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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Channel 4 Alien Investigations: Video Clip and Review

This evening, Channel 4 starts its series 'Alien Investigations' in which it examines a number of famous (amongst ufologists and cryptozoologists presumably, as I hadn't previously heard of them) cases involving the alleged discovery of 'aliens' here on our planet. Whereas advances in planetary science, biology and genetics suggest that our galaxy is likely to be teeming with life, at least of the primitive bacterial variety (it is rumoured that we me be receiving an announcement from NASA shortly regarding the discovery of signs of extant life on Mars thanks to the Curiosity mission), that is quite different to stating that we have been visited by creatures from another world. The latter cannot be ruled out of course, but the evidence to date is lacking. Whatever happens to be revealed in the programmes that comprise this series, they are ought to make for a few evenings' good entertainment, even if they do little other than shed a little more light upon the social, cultural and psychological aspects of the belief in alien visitation.

The clip below provides a flavour of the first episode.

Review of Part One

As anticipated, the programme turned out to provide the best part of an hour’s engaging entertainment, focusing as it did upon three alleged alien sightings, with two of them furnishing specimens of the alleged aliens that could be subjected to scientific examination of one sort or another. All three originated in the Americas: the first from Metepec in Mexico; the second from the Cuzco region of Peru, and the third from Montauk on Long Island in the USA.

Images of all three alleged aliens looked intriguing, and it was the stories attached to the Metepec ‘alien’ that proved to be of most interest. Eyewitnesses claimed that in May 2007 a ranch hand was startled to discover the ‘alien’ captured in on of his rat traps (which for all the world resembled a miniature early nineteenth-century mantrap). In all, there were five witnesses who claimed to have seen it alive, with the animal being described as about 19 inches long (the remains certainly didn’t seem to be that large, so perhaps they meant to say centimetres) with a hairless pink body and luminous eyes. It made a noise that nobody could identify. The remains looked interesting, and a number of 3-D scans had failed to ascertain what it was. Its spine bore some human characteristics and it possessed humanlike hands, but no opposable thumbs (the thumbs were incomplete). On the second night after its discovery, it was stated that the creature was “drowned in acid”, which seems rather cruel. Drowning is bad enough, but why also add to its distress by using acid? Another such ‘alien’ was said to have been sighted on the ranch eight days later.

Initial tests upon the Metepec ‘alien’ allegedly suggested that it may have possessed a ‘human mother’, and the ranch owner where it was caught died two months after the event in a freakish and explosive car accident. Conspiracy theorists attributed this to alien revenge, whereas the more prosaic explanation centred upon a debt that he owed to gangsters. In all, some six tests were conducted upon the Metepec specimen, a number of them suggesting that its DNA was very close to that of humans, and indeed it was, for the final test revealed it to be a marmoset. Moreover, its skull matched that of a marmoset. Towards the end of the documentary, Angel Nuñez revealed that he had faked the whole affair, using a buffy tufted marmoset. Being a primate, it should therefore not come as a surprise that its DNA was close to that of humans.

The Peruvian ‘alien’ was found at an excavation on a mountain some 70 miles away from Machu Pichu amidst ‘fragments of meteorite’. The narrator noted the widespread belief amongst Peruvians and traditional Inca culture that their origins lay in the stars. The mummy that was discovered possessed a peculiarly elongated skull together with what appeared to be adult teeth and yet an open fontanelle. A Peruvian Ufologist named Dante Dios Tambini claimed to be convinced that it was an alien, and also produced some alleged footage of a UFO (which looked as if it was simply the product of pointing a handheld imaging device at the full Moon in daylight and waving it about) and a picture of an alien (nothing more than a red blemish atop a picture of a stone shack).

The narrator noted that skull deformation of this sort had been practised in a number of cultures for at least 9,000 years in Africa, including in Ancient Egypt. Closer to home, the Huns too practised this type of skull deformation in the fifth century. The remains of the Peruvian ‘alien’ were not submitted to testing, but according to Dr Anna Williams, it appeared to be a deformed child of about the age of six, judging by the state of its teeth. This seemed a far more likely explanation than the artist’s impression of a large-eyed ‘grey’ (or ‘gray’ I suppose Americans would term them) that was provided alongside the skull.

The third and final case was that of the so-called Monatauk alien washed up on a Long Island beach in July 2008. Once again, a number of conspiracy theories circulated, the most favoured being that this (and two subsequent carcasses) were aliens, and another being that it was the freakish product of US military experiments in labs on Plum Island that from 1953 until 1969 conducted biological experiments focused upon the poisoning of Soviet livestock presided over by an ex-Nazi scientist just to add a little additional lurid colouration to the tale. Although the carcasses looked odd, why anyone should have thought that they might be ‘aliens’ baffled me. A number of zoologists concluded otherwise: partially decomposed racoons. Not as exciting as an extraterrestrial, but a rather more convincing explanation.

All in all, the programme illustrated the public hunger for tales of alien visitation, a contemporary phenomenon that could be said to parallel the mediaeval thirst for miracles and visions of the Virgin Mary. It would seem that our own scientific age is giving birth to its own set of folk beliefs, fuelled by a voracious media and the general public’s desire for strange and fantastical tales.

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