The Starchild Skull and Its DNA Testing: No Proof of an Alien Hybrid

Frank Johnson of the Ancient Aliens Debunked (AAD) blog recently posted this lengthy essay concerning alleged DNA evidence that the Starchild Skull was that of a human0alien hybrid child: “A Bone to Pick with the Starchild Skull.”

It’s well worth the read, and you should follow the links that relate to the testing itself. The post not only goes into the selective use (and discarding) of DNA evidence, but also its misinterpretation. The post features comments (which have been public for some time) by Dr. Robert Carter. Carter’s PhD is in marine biology, but he’s knowledgeable about the interpretation of DNA evidence.

I’ve been holding some email comments for years from my own go-to expert in genetics (PhD in biology whose doctoral work was DNA-related) about the Starchild skull’s DNA testing and Carter’s own comments. I was waiting for the Starchild’s keeper, Lloyd Pye, to go through with his promise of further DNA testing. In the wake of Pye’s recent passing, I doubt that will happen.

I’ve decided to post excerpts of the comments below, without identifying the geneticist. There’s no point unless we get further testing. My resource thinks the alien claims for the skull and its DNA defense are bunk. Interestingly, he has bones to pick with Carter’s analysis (my guy is a real geneticist, so he’s bound to see flaws in Carter’s analysis). He also knows Carter. I’ve taken the liberty of inserting a few editorial remarks of my own (MSH) that have a bearing on what my guy says and what the AAD essay says.

Mike,

I skimmed over the links you sent, and here are my thoughts for what they’re worth:

1.  Based on the description of the mtDNA results, the normal skull is not the mother or sibling of the abnormal one.  They have different mtDNA types, and mtDNA is (nearly) always maternally inherited.  So they cannot be maternally related.  Could be father/son though.

[MSH: This strikes me as important since, as the AAD post points out, initial Starchild DNA tests had the child as a male. These results were set aside by Pye because of "contamination" - more likely, because they didn't support his ideas; see the AAD post for that discussion.]

2.  The description of the “shotgun” sequencing [in the Starchild report - MSH] is very crude, obviously written by someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Assuming that they’re describing real sequences from the abnormal skull, the conclusions they reach do not follow.  In particular, this statement is totally false: “To have recovered a string of base pairs 342 nucleotides long with NO reference in the NIH database is astounding because it means there is NO known earthly corollary for what has been analyzed!”

All it means is that we haven’t encountered that particular nucleotide sequence yet.  It happens all the time.  Usually, with every genome of a new genus or species that we sequence, some measurable fraction (10-30%) is DNA sequence we’ve never seen before (i.e., has no match in the public database).  In the case of the skull, the novel DNA is probably just contamination from bacteria or fungi or some other critter that
participated in the decomposition of the body.

[MSH: Note the contamination issue again - and make sure to zero in on that in the AAD post.  Pye's claims of contamination were self-serving. He used that as an excuse when something didn't suit his alien hybrid view, but ignore that possibility in other contexts.]

3. … Yes, the description of the shotgun sequencing is incompetent (for the reasons [Carter] cites), but I see no reason to suspect that the description is intentionally deceptive.  Not only that, but from my perusal it looks like Carter entirely missed the issue of contamination, which is the probable source of the novel DNA sequence.

[MSH: In other words, my source chalks this up to incompetence, not deliberate deception. Who knows?]

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Zecharia Sitchin’s Planet X PaleoBabble

Astronomer Stuart Robbins has made a considerable effort in his PseudoAstronomy podcast to tell the truth about how real astronomy does not jive with the astronomical quackery of Zecharia Sitchin. I was recently interviewed by Stuart for his podcast (those episodes have not been posted yet), but as  a prelude to those, I thought I’d post links to his series on Sitchin’s astronomical claims and their refutation. I’d posted some of Stuart’s work over at UFO Religions, but posting the episode series in which mine will be a part seems like a good lead-up to when my interviews go online in early January.

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Ancient Astronauts and Comic Books

Jason Colavito has an informative post on the “big-business-factual-data-be-damned” approach of Ancient Aliens. The early section of his post notes connections between ancient astronaut theory and pop-culture, specifically with respect to Marvel comics.

The connections between ancient astronaut worldview and the sort of science fiction of comic books are deep. The comic book worlds pre-date the work of Sitchin and von Daniken. As Jason notes, there are secure roots in the writings of Lovecraft and others, but the more “vulgar” genre of the comic book also plays a significant role in where ancient astronaut theory really gets its “data”.

I recommend to readers two works in this regard. The first is a popular work of non-fiction. The second is a scholarly work (Univ of Chicago Press). Both are fascinating. The second, naturally, is dense and a harder read.

Christopher Knowles, Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes

Jeffrey Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction. Superhero Comics. and the Paranormal

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Ancient Aliens Malpractice

Jason Colavito just posted a review of the Ancient Aliens episode “Alien Operations.” As usual, the review is informed and insightful, while the episode was disturbingly dumb –another ode to incoherence. My favorite paragraph:

Tsoukalos adopts Thomas Aquinas’s argument from first cause to argue that human medical knowledge could not have developed spontaneously because every surgeon alive today learns from previous surgeons who learned from previous surgeons; therefore, invention is impossible and only aliens could have been the first cause. The idea of gradual evolution is for him inconceivable; a discipline must exist as an unchanging, complete whole or it cannot exist at all. This is the cultural version of the creationist staple about what good half an eye is. How then does he explain the fact that treatments exist today that did not exist ten years ago, like, say the 3D printing that the show discussed only minutes earlier?

 

 

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What To Do With Christian Researchers Who Purvey PaleoBabble

[Addendum: 10/22/2013 - I have been in correspondence with one of the researchers mentioned in Jason Colavito's post. That individual tells me that research is underway in regard to some of the claims Jason criticized, and that I will receive a copy of the results of that research when ready. I will keep readers informed. As per the below, I will insist on those standards of evaluation. "Lab work" is not a synonym for peer review; it's what peer review evaluates. I will in turn submit what I receive to experts in relevant fields whose own work has undergone peer review, experts to whom I turn to for evaluation of such things, as I am not qualified to decipher scientific tests.]

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Jason Colavito posted a telling essay today. For someone like me, a Christian and biblical studies scholar, it was disturbing. Frankly, it provoked me to enter the discussion. I have the training and am well known in both the “Christian weirdness” community and by scholars (Christian or otherwise) all over the globe (it’s a blessing of my job). I feel responsible to say something — to put people on notice in some sense. I wouldn’t want people to be deceived because I remained silent. It’s a consistency issue for me. I want to be on the record.

So what’s my beef?

I’m guessing Jason and I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on some things. That’s fine. For one, I believe in a creator, though I’m not predisposed toward the young earth position, mostly for the way it distorts points of science, caricatures evolutionary theory, and imposes a modern context on the ancient text (something that atheistic evolutionists do with great frequency and equal ignorance). Put another way, the reason I’m not in that camp is not because I don’t think God capable of recent creation. I just don’t think the Bible was ever intended to teach us science. The Bible itself makes that clear if we just take it for what it says in its original context.1 Logically, then, I’m not a philosophical materialist. I accept the possibility of what is loosely (and in some cases, inaccurately) called the “supernatural.” That goes with the turf of theism and, by extension, Christianity. These positions have stood up to the best of academic philosophical debate for centuries, so I know I’m on good footing, despite atheist crowing to the contrary. These ideas are also not antithetical to the scientific or logical mind. I personally know too many PhDs in the hard sciences and philosophy to know that lame criticisms of theism from such trajectories have failed to impress many scientists and scholars, Christian or not. Most of what passes for critique of theism and Christianity is actually criticism of caricatures or flawed thinking that circulates among the laity.

I don’t know where Jason is at on any of that and I don’t care. I value his research; I’m thankful for it. So let’s be clear. What disturbed me wasn’t Jason’s comments about creationists. That’s yesterday’s news. I can think he’s wrong about that idea (again, I really don’t know what he thinks) without thinking he lacks integrity as a researcher. What disturbed me about the content of his post was the appalling, absurd ideas that some Christian researchers are apparently peddling as truth — even calling it biblical truth.

I can sum up my thoughts on the sort of research Jason highlights: it’s baptized pablum that lacks any prayer of being correct biblical teaching or coherent thinking. Jason’s post gives specific examples of the way Christian researchers have uncritically adopted the same insane, data-starved ideas as offered by Zecharia Sitchin and Giorgio Tsoukalos.2 All that’s missing is the fawning sycophantia and the hair. Why do they do it? I don’t know. Popularity? Gullibility? Money? Ego? Again, I don’t know. But I do know how to address it. It’s simple — the same strategies that show the non-Christian ancient astronaut twaddle to be vacuous will work on the Christian variety. This is evident since the same unsound thought processes are shared: intellectual laziness and abuse of data.

Here are my tried and true approaches:

1. Insist that any evidence put forth by an ancient astronaut researcher about what an ancient text says comes with specific primary source citation — in biblical parlance, “chapter and verse, please.” I do this consistently, and it usually kills the discussion before it even gets started. If I hear a claim without a reference or some other generality (“it’s in the Babylonian creation story”) my first response is “show me the text.”3 I won’t take their word for anything. Most of the time such citations are merely parroted from something they read in a secondary source (itself of abysmal quality if it’s an ancient astronaut title) or saw in a YouTube video, or heard on a radio show, or just picked up in conversation. Not good enough. Show me the tablet, line, chapter, verse, etc. If you’ve been too lazy or ignorant to look up the material yourself, you’ve forfeited the right to be heard. Parroting ideas isn’t research.

2. When it comes to textual material, translations and interpretations must derive from careful study of the original languages. That is, texts don’t just mean anything and ought not be raped and pillaged so they can be pressed into the service of nonsense. Languages have their own rules of grammar and usage. Their vocabulary is to be understood in the context of the people who produced the texts and their own time and culture — not our modern, foreign culture. You might think this is too high a standard. “Not many people can work in these languages, Mike.” Oh, well. Actually, there are more of those nerds out there than you’d think. If you’re going to pass yourself off as a researcher, teacher, or expert and can’t do this sort of work, you’re deceiving your audience with a false claim of authority. Don’t bellyache about not knowing the languages. Learn them. It isn’t rocket science. And it matters. (I didn’t waste fifteen years of graduate school to function at the same level as an English Bible reader or someone bound to English translation of other ancient texts). Besides, there are many good resources, in print and online, that can provide deep access to primary source material. But that would mean you need to tie yourself to (or get toasted by) the next item.

3. Assertions and conclusions offered must be based on sound research that has been subjected to peer review. Peer review is the practice utilized in scholarly publishing whereby a writer submits his or her ideas and research to a small panel of experts fields germane to the submission. The goal is not uniformity of ideas, but rather to check methodology and content relevant to the argument so that important data are not overlooked (or avoided) and earlier research is taken into consideration. In short, it’s a coverage and coherence filter. Without it, anyone could publish anything anywhere (especially the internet), making it impossible for non-specialists to know whether the material is sound or not. (Or, making it easier to dupe people). Passing the muster of peer review means that your work has stood up under scrutiny. The issue is not “right or wrong,” as peer reviewed publications publish varying viewpoints on any given issue. Passing peer review means that the essay or article deserves a hearing in the opinion of leaders in the field. I insist that the ideas put forth by researchers meet that standard. Every year thousands of articles and books are published under some kind of review. Researchers who avoid that material or refuse to address that material in their own work are either lazy or dishonest.

Frankly, there’s a name for people who refuse to submit their own research to the review of bona fide experts in the relevant disciplines: coward. For sure, peer review isn’t perfect. Flawed ideas get through from time to time. Scholarly journals don’t use angels for reviewers, either, so sometimes something gets denied because of politics. But the *fact* is that there are hundreds of peer-reviewed journals in the humanities and hard sciences to which work can be submitted. The sheer number is a corrective to the occasional mistake or abuse. Rejection is common, because a given journal can only print so many pages – so try another. If your work gets rejected over and over again, that’s a clear sign it’s deeply flawed. But if you never submit it, that’s a clear sign you’d rather pass yourself off as an expert to the unlearned you want to gather as your fan base and audience. On that level, there’s an ethics problem here.

These approaches — these safeguards — have served me well over the years. They are simple, reasonable standards that I strive to follow myself. Sloppy, self-serving research and personal speculations are no substitute. That a researcher has an idea or viewpoint doesn’t mean it is coherent. That there’s a mystery to be solved or a knotty problem in the historical, archaeological record doesn’t mean that we can now throw reason to the wind and declare the thought rattling around in our head to be truth. That the Bible is a book for all humankind doesn’t mean every interpretation of it is equally valid. You can claim the Holy Spirit led you to say XYZ, and I won’t care — because the Spirit is honest. He wouldn’t lead you into bunk (least of all ancient astronaut bunk) or to do careless work. He wouldn’t lead you to be lazy or ignorant. Appealing to the Spirit for your own lack of effort and courage in the above areas is reprehensible. Laying your own lethargy and ineptitude at the door of the Spirit hardly honors God.

For the Christian out there, willfully following flawed research that fails to meet these minimal qualifications common to serious academics is a spiritual issue. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, it’s an issue of magnitude. It goes to using the intellectual faculties with which we’ve been blessed. It goes to honesty when you claim to be seeking the truth. It goes to having confidence in the God you claim to follow — that all truth will conform to his character and revelation because there can be no such thing as contradictory competing truths (at least in a coherent world). It goes to being an honorable testimony to those who don’t believe in the gospel so that Christ is not shamed by the way you do your work. It goes to fostering relationships of integrity with other researchers who don’t share your beliefs. None of us are perfect, but that isn’t the standard. Honesty and perfection aren’t synonyms. The former is a standard that can be reached and maintained even though the latter cannot. Exempting yourself from the former and making the latter your excuse for doing so is just wrong.

  1. I’d also argue that the actual truth propositions of the Bible are not incompatible with science.
  2. I hope that at least some of Jason’s ancient alien examples aren’t true, but he tries very hard to fact-check. That’s his track record. I will assume what he describes in his post is accurate until that is demonstrated not to be the case.
  3. This is why I made the video showing people where to find all occurrences of “anunnaki” in the cuneiform tablets — to show the ancient astronaut ideas about them are simply made up.

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Review of Ancient Aliens’ Craptastic Anunnaki Episode

Jason Colavito has courageously reviewed the latest ode to asininity from the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series. I strongly encourage readers to check it out. It’s an informative and fun read. It’s a cornucopia of  My favorite portion:

William Henry, who believes telephone booths are secret symbols for trans-dimensional portals, lies about Sumerian texts regarding the Anunnaki, claiming without evidence that they were described as humanoids who could “phase in” to human form, which cannot be found in any ancient text.

It’s really hard to beat William Henry for incoherence. When all others simply ignore data – like the fact that none of this Anunnaki alien nonsense can be found in the cuneiform texts – Henry is bound to take it to the next level: that of utter absurdity.1

  1. William Henry brings back some good memories. Way back in 2001 after my first appearance on Coast to Coast AM, Henry was the guy who accused me of making money off Zecharia Sitchin’s work. I responded by posting my tax returns on the internet, asking William – and Mr. Sitchin – to do the same. I did that for three years in a row – just looked on my computer – I still have the web page. I was a struggling graduate student. I’m guessing they were doing better duping the masses. Anyway, neither of them took the challenge.

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Dropa Dopiness Debunked

Back in March I had blogged about the Dropa Stones, another insipid argument for ancient astronauts. Supposedly these stones, discovered on the Tibet/China border, contained “etchings” that told the sad tale of marooned extraterrestrials. That earlier post directed readers to a worthwhile discussion of the stones on the Bad Archaeology website.

Frank Johnson of the Ancient Aliens Debunked blog recently produced another worthwhile debunking of these alleged ancient alien artifacts. Johnson’s post references the Bad Archaeology post but goes beyond its rebuttal with respect to several aspects of the tale.

Truth be told, the Dropa Stone story is a contrivance across the board, one full of unverifiable details, like studies performed on the stones, museums supposedly involved, etc. It’s hearsay on steroids.

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Stone Spheres of Costa Rica: No Aliens Needed

Stone_sphereMany PaleoBabble readers have no doubt heard of the stone spheres of Costa Rica. In addition to the debunking of the “Nuremberg UFO” engraving I posted about a few days ago, Frank Johnson of the Ancient Aliens Debunked blog also has a worthwhile piece on these stone spheres. Hope you’re sitting down: aliens didn’t make them.

As Johnson notes in his post, ancient alien theorists not only don’t have a firm grasp of the obvious (like hammer marks still visible on the stones – thanks for that advanced technology, ET), they’re just plain irritated that he would dare dispute amazing “proof” like this for ancient alien contact. I’m sure they’ll soon realize that’s a poor strategy. Why not just film another Ancient Aliens episode and make up different evidence? I’m just saying.

As is so often the case, mainstream scholars are not curled up in the fetal position, rendered dumbstruck by the shocking evidence for alien causation offered by the likes of Erich “I’m the reincarnation of P.T. Barnum” von Daniken. Johnson introduces readers to anthropology Professor John Hoopes. As Johnson notes, “Hoopes has not only examined the Costa Rican giant stone balls, he has a Website explaining them and the errors in many of the claims.”

At any rate, if you haven’t read a thoughtful treatment of the stones spheres, the post is recommended.

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Ancient Astronauts, Esotericism, and Utopian Politics

Jason Colavito has a short post on the relationship of these three areas of study that’s a good interest-piquing piece if such connections are new to you. I can recommend it since it links ancient astronaut myths to utopian thinking on both sides of the political spectrum.

Last January one of my lectures at Future Congress was about alien mythology and utopianism. In simplest terms, the alien myth is a useful substitute for both religious and political rationalizations of fascism. Fascism, correctly understood, is about coercion, control over people’s lives. That wish is in no way isolated to the political right. The political left is in love with it as well, and it isn’t hard to demonstrate that, especially in academic source material.

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Extraterrestrial Hippies? New Research on Egyptian Technology Tries to Get Noticed Online

A few days Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) posted a link online to an article entitled, “Extraterrestrial Elements in Egyptian Equipment.” Ancient astronaut believers (and Giorgio Tsoukalos’ hairdresser) no doubt saw the title and got pretty excited about the possibilities.

Sounds startling, doesn’t it? The word “elements” conjures up mental imagery about physics, metallurgy, and “space age” technological knowledge on the part of the Egyptians. It’s nice titling if you want to generate hits online. At least someone working at BAR isn’t a crusty field archaeologist in their seventies. But when you actually read the article you’ll find out it’s about iron beads.

You read that correctly. Beads.

The focus of the essay is about the extraterrestrial source of the iron in certain Egyptian beads. No, the iron didn’t come from a UFO crash, or alien gods trading advanced material in exchange for . . . something. Rather, the iron came from meteorites.

Rocks that the Egyptians saw fall from space, not intelligent visitors from space. But still interesting.

 

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