Global Fraud Footprint

Archeological frauds threaten Peruvian cultural heritage

Peruvian fraudsters take advantage of victims’ gullibility and interest in pre-Columbian Andean history plus the vulnerability of powerless indigenous peoples and rampant corruption to commit archeological frauds that exploit and denigrate cultures.

A curious case of supposedly alien mummies in Peru strangely led to a congressional proposal in a country with rich historical traditions of ancient cultures, and more recently, endemic corruption. Fraudsters have exploited both in numerous international fraud schemes, including some related to the country’s treasured antiquities.

In 2017, began promoting a video series, “Unearthing Nazca,” that suggested researchers had discovered a potentially extraterrestrial mummy in the Andes region of South America with an elongated skull, and only three extended digits on each hand and foot.

The initial teaser video enticed viewers to pay for a series that included “experts” analyzing the mummy they named “Maria” that bore a striking resemblance to another Nazca mummy promoted by a Peruvian YouTuber in 2016, which bonafide professionals quickly debunked as a fabrication consisting of human and reptile remains. (See The Racism Behind Alien Mummy Hoaxes, by Christopher Heaney, The Atlantic, Aug. 1, 2017.)

Eventually, in late 2018, then Peruvian Congressman Armando Villanueva proposed a bill to officially declare the investigation of the Nazca mummies an item of national interest, which could potentially provide resources to analyze them.

By the time Villanueva made his proposal to the Peruvian congress, scientists concluded from at least four independent analyses of DNA samples and other mummy materials that they were modified, pre-Columbian mummies. The man who reportedly discovered the mummies had previously been arrested by police for possessing forged bank notes and gold in 2007, and for affiliation with a gang dedicated to stealing and illicitly trading archeological artifacts of the Nazca civilization. (See Un congresista y las momias de Nasca: Cuando La Pseudociencia es peor que una película de terror, Sociedad Secular Humanista del Peru, Utero, Feb. 15, 2019.)

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