to buying this anyway, the head shape wasn’t super surprising to me. Human fingers, though, don’t look like that. I’m not a specialist on pathological bone conditions of the fingers, but generally speaking, they’re too long, and there are too few. That’s a selling point for this, though. The amount of joints in the fingers coupled with the fewer digits “match no known pathology” or something like that. It also claims the mummy is carbon dated to between 245-410 CE. That’s concerning to me for reasons I’ll get to later.
Seeing as how the mummy looks like rough plaster, it’s not super duper convincing to me. I watched the video. I still don’t buy it. But now I want to know what’s up with it. Who put this video out there, what’s their background, what other outlets are sharing this.
Unsurprisingly, conspiracy sites that perpetuate such garbage as giants, flat earth, and the like are the only “news” outlets who’ve gotten wind of it. I posted a link on a facebook group I’m in that kinda picks apart and pokes fun at obvious pseudoscience in archaeology. One of the individuals in the group knew the name of the “journalist” who broke the story, Jaimie Maussan. In 1997 he pulled a similar stunt with a similar body he claimed was alien (it turned out to be a desiccated monkey).
I remembered seeing this story a while back, but I didn’t realize it was the same guy. I’ve yet to find sources for all of this stuff, but he’d also apparently created other hoaxes using plaster, chicken bones, and period-accurate human bones (for the carbon dating).
Another guy pointed out the CT Scans shown in the video. I just replayed it and took some shots from my computer so you don’t have to go hunting if you don’t want. Check this out:
So now it’s becoming painfully obvious to me that this is a hoax. What consensus among archaeologists seems to be is that the hands and feet were created using the hand bones found in the flippers of some marine mammal. That seems about right. Hoaxes have been perpetrated using period-specific bones, and that’s of particular concern here, for a few reasons.
They were dated and found to be as old as the year 245. You can’t get that from something that isn’t from that time period. So the inside of this thing is either human or animal remains inside of what’s essentially a pinata (could they have used a mummy for greater believability?), or the results themselves are fabricated. There is no other option.
If the results are true, then it constitutes the desecration of human remains and antiquities, and the destruction of ancient cultural artifacts. Even if they’re animal remains, it’s still the destruction of antiquities. That is literally criminal and should be treated as such.
Best case scenario, Jaimie Maussan is intentionally misleading a following already prone to believing him and stories like this in general. You can argue that it’s harmless, but is it?
We live in an era of gross misinformation, and it ranges from silly home remedies about putting an onion next to your computer, to VOTERS IN NORTH CAROLINA VOTING DOWN A SOLAR FARM BECAUSE THEY WERE LED TO BELIEVE IT WOULD SOAK UP ALL THE SUN AND KILL THE CROPS. I can go on, but I think you can see a pattern already.
Like I said earlier, seemingly believable stories and hoaxes can be created and widely distributed and gain a following before any legitimate expert or even curious academic in an unrelated field can scrutinize it with some honest research. It takes minutes. This entire post probably took me about 40 minutes, and I rewatched a 6 minute video clip one and a half times and did some quick searches to make sure I wasn’t confusing anything.
It’s so, so easy to do research and cut through this. But it’s also extremely easy to set up a web presence that looks and feels official, and there are no shortage of quacks and disingenuous individuals who have honest degrees and don’t mind either undermining academia or just perpetuating this garbage for the money. These people publish books and have tv shows. There is money in pseudoscience. But there’s also widespread misinformation that is now influencing public policy and education.
I’m not telling anybody what to believe or not to believe. I’m just saying that you owe it to your own intellectual integrity to question the fantastic. Find proper news and preferably academic sources for what’s being claimed. It becomes easier and easier to spot. Just look how lazy Maussan was in leaving the 1997 date and identical time stamp on the CT scans for what’s supposedly a discovery from 2017.
These things do not stand up to scrutiny. The proponents and supporters and those who simply want to believe will hammer it into you without hesitating. But just look into it. Search for yourself. Check google scholar or any reputable distributor of scientific information–it doesn’t even have to be an academic journal. If the experts in the field are either not talking about it, or are actively discrediting it, it’s time to be skeptical.