With their unusually shaped heads and tiny bodies, the supposed aliens shown recently to the Mexican Congress are like less cuddly versions of the eponymous main character from Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster E.T.
While they certainly look the part, are these apparently mummified bodies really the remains of extraterrestrials – or something less exciting?
Could they be part of an elaborate hoax, perhaps an assemblage of human and other animal bones designed to appear to be creatures from outer space?
Displayed in glass cases, the alleged 1,000-year-old specimens, said to have been found in the Peruvian city of Cusco, were unveiled last week to the Mexican Congress.
Dr Martin Dominik, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews, said the appearance of the latest specimens could generate scepticism.
“It’s weird how all the aliens we ever imagined, they look strikingly like humans,” he said.
“We could imagine intelligent aliens looking rather different from humans but we have this typically E.T. picture.”
Life … but not as we know it?
Dr Dominik also noted that the process of mummification distorts faces, a possible explanation for how human remains could take on an alien appearance and be misidentified as representing extraterrestrial life.
Massimiliano Vasile, a professor of space systems engineering at the University of Strathclyde, said while it was “difficult to exclude completely the possibility that aliens exist”, it was “reasonable to be sceptical” towards the claims being made in Mexico.
“It’s always worthwhile to have investigations in this case,” Prof Vasile said.
“I do not exclude the possibility that other life forms exist in the universe. I do not exclude there could be some [life forms] more advanced than us.”
When possible evidence of extraterrestrial life is found, he said that cases should be scientifically reviewed, verified, published and any supporting data made available.
“That’s how something like this should be approached and we should have access to the scientific evidence,” Prof Vasile said.
“But generally when something like this happens, we never have access to this. We don’t have data. You just have a statement. Therefore there’s no clear way of expressing judgment from a scientific point of view.”
DNA should be analysed
Reuters reported that members of the Mexican Congress were shown the two purported alien corpses by Jaime Maussan, a journalist from Mexico, as part of a hearing on UFOs.
Mr Maussan has previously presented what were believed to be the bodies of aliens, although the specimens were reportedly found to be based on monkeys or children.
With two arms, two legs and three fingers on each hand, the latest specimens are said to each come from a single skeleton, rather than a collection of bones from elsewhere. There have been reports that egg-like objects were found in one of them.
Another claim, also not verified by independent scientists, is that tests indicate the creatures have stretches of DNA unlike those found on any organism on Earth.
Dr Dominik said if there was evidence of DNA, it should be properly analysed.
“A good approach is if you find any evidence of DNA, look at it, it will tell you more,” he said. “If we don’t get any convincing picture, there’s very little reason to believe in aliens.”
Signs of life
Considerable effort is made to detect signs of alien life, including at the University of St Andrews, where Dr Dominik works.
Last year, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Post-Detection Hub, which aims to assess evidence of alien life and co-ordinate any response to it, was set up at the university.
Despite the extensive monitoring of space, it is still possible for objects to reach Earth without having been detected, said Prof Vasile, who noted that “it happens all the time” with small asteroids.
However, if aliens were to arrive on Earth, he suggested that such a discovery would have already been identified.
“Suppose the aliens, to reach the Earth, had to establish a number of outposts in the galaxy, it’s probably unlikely we have not seen anything in the solar system,” he said.
The specimens presented in Mexico predate modern-day monitoring of space.
While efforts continue to identify these specimens, Dr Dominik noted that when it came to alien life, it was important to look at the evidence.
“There’s a lot of spurious claims out there, a lot of misinformation,” he said.
“It becomes difficult in the current media landscape to handle these things”.