American Conspiracy theorist and pseudoscience proponent may be attempting to circumvent Peruvian authorities to desecrate human remains

Screen capture of Twitter. The photo depicts a woman holding a deformed skull looted from a Peruvian cemetery.
Screen capture of Twitter. The photo depicts a woman holding a deformed skull looted from a Peruvian cemetery.
Screen capture of Twitter. The photo depicts a woman holding a deformed skull looted from a Peruvian cemetery.

Today, conspiracy theorist and pseudoscience proponent J. Hutton Pulitzer “tweeted” a photo of a woman holding a human skull while standing in what appears to be the Huaura Valley in Peru. Near the town of Acaray is an archaeological complex and a vast Peruvian cemetery that has been repeatedly looted over the years.

Peruvian law forbids the looting, of course. But like most heritage laws in most countries, enforcement is likely the difficult part. Behind the woman, you can see the pitted landscape of a cemetery where looters probe the ground with steel rods in search of voids. Once one is found, they shovel the ground, removing grave goods and body parts for sale on the antiquities market, leaving behind a scarred landscape where once was a solemn cemetery for the dead.

This particular site has been looted heavily since at least 2002 and you can see the damage from space!

aracay_looter_pits
Click to see the full size. The small dots are looter pits probably within about a mile of the woman in the photo above.

The photo shows a woman holding what appears to be skull shaped using a fronto-occipital method which would have compression applied to the forehead as well as the back of the skull and perhaps even the top. All before 3 years of age, since this is when cranial malleability generally ends. It is difficult to say what type of deformation was used since there’s only a frontal plane of the skull shown. Also, the woman is holding the skull with her forearms outstretched much in the way one holds a small fish so that it appears as a lunker.

Among his several tweets, Pulitzer reveals that there are “200 of these found at the same time”–they call such an occurrence a cemetery–and wants someone who dared question his judgment to “explain” it. Apparently he’s never heard of the practice of skull deformation in ancient Peru, but the disturbing part is that he and Scott Wolter, another pseudoscience proponent and conspiracy theorist, want “access” to the remains.

Elongated and shaped skulls are the sort of thing that appeal to the “ancient aliens” crowd, perhaps understandably since they look so different from normal skulls. But the practice of skull deformation and the bioarchaeological, pathological, and anatomical considerations are so thoroughly investigated and understood that the only good reason for two would-be media personalities to make a big deal of it is attention.

These two would like “access” to these human remains, buried by their families hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago so that they can run DNA tests.

There are several problems with this, not the least of which is that their desires are unethical and very likely part of the reason why skulls and mummies are being desecrated and looted along with their grave goods every day in Peru. Another problem is that in order for them to do so, they would need permits. And the permitting process in Peru is designed specifically to prevent amateurs, looters, and self-serving troublemakers from removing cultural items from Peru or even disturbing them to begin with. In order to obtain permits, they would have to be Registered Professional Archaeologists as well as agree to publish their findings professionally and in Spanish.

Of course, this is the kind of thing that Pulitzer could immediately respond to with, “but how do you know we didn’t hire an archaeologist?” To which I’d gladly eat humble pie if he’d only name the archaeologist. No professional archaeologist that would be qualified to do ground-disturbing research in Peru would be dumb enough to get involved with these guys. Not because the study of ancient Peruvians isn’t worthy. But because they appear to have little actual regard for indigenous cultures. They’d like to look for DNA probably because it’s something science-like that sounds real good on CSI TV shows, and they assume the public really knows little about it but trusts it all the same… and they can manipulate to their whim. They could make grand claims about DNA results then never show the actual work up from the lab, account for the sampling methods, or reveal the name of the lab used (because they’ll never, ever use a lab that specializes in ancient DNA that has strict testing protocols).

But all this is irrelevant. Since to test DNA, they would have to have a set of samples. those samples would have to be obtained from a specimen using strict protocols (breaking drill bits off in a skull won’t cut it). And that means actually damaging human remains that are controlled by the INC in Peru. Assuming they get the permission to examine then do minimal destruction to retrieve a sample, they’ll then have to get permission to send that cultural material to a lab specializing in ancient DNA. And that part ain’t easy. The INC is going to want to know the full provenience of the specimen, the precise, professional methods that will be used, and that the collector is fully qualified and experienced.

I somehow think that the woman in the photograph is not going to vouch for the skull she looted to the INC in Peru. So for Hutton and Wolter to “access” it, they’ll have to circumvent the Peruvian authorities.

Or maybe they won’t.

aracay1
Photo by Margaret at http://huaqueando.blogspot.com/ This shows, up-close, the devastation brought on by looters who look for grave goods, skulls, and mummies at Peruvian sites. Demand from pseudoscience proponents for skulls they find “anomalous” doesn’t help matters.

Edit [9/5/2016]:
The woman in the photo apparently stated that it was taken at a cemetery known as Sigual and was posted to her own social media account. I’m not sure if that’s in the Acaray vicinity, but the photos are consistent with others taken at this ancient site. The farmland on the left; the power-line tower on the right; etc. She mentions the intent to obtain DNA of the skull, but her comments in the same social media post indicate she believes it to be an “alien” skull. And by alien, she doesn’t mean “not of Peru” rather “not of this world.” Other comments and groups she’s associated with show she’s into UFO and alien explanations.

There’s no mention of who will sample the skull, what sampling methods would be used, or what laboratory would do the DNA testing. Most likely, it’ll be sent off to a “learn your ancestry” lab that doesn’t specialize in ancient DNA collection and there will be errors that get misinterpreted. If it’s tested at all.

My analysis of the photo was apparently spot on. Here’s another photo, side-by-side, of the same skull–not held at arm’s length.

Two views of the same skull found on social media. Not quite the fish story it was made out to be on the left, eh?
Two views of the same skull found on social media. Not quite the fish story it was made out to be on the left, eh?
Share
About Carl Feagans 335 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Leave a Reply