How an Alien Hoax Collided With a Grave-Robbing Heist in a Secret Cave

aerial view of palpa geoglyphs in peru
An Alien Hoax Collided With a Grave-Robbing HeistLeonid Andronov - Getty Images

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  • The illegal smuggling of ancient artifacts is a problem worldwide, but a high-profile case in Peru showed this shadowy operation in practice.

  • Dolls fashioned from human remains, originally discovered in Peru’s Nazca region, were presented as “aliens” during a session of the Mexican congress in September of 2023.

  • While this hoax was quickly debunked, the episode did generate a question as to how these valuable artifacts left Peru in the first place.

For every legitimate researcher trying their best to ferret out some evidence of alien life somewhere out in the vastness of the universe, it seems like there are twice as many hoaxters trying to convince the world that aliens are already among us. And the tin foil hat crowd will do anything to convince the world they've found the evidence of a life time—including turn to graverobbing in a strange, mad dash to loot a Peruvian cavern found in the Nazca region—a region famous for “lines” that are yet another ancient wonder awash in alien conspiracy.

Much like the content of these caves near Cusco, Peru, this story begins in a strange way. In September of 2023, a Mexican journalist and UFO enthusiast Jaime Maussan claimed to have “alien” corpses in his possession, and proceeded to present them before the Mexican congress. At the time, Sky News reported that Maussan claimed under oath that “these specimens are not part of our evolutionary history on Earth… they are not beings recovered from a UFO crash. Instead, they were found in diatom (algae) mines and subsequently became fossilized.”

Of course, this wasn’t Maussan’s first alien conspiracy rodeo, and experts quickly debunked these otherworldly claims with evidence that was much more terrestrial.

“They’re not extraterrestrials. They’re dolls made from animal bones from this planet joined together with modern synthetic glue,” archaeologist Flavio Estrada, who works with Peru’s Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, said during a press conference in Lima. “It’s totally a made-up story.”

While the alien part of this archeological equation was a fabrication, the Peruvian artifacts that were somehow looted and exported out of the country were very real. The man who originally found the cavern containing the bodies—Leandro Rivera—told Reuters in a recent interview that he found the site by chance and proceeded to remove some 200 sets of remains from the cave, which have since been smuggled across the globe.

Peru’s Nazca region is an archeological hotspot, as its salt flats do wonders for preserving human remains. But that also makes it a target for grave robbers looking to make a quick buck.

“The looting has not stopped,” Evelyn Centurion, Peru’s head of cultural heritage recovery for the Culture Ministry, said in an interview with Reuters. “We need greater collaboration from local governments and local authorities to prevent these illicit acts.”

According to archeologists, online black markets have made grave robbing a booming business, and the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the problem. While the looting of antiquities throughout South America is likely to continue, Peru is working on specific task force to go after looters, as well as stiffening penalties.

Turns out an otherworldly hoaxed revealed a very real problem.

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