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March 22, 2018

A mummified skeleton found in Chile nearly two decades ago inspired many a conspiracy theorist to declare that alien life had made its way to Earth. But a buzzkilling new study published Thursday found that the bones simply belonged to a human with a series of bone mutations.

The 6-inch skeleton — dubbed Ata by researchers and alien aficionados — displays an unusual series of DNA mutations, reports The New York Times. The combination of mutations may have caused a hereditary disorder that has never been seen before in humans, the Times explains.

That explains the utterly bizarre appearance of Ata, whose tiny frame has just 10 ribs, rather than 12; a pointy, elongated skull; and large, alien-like eye sockets. Researchers don't know exactly when Ata lived, but some scientists now believe that she was a miscarried or aborted female fetus, preserved by dry conditions in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

Because the mutations are brand new discoveries, researchers who sequenced the skeleton's genome are hesitant to declare a definitive explanation for Ata's deformities — unlike, say, a 2013 documentary about UFOs that featured the skeleton as evidence of extraterrestrial life. At least some of the mystery of Ata remains, for now.

You can read more about Ata at The New York Times. Summer Meza