“Starchild” is the name given to a misshapen skull claimed by some to be an alien-human hybrid. Many people have seen videos about this skull online and on television. In response to a question on Ken Ham’s Facebook page about this item, we decided to review the history and claims regarding Starchild. The skull is in the possession of Lloyd Pye, who believes mainstream science has suppressed and tried to explain away his claims. Thus, not surprisingly, the sources for this review are not peer-reviewed journals but the publicized claims made by those who have examined the skull and the publicized opinions of those, like us, who have evaluated their claims from afar.1
A teenage girl found two skeletons in a Mexican mine tunnel in the 1930s. The misshapen skull was reportedly associated with a small skeleton and the normal skull with an adult-size skeleton, but the skeletons were lost. The skulls changed hands over the years, and in the 1990s they came into the possession of Lloyd Pye. Pye dubbed the misshapen skull “Starchild” and began investigating it. He has had the skull examined by about a dozen people from various specialties, including Dr. Ted Robinson, a cranio-facial reconstructive surgeon, who reports he searched the literature and found no similar skulls. Other experts have included other surgeons, radiologists, pediatricians, ophthalmologists, and a forensic tooth specialist as well as geneticists, some of whom remain anonymous.
Pye is perhaps best known for his campaign to have Starchild recognized as an alien-human hybrid. Central and South American Indian legends tell of “star-beings” descending to earth to mate with Indian women, so the find fits the legend as well as Pye’s own beliefs about human origins.
Pye recently authored an ebook, Intervention Theory Essentials, outlining his beliefs about the origin of humanity. He denies biblical creation and evolution with equal vigor. In his ebook he states, “Interventionists like me anchor our search for origins on evidence rather than faith, on logic rather than magic. We don’t think that God did it, or that life spontaneously generated.”3 Instead, Pye takes an “intelligent design” position, but his “intelligent designers” are aliens. Pye writes that these intelligent aliens are “non-human, non-Earth-based … human-like entities (aliens or gods, with a small ’g’).”4 He believes these aliens genetically engineered primitive bipedal ape-like hairy hominoids, hybridizing their “primitive hominoid”5 genes with their own superior alien genes to create test-tube people. He hopes his findings in the Starchild investigation will lend credence to his position.
Starchild’s description and Pye’s claims
Pye reports carbon dating on the skulls showed them to be about 900 years old. Further investigations addressed both skeletal morphology and genetics. He is currently trying to raise funds to continue the investigation and sequence the whole genome of Starchild.
Starchild’s cranium has all the usual bones present in a normal human skull. The oddly shaped skull is symmetrical, but the cranial bones are shifted and misshapen and thinner than normal. The frontal sinuses and brow ridges are absent. The orbits are shallow, the eyes are low-set, and the lower face is somewhat reduced with the zygomatic arches (cheekbones) small and shifted downward. The chewing muscles are thought to have been smaller than normal. Examination of a tooth showed it to have a well-developed root consistent with a child around five or six years old. (Pye in one of his videos asserted the tooth indicated the skull belonged to an adult, but several of his experts say the tooth belonged to a child.) Several teeth are impacted above this tooth.
Although these distortions make the face appear smaller than normal, the overall cranial capacity is about 1600 cc, which Pye’s experts have described as 200 cc above normal. The lack of frontal sinuses and the diminished orbital size account for at least some of this extra volume.
The back of the skull is fairly flattened with the parietal bones sloping sharply downward and without the usual occipital protuberance and the bump on the back of the skull—the inion—in the region where the trapezius muscles and a ligament from the cervical vertebrae normally attach. Therefore, the neck is presumed to have been thin and attached farther forward than normal. The condyles—bony protrusions that articulate with the first cervical vertebra—are somewhat oversized.
On first look, many suggest the skull belonged to a hydrocephalic child, but one of the radiologists who examined it said that could not be the case because there was no erosion of the inner surface of the skull. Also, the sutures between the skull bones were not separated. While modern medicine has fortunately made untreated hydrocephalus a rarity, erosion of the inner skull is described as a common consequence of increased intracranial pressure in Dr. Artur Schüller’s 1918 text, Roentgen diagnosis of diseases of the head. Dr. Schüller notes, however, that such erosion is not usually seen when the onset of hydrocephalus is in early childhood, prior to age four or five.6 Thus, since the age at which this child developed his problems is uncertain, the presence or absence of such erosion is inconclusive.
The bone chemistry has a lower content of calcium and especially phosphorus than normal. Pye says cut sections of the bone show some sort of unidentified red residue and “durable fibers” on scanning electron microscopy, but those findings are missing from the accounts of the various experts describing the skull.
Initial efforts to recover DNA from the skulls in 2003, after some difficulty getting the bone to dissolve, resulted in finding human mitochondrial DNA. Both skulls were consistent with Amerindian ethnicity, although being of different haplogroups they are not a mother-child pair. Initial efforts to recover nuclear DNA from the smaller individual’s skull were reportedly minimally successful but finally were reported to reveal both X and Y chromosomes, indicating human parentage. Now Pye’s online material claims the difficulty extracting nuclear DNA in 2003 suggests Starchild’s father was not human, and that partial genomic sequencing confirms the presence of non-human DNA.
Pye now reports Starchild’s DNA has been examined using a different method and found to have some clearly human DNA in addition to a 342 DNA sequence that doesn’t match anything in the NIH genetic database. (The NIH database currently includes the entire human genome as well as genome sequences from numerous species of plants and animals.) His website features a screen shot of the report from the NIH database inquiry showing the report, “No significant similarity found.” Pye is now trying to raise funds to have the DNA fully sequenced, confident the DNA will prove Starchild was a product of genetic engineering involving an alien or alien-human hybrid with a human surrogate mother.
Possibilities concerning the skull morphology
Though Pye claims the skull must be something other than human, other suggested explanations have included head binding and genetic abnormalities. South American cultures that practice head binding usually bind above the inion, but this skull is flattened below that level. Pye points out that the shape did not result from cradle-boarding as the position required to achieve its shape would have obstructed the child’s airway.7 Most agree the skull is not typical of skulls artificially reshaped.
Prominent among Pye’s detractors is Dr. Steven Novella, a Yale neurology professor well-known as a skeptic of pseudoscience and alternative medicine. Novella published an online letter in 2006,8 and Pye has of course published his counterclaims. Novella asserts that the child probably had untreated hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus results from a blockage in the drainage of cerebrospinal fluid with a resultant buildup of fluid in the ventricles of the brain. Today the disorder is treated by surgically placing a shunt to drain the fluid. The cerebrospinal fluid could have built up slowly in this untreated individual, expanding the skull while creating many distortions. And as mentioned above, the lack of bony erosions does not rule out this diagnosis.
The lack of frontal sinuses is easily dismissed. One or both frontal sinuses are occasionally absent in normal people.9
Although no one has been able to point to a single known genetic abnormality or congenital syndrome that causes all the specific abnormalities seen in the Starchild skull, there are a number of genetic abnormalities manifested by the sorts of findings seen here. Many genetic defects are rare and may produce a group of physical defects compatible with life, at least for a time. When an unusually malformed child was born in the Middle Ages, some would attribute the cause to demons (as any devoted reader of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame will quickly recall). Of course, Pye does not claim supernatural demonic influence, but his proposed aliens would certainly be outside the realm of both mainstream science and biblical Christianity. However, the fact that medical literature hasn’t reported a child with this particular constellation of symptoms should not cause anyone to leap on the alien bandwagon.
Although normal human cranial capacity varies greatly, the capacity of this skull, presumably a child’s, does exceed the average norm for morphologically normal adult skulls. Increased cranial capacity obviously can arise from hydrocephalus, but it has also been reported without hydrocephalus in children with autism.10 Here, the enlarged cranial capacity likely results from the lack of frontal sinuses, reduced orbits, and the distorted growth of the skull, whether or not hydrocephalus was part of the picture. There are sufficient distortions to explain the enlarged cranial capacity, however, without suggesting a larger-than-normal brain or the conventional sci-fi type of alien portrait some have associated with this skull.
The abnormalities in bone chemistry could be related to a genetic disorder, as some of them cause abnormal phosphate metabolism resulting in a rickets-like softening of the bones. The abnormal bone chemistry could also be a result of the skull’s exposure in a wet mine tunnel for years. While the “durable fibers” and “red residue” Pye describes on video as a mystery remain unexplained, no results of any tests addressing those findings are reported. They may well represent a foreign contaminant or some sort of artifact resulting from the years in the mine.
The thinning of the cranial bones may be related to untreated hydrocephalus or to some other underlying syndrome causing the bones to distort. Such distortion can be caused by premature fusion of some of the cranial sutures, causing the head to stretch and grow in the dimensions left to it. While some have asserted such a condition would lead to asymmetrical growth, a condition called brachycephaly causes symmetrical distortion of the skull with severe flattening of the back of the skull. In fact, Starchild’s skull bears remarkable similarities to brachycephalics. Two experts on craniofacial abnormalities, Dr. Patricia Hummel and Dr. Jeffrey A. Fearon, according to reported personal communications,11 agree that Starchild fits this description.
The shallow low-set orbits would have probably caused the eyes to protrude somewhat. This condition is called exorbitism, and it is seen with some of the syndromes causing premature closure of cranial sutures. One such syndrome is Crouzon’s syndrome. Children with this mutation tend to have bulging, low-set eyes and an underdeveloped lower face with cleft lip and palate, all associated with premature fusion of cranial sutures. While the Starchild does not fit the full criteria for Crouzon’s, the example makes it clear that genetic defects can produce constellations of abnormalities such as those seen in this skull.
Much has been made of the apparently thin, forward-shifted neck, with claims it matches supposedly documented aliens commonly held to exist by the UFO-crowd. Given the magnitude of this skull’s flattening and distortion posteriorly, however, the neck’s muscle and ligament attachments would naturally have to accommodate to the head’s shape. The impacted teeth are another abnormality commonly seen in children.
In short, the skull abnormalities, while not fitting any particular “named” syndrome, are all consistent with the sorts of abnormalities seen in human children with genetic problems.
What about those genes?
An anonymous geneticist using newer technology to recover nuclear DNA has found some DNA clearly matching human DNA in the NIH database. But Pye is making much of not only the difficulty extracting the DNA but also the fact that a 342-base-pair sequence failed to correspond to anything in the NIH database. He proposes some sort of genetic engineering occurred to produce an alien-human hybrid or an alien child born to a human surrogate mother.
The simple explanation for these “aberrancies,” however, rests in the fact that environmental conditions (humidity, acidity, heat, light, etc.), contamination, and degradation over time are expected when extracting DNA from samples like these. And any degraded region in the sequence could trigger a “no similarity found” message when compared to the database. Additional causes of such “error messages” are searches in the wrong subset of the database and setting the parameters for the search too stringently. These error messages are quite common. Thus, there is nothing in the mismatch message or the difficult DNA recovery to suggest aliens, just DNA degradation. And furthermore, the only source of the Y chromosome seen in the 2003 analysis would be a human father.
As to the feasibility of alien-human cross-breeding if sentient aliens even existed, both creationists and evolutionists would deem that beyond improbable. Evolutionist Carl Sagan, who did believe sentient aliens existed, in 1978 “pointed out that a human ancestor would more likely be successful mating with a petunia than with an extraterrestrial. The petunia and the ancestral human at least evolved on the same planet, and therefore share, in the broadest sense and however tenuously, a genetic history.”12 All evolutionary presuppositions aside, we know that different kinds of organisms do not successfully mate. This limitation exists even though organisms on earth were created by our common Designer, God, to share the same environment and basic biochemistry. If reproduction is only successful within created kinds on earth, there is no reason to suspect alien-human hybridization is even possible. The genetic incompatibilities would be too great, just as the differences between different created kinds are.
We have already discussed the question of whether extraterrestrials exist many times on this website. While the Bible does not say that God didn’t create extraterrestrial life, we do know that God created the entire universe, and “
without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). God’s Son Jesus Christ came to Earth as a human being, the “
last Adam,” (1 Corinthians 15:45–47) to die for all human beings who, like their real common ancestor—the first Adam—are sinners. We also know from God’s Word that the whole creation groans with corruption (Romans 8:21–22) under the curse of man’s sin. Thus the theological position of extraterrestrial intelligent life would cast aspersions on God’s character, as such beings would be reaping the guilty whirlwind of man’s sin without access to the grace of Christ.
Many who believe in extraterrestrial life do so because of evolutionary presuppositions that life could evolve anywhere conditions are right. Pye instead holds that neither God nor random chance can explain the origin of human life. He and those like him therefore look to outer space for the biological and technological underpinnings of the human race. Yet, aside from their lack of credible evidence for the existence of these alien forefathers, they still offer no explanation for the origin of the aliens. If human origins are a puzzle, then alien origins become a matter of the wildest conjecture.
The revelation God gives us in the Bible—His eyewitness account of where we came from—is consistent with the scientific evidence we see in the world. Nothing in the Starchild saga should impress anyone with the notion that our origins are from aliens in outer space.