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an alien star-child?

Last week one of my students wrote to me about something they'd seen on TV:

My friend & I saw this on Breakfast this morning. Although we don't think it is all true, we are still interested because they talked a lot about the skull's morphology & how they believe it is the offspring from a female human & an alien. Here's the website on it: http://www.starchildproject.com

It would be great to hear your thoughts 

So I went off & had a look at the website, & wrote back... 

My first thought is that (following what's called 'Occam's razor ') the simplest possible explanation is likely to be correct i.e. that this is simply a 'pathological' human skull, rather than a mysterious alien-human hybrid. (Read Armand LeRoy's book Mutants to get a feel for just how wide the range of potential variation is in humans.) Happliy there are ways of testing this - the skull is reportedly only 900 years old so it should be possible to look at its DNA.

And indeed this has been done - & the data are presented on the Starchild project's website. Which surprised me more than a little, given that they don't support the hybrid idea! The skull in question - which certainly has an interesting shape - was found along with the remains of an adult female. The DNA results show that both woman & child were both native Americans, not related to each other, & also that the child was male. There is absolutely no indication there of any 'alien' DNA. (Which is what I would have predicted - if we were to be visited by extraterrestrial individuals, why would we expect them to be a) humanoid & b) genetically compatible with us? ie the likelihood of successful interbreeding is vanishingly small. And that's a big 'if' in any case... Carl Sagan had some sensible things to say on that issue in Demon-haunted world.)

My personal view is that the whole thing should have been examined rather more critically by the programmers before it made it to air. But then, I have ceased to be surprised at the uncritical nature of much that's presented by our broadcast media (with the honourable exception of the National Program!).

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2 Comments

There's a great series on the Documentary channel (or is it Nat Geo?) called 'Is It Real?'. I've found this series to be very good. They respectfully let people have their say about Big Foot, aliens, etc, then use science to show how wrong they are.

One of the episodes featured the 'star child' (as well as people who think that aliens built a giant human face on Mars) and came to the same conclusion as you. If a human and a monkey can't reproduce (as creatonists love to point out, as if it has anything to do with evolution), then what are the chances that a human could reproduce with a species that doesn't even share a common ancester!?!
Are these people seriously suggesting that this alien happens to be carbon based, sexually reproduces, AND has Eukaryotic cells with DNA using CGAT bases? Is that more likely than the poor kid having some genetic mutation?

I haven't gotten to that chapter of The Demon Haunted World yet, I'm about half way through about 3 books at the moment and I have another 4 sitting next to my bed waiting to be read.

Oh, I'll bite :-)

This was on Breakfast ?? Sigh Who has the gullible twit of a presenter? Or producer. Aren't these programmes supposed to have some sort of "research" teams??

If I was only glancing at the website, I'd have said it was a money-making scheme based on selling merchandise (book, tee-shirts) based around a X files-style hoax! :-)

There is a long-winded version of the story on this website: http://www.ufocusnz.org.nz/starchild_skull.html for those who want to amuse themselves. (I've only skimmed the top bit; it's probably somewhere on the "star child" website too, but I haven't time to look for it.)

More "seriously", if this is "for real", there are at least three fairly obvious things to consider:

1. As Alison has already said, a developmental abnormality. There are some pretty surprising ones after all, as LeRoi's book illustrates.

2. Some cultures shape(d) infants' heads, by binding them in various ways. Try searching with google using 'cradleboarding' or 'skull binding' or similar search terms. Infant skull bones aren't fused and they can be shaped to produce some pretty unexpected results. (Interestingly, while checking the search terms were useful, I learnt that a modern variation on this is apparently used to correct misshapen infants' heads.)

3. A mixture of 2 & 3 (e.g. a cradleboarded developmentally-abnormal infant).

You could possibly toss in a premature infant in there somewhere, too, if the evidence supported that.

The "one parent was an alien" idea relies on far too many outlandish assumptions: that aliens exist, arrived on earth, left again, left no trace other than this, etc., etc. From a biological perspective, the alien would have to not only have DNA-based life, etc., but also have compatible genes and genome structure so that the hybrid infant survived. Essentially, the "alien" would have to be incredibly... human-like ;-) (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

After I wrote this I ran into this (spoiler alert): http://www.greatdreams.com/starchld.htm

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