Earlier this month at a UFO conference in Mexico City two photographs claimed to have been found in a trunk in Sedona and depicting an alien body that crashed in Roswell in 1947 were revealed.
The images, which have created a buzz among UFO believers, depict a small human-shaped figure with an enlarged head—apparently in a display case with an unreadable placard, oddly enough.
Low-resolution images had been circulating for some time, and several skeptical researchers (including myself here on Discovery News, I modestly note) identified the “Roswell alien” as a mummified child.
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However those promoting the photos as authentic, such as Jaime Maussan, the Mexican UFO expert who orchestrated the conference, insisted that it could not possibly be a mummy. A Reuters news story featured video of UFO proponent Richard Dolan at the conference claiming, without providing any documentation, that experts had ruled out the mummy explanation: “Analysis of the body … suggested this is not a mummy and not a human, not a mammal and not a model.”
Finally the truth was revealed when a slide of the image was examined and “A member of The Roswell Slides Research Team used a newly acquired source image of the placard seen in front of the body. By manipulating the commercial software, SmartDeblur, he managed to significantly clear up the blurred text.” The sign in front of the “Roswell alien” reads: “Mummified Body of Two Year Old Boy.”
It is followed by a mostly-legible short description of the piece and concludes, as many museum signs do, with an acknowledgement stating that it was loaned by a man in San Francisco.
An identical photo was later found with the complete information: “Mummified Body of Two Year Old Boy. At the time of burial the body was clothed in a slip-over cotton shirt. Burial wrappings consisted of three small cotton blankets. Loaned by Mr. S. L. Palmer, San Francisco, California.”
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Thus the mystery is solved: It was a mummified body all along. It’s not clear whether or not those promoting the slides knew that they were not what they were claimed to be or if they themselves were fooled, but the case serves as an object lesson.
The “Roswell alien” photograph was claimed by its promoters as having defied explanation despite three years of extensive research and investigations (presumably by well-qualified scientists). Yet through investigation and crowdsourcing the mystery was solved in less than two days. Why did people believe it?
Part of the answer lies in the appeal to science; the audience was assured that the photos had passed scientific muster and were therefore credible. In explaining what led to his previously publicly endorsing the slides, Dolan wrote that “I felt the overall picture presented was compelling. The analyses by Jose de Jesus Zalce Benitez, Richard Doble, and Dr. Luis Antonio de Alba Galindo argued that the body depicted was not a human being. Since I am not a physiologist, I never felt qualified to debate that point.”
Dolan’s response raises a larger question of why he (or anyone else) would assume that a figure that looks exactly like a human—complete with eyes, a mouth, arms, legs, apparent ribcage, and so on (albeit with an enlarged head characteristic of a child)—could be conclusively determined by experts as non-human from nothing more than a blurry photograph.
A photograph is merely a two-dimensional representation of an object, and contains very little information about its subject. Photographs are subject to many optical illusions and tricks of perspective (as can be easily seen by the countless tourists posed as holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa); it’s hard to imagine upon what basis these experts could possibly determine it was not what it appears to be: a mummified human. Dolan simply took them at their word when told it couldn’t be human.
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Referring to the bogus photos as “inevitable bumps in the road,” Dolan acknowledged in aFacebook post that “I am aware that there are those who are disappointed with me over my connection to the recent event in Mexico City. Some are even angry…. Critics may think what they want; I am satisfied with my actions, and that is all that matters to me.”
Robert Sheaffer, a veteran UFO critic and author of the “Bad UFOs” blog, told Discovery News that “If the slide promoters were seeking credibility (as opposed to a quick buck), they could not have made a worse choice than Maussan… He has made a lucrative career peddling dodgy photos and videos of UFOs, alien beings, and the like. He previously promoted a skinned dead squirrel monkey as an alien creature…. While the fiasco of the Roswell Slides was a huge embarrassment to ‘Roswell research,’ and to UFOlogy in general, there were nonetheless some hopeful aspects of it. Many well-known UFO researchers were skeptical of claimed ‘smoking gun’ photos of unknown origin and content, and there was excellent cooperation between skeptics and UFO proponents to solve the riddle of the Roswell Slides.”
Despite the fact that the crash of a weather balloon in Roswell, New Mexico, happened nearly 70 years ago, dubious “newly found” eyewitnesses and photos seem to surface every few years. As long as there’s another dollar to be wrung out the mystery, they will likely continue to surface—shortly before being debunked.