Tuesday 4 December 2012

Alien Investigations

Some of you may have watched 'Alien Investigations' on Channel 4 this week. I gather from the Twitter #alieninvestigations comments that it got a bit of a mixed response, ranging from 'wow - this is very scary - do aliens walk among us?' to 'wow, this is scary - some people believe in aliens', and other, less printable comments.

Now, I don't want to alienate ('scuse the pun) any of my readers, but my position on extra-terrestrial life is pretty clear. While I think it is extremely unlikely that in the whole universe of billions of galaxies and solar systems and stars there are no other planets in the 'Goldilocks' zone capable of sustaining life (probably bacterial or single-celled, but I guess there is the potential for something more complex), I am pretty sure that no 'little green men' (or similar) have ever reached our planet.

When presented with pictures of the Cusco remains and asked for my opinion, my task was relatively easy. As an anthropologist with a research interest in artificially deformed skulls, I have seen more than my fair share of skulls of this shape (and others - they can be super flattened and brachiocephalic), and could instantly recognise it as the skull (and torso) of a human child who had undergone the relatively common cultural practice of artificial cranial deformation. As I mentioned in my previous post (ET..phone home), there is a plausible, rational explanation for the unusual appearance of human skulls such as the one found at Cusco. This great blog (Bones Don't Lie) goes into lots more detail about the techniques used and its cultural background. So, for me, science triumphs again.

It was great to see how my 'science bit' fitted into the rest of the programme, and how much debate and controversy it stimulated on Facebook and Twitter for example. I'm grateful to the film-makers for allowing me take part in such a controversial and gripping programme!