NEW (09-Feb-2014): Brien Foerster has contacted me saying that Melba Ketchum is not the geneticist behind the released results.
See more details in the update below.
On the south coast of Peru in 1928, Peruvian archaeologist, Julio Tello, discovered a collection of remains of individuals with unusually elongated skulls. Cranial deformation is a widely known practice where the skull is intentionally deformed by binding the head with wood or cloth to achieve an elongate or flat shape. And then this story gets weird…
The Paracas skulls, however, are different. The cranial volume is up to 25 percent larger and 60 percent heavier than conventional human skulls, meaning they could not have been intentionally deformed through head binding/flattening. They also contain only one parietal plate, rather than two. The fact that the skulls’ features are not the result of cranial deformation means that the cause of the elongation is a mystery, and has been for decades.
Samples of these skulls (hair, including roots, tooth, bone and skin) housed at the Paracas History Museum were taken. Here’s the kicker… they were sent, not to a reputable scientist or geneticist, but to Lloyd Pye (now deceased), founder of the Starchild Project who believed in alien hybrids. Guess who he gave them to for testing? (This is rich.) Our favorite Nobel-wishing genetic tester, friend of the forest people, Dr. Melba Ketchum. Ketchum has made our feature posts as the orchestrator of the Bigfoot DNA testing boondoggle. In February of 2013, she self-published a paper (after it was rejected by mainstream journals) that her collection of supposed Bigfoot genetic samples showed the North American Sasquatch was a hybrid of an unknown ape and a human mother. The findings were roundly rejected. See the chronicles of Ketchum here.
She had hinted in the past she was working on elongate skulls. A few of our readers were able to flesh out this story.
Here is what was posted by Brien Foerster, the lead researcher, from the person who did the genetic testing:
It had mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) with mutations unknown in any human, primate, or animal known so far. But a few fragments I was able to sequence from this sample indicate that if these mutations will hold we are dealing with a new human-like creature, very distant from Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans.
The “geneticist”, unnamed in this piece, gushes about how the findings are at odds with the evolutionary tree as we know it. Hmm. Where is the paper? This kind of “groundbreaking” stuff gives soundly skeptical folks serious pause. It sounds like woo and it’s been making the rounds on such mystery-mongering outlets. It didn’t appear in any scientific context AT ALL. [Giant red flags go up.]
Fortean writer Martin Clemens could see something was odd about this (not in a good way) and wrote this piece today:
Well, it seems Foerster would like us all to believe he has preliminary results of that analysis in hand, and through an appearance on JustEnergyRadio, he has released some rather spurious details that on first glance seem quite intriguing, but upon closer inspection, aren’t really all that impressive.
Several bloggers who specialize in the paranormal, have published posts telling of these preliminary conclusions, claiming that the DNA offered unexpected results. Headlines such as ‘Initial DNA analysis of Paracas elongated skulls released – with incredible result’ are giving people the wrong impression of the situation.
Foerster is claiming that mitochondrial DNA was found in at least one sample and that analysis of that DNA showed mutations that don’t conform to mutations known in humans or other animals.
Clemens clearly picked up on the fact that this is unprofessional behavior and we should CERTAINLY withhold judgement regardless of the hype. This story is getting too much attention and too little verification.
At best it’s inconclusive. The DNA would be identified as human, but with anomalies; anomalies that could be caused by any number of contaminants or procedural flaws. It could be that this DNA really does provide unusual results, but the only thing that can be said of it at this point is that it requires further study. The sensational release of unconfirmed and unverifiable information such as this on a radio show, is not worthy of the attention this story is receiving.
In two places, Clemens notes he HOPES the “geneticist” was not Ketchum but the way this is being presented to the public is strangely reminiscent of Melba’s way of making an end run around the scientific community. Ah, Martin, your senses serve you well – because it is indeed Melba’s handiwork. We find this via a few routes that connect Foerster to Melba. It’s admitted here:
The head of our genetics study, who wished to remain anonymous until now, is Dr. Melba Ketchum.
Foerster is involved alternative history interpretation. [Removed]
UPDATE: (11-Feb-2014) Genesis Quest has denied all involvement with Brien Foerster and Melba Ketchum via personal communication to DN. They once had some relationship with Foerster but I’ve found mention that in December 2012, he is no longer associated with them. I have removed reference to them as requested. DN apologizes for the error.
This scenario fits with Melba’s unscientific agenda. Her interpretation of Bigfoot DNA has been tinged with religious (remember that ancient Bigfoot were the Nephilim?) and anti-evolution undertones. I have to admit I missed making this connection that was actually revealed on this very site back in December on the post about Lloyd Pye’s death from blogger SeesDifferent (see comments). On Sees’ OTL,S blog, (well-known for getting the inside scoop on Bigfootery) we find that Foerster posted this on his Facebook page on February 3 (Foerster quotes in blue):
IMPORTANT DNA UPDATE (not of this skull, but another Paracas): NOT HUMAN?
it had mtDNA with mutations unknown in any human, primate or animal known so far. But a few fragments I was able to sequence from this sample indicate that if these mutations will hold we are dealing with a new human-like creature, very distant from Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans.. I am not sure it will even fit into the known evolutionary tree. The question is if they were so different, they could not interbreed with humans.
Of course, it’s a marketing tool; we learn in the comments where we can buy Foerster’s elongated skull book and sign up for his nephilim tour.
And any of you should come on this tour if you want to learn the latest info.
or perhaps attend the ancient aliens lecture circuit:
The first video of the skull in the photo will be on Watchers 8, by LA Marzulli, in June, along with carbon 14, hair analysis, and DNA results…
When queried by a commenter about peer review, he mumbles
Peer review will of course be considered, but this information belongs to THE WORLD; not a few academics…
Of course it belongs to the world…. that’s why he’s selling it…instead of having the world get it for free….oh, wait….
Here is Foerster’s Hidden Inca Tours site – a research travel group. Foerster has no (?)
scientific academic credentials though he calls himself an “expert”. His bio notes he has an “Honours Bachelor Of Science degree” (whatever that is) [Ed. note - see comments] but took up carving and sculpture full time.
He writes for the Graham Hancock website as well. And he is the author of several books. Most notably, this one:
TOO MUCH PSEUDOSCIENCE IN ONE POST, I KNOW!
Now don’t you all wonder if this will be the next paper published in Melba’s sham journal DeNovo?! Shall we take bets?
Alternative history, ancient aliens, self-proclaimed experts, nephilim (which apparently is too far of a reach according to Foerster), Bigfoot, the Bible, a money grab… all rolled into one. This is ANOTHER circus.
Thanks Martin, Jeb Card, SeesDifferent – you guys are ON THE BALL!
Ed. note – I think there is more to this. It deserves a more thorough treatment than I can give, please add additional links and info or corrections in the comments.
8-Feb-2014 Minor edits made for grammar mistakes. No sentences or meaning was changed.
UPDATE (09-Feb-2014): Mr. Foerster has indicated to me, on his Facebook page, and in a followup interview that the geneticist quoted is not Ketchum. However, there is still admission that she is involved, with different samples. The quote is “These results are not from Melba Ketchum; she has other samples.”
That doesn’t help the situation much since anonymity of the geneticist is a no-no in presenting your results. So, while Ketchum may not be officially presenting results, the fact that she is involved is damning for credibility. Unfortunately, the whole thing still lacks all credibility. This clarification in no way changes the impropriety of announcing results this way – extremely unscientific and highly questionable. It’s not worth serious consideration until a paper is submitted and peer review is conducted.
He notes that he released these preliminary findings for those who have been following the project. The official results are forthcoming but may take months. (Drafts and journal submissions sometimes take a YEAR.)
Of course there are those that will attack “initial findings” and demand a more thorough examination and peer review; and this will come. However, my release of the initial results was made for those that have been following this story for 2 years, and have given support, either financially or in spirit.
Improper. Science by press release and leakage is bad form and is almost ALWAYS a bust because it’s the conclusion from the researcher(s) who are biased in this role. That’s why peer review exists, to point out the problems that were missed by investigators who are too close to the subject to be objective. Happens all the time. Peer review is CRITICAL for eliminating garbage. But instead, Foerster has chosen to whip up attention in the public sphere. Smart if you are looking for support of all kinds but death to scientific credibility.
As a reminder, I linked to a piece above that connects this story to the Nephilim. As I noted, Foerster does not agree. But I would like to make clear that he has not explicitly connected this to religion, though you see others have. One problem we have with these types of news stories are those who speculate to fantastic conclusions – aliens, angels, paranormal, etc. This is why we try to note where these stories are going in the mainstream and head it off with a note of extreme caution. (Not that it helps… I don’t think those folks off on the fringe path are reading this site.)
Addition: A good explanation of the Starchild and elongated skulls by Ben Radford here.
Addition (16-Feb-2014) The Bad Archaeology blog The Paracas skulls: aliens, an unknown hominid species or cranial deformation? confirms the focus of our story – “There are so many problems with the statement posted by Brien Foerster, that it is difficult to see why anyone would take it seriously.”:
I find the entire statement released by Brien Foerster to be quite unprofessional. It makes unsubstantiated claims; it deals with preliminary results; it contains at least one outright untruth. This is not standard scientific procedure. Let us assume that the mtDNA sequencing has been done properly. The geneticist states that “[t]he data are very sketchy”: so why release them, particularly when “a LOT of sequencing still needs to be done”? It is very unusual for a scientist to “leak” preliminary results in this way, unless they are very certain of their reliability. Doing it with “sketchy” data is inexcusable. Unless there is a hidden agenda…