Earlier this month, Denver Coroner Dr. James Caruso traveled to Peru to examine the allegedly “alien” Nazca mummies. Caruso was part of a team of American scientists who held an April 4 press conference in Nazca, Peru. Joining Caruso was Dr. John McDowell, a forensic odontologist and retired professor at the University of Colorado who volunteers as a consultant with the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner, and William Rodriguez, a forensic anthropologist for the Maryland State Medical Examiner. 

“We are volunteering our time because we believe that this is a very important investigation,” said McDowell. “It should not be minimized or trivialized. The people involved here are doing their best in a scientific inquiry to find out if we can identify what’s going on.”

The three-fingered, humanoid mummies with elongated skulls, covered in a coat of powdery white diatomaceous earth were first revealed in 2017, and have been the subject of speculation and controversy ever since. Last year, two of the mummies were presented during Mexican congressional hearings on UFOs, where journalist and long-time UFO enthusiast Jaime Maussan claimed they were the corpses of extraterrestrials.

“They’re not extraterrestrials,” Flavio Estrada, an archeologist with Peru’s Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, told Reuters in January. “They’re dolls made from animal bones from this planet joined together with modern synthetic glue. It’s totally a made-up story.”

Concerns that the mummies are forgeries made from ancient human and animal remains stolen from Peruvian historic and cultural sites led representatives from Peru’s Ministry of Culture to interrupt the April 4 press conference in an effort to recover the mummies.

Members of Peru’s Ministry of Culture interrupt the press conference.

“You can see how the government of Peru is against this finding,” Maussan told William Brown, author of Enigmatic North America: Legends, Oddities & Controversial History during the interruption. “If they say that these bodies are fakes, why are they here? Are they real? What do they want to stop? If this is a finding for humanity, what is happening here? They never wanted to investigate these. They said from the beginning that these were hoaxes, and now they’re very valuable? They are here to confiscate them? Why?”

Caruso, whose duties as Denver coroner include reviewing medical histories, conducting autopsies, relaying findings to law enforcement, meeting with victims’ families and testifying in court, was unable to conclusively say whether the mummies were authentic, nonhuman remains, or a hoax.

 “There’s been some preliminary DNA studies,” said Caruso during the press conference. “We would want actual, very definitive DNA studies done at high complexity laboratories. The carbon dating needs to be repeated with more sophisticated methods. Those are things that we’re looking for. Our preliminary investigation really just led to the fact that more investigation is needed.”

Josh McDowell, the son of John McDowell, a Colorado Springs attorney and spokesman for the American scientists investigating the mummies, released an official statement on social media:

“To date, the U.S. forensic team has only performed a cursory visual examination of the specimens with the aid of limited imaging equipment. Any conclusory statements about the specimens would be extremely premature. Limitations on our examination precluded excluding or confirming any manipulation of the remains. Currently, the forensic team can only indicate that further examination and study is warranted. We invite constructive interaction and collaboration.”

The American team’s reserved commentary is something of a letdown after years of sensational claims from Maussan and the team of scientists and media figures he has assembled.

Caruso, left, and John McDowell during the press conference in Peru.

“I can assure you that as far as the mummy named ‘Maria,’ the one I have studied in depth, its structure and its genetic palliation are completely true, authentic and not manipulated by anyone,” said Dr. David Ruiz Vela, a Peruvian plastic surgeon, in a promotional video shared as part of the “Tridactyl Beings Press Kit” released last month by an American PR Firm. “If they are reviewed by a geneticist who knows about palliative DNA. You may realize that these results show that it was a hybrid being.”

The Nazca people of Peru, who flourished in South America from 100 BCE to 800 CE, have long been the subject of speculation from UFO enthusiasts. The Nazca lines, a series of massive geoglyphs — geometric shapes, miles of lines, and large drawings of animal figures, some as large as a football field, constructed on the desert floor in the Nazca region — have been cited by proponents of the “ancient astronaut” theory as evidence of extraterrestrial  contact with ancient peoples. 

The Nazca also practiced a form of artificial cranial deformation, or head binding, a form of body modification in which the skull of a human being is deformed intentionally. It is done by distorting the normal growth of a child’s skull by applying force, and appears in cultures around the world. UFO enthusiasts have claimed that the alien-like appearance of the elongated skulls is again evidence of extraterrestrial contact. The Nazca mummies presented by Maussan, in addition to the elongated skulls, feature three fingers and toes, which supporters say is evidence of their nonhuman origins. 

The first outlet to publicize the discovery of the Nazca mummies was Boulder-based online subscription streaming service Gaia, which in addition to Yoga and new age content also creates videos about conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and vaccine misinformation, which has led to Gaia being removed from social media sites for its extreme content. In recent years the company has dealt with a series of legal issues, including being charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for overstating the number of the company’s paying subscribers and an ongoing lawsuit with former streaming host Corey Goode.

According to reporting from The Daily Beast, “Goode was hired as an ‘empath’ when he was 6 years old to join a group called the ‘Secret Space Program’ on a 20-year contract dubbed ‘20 and Back,’ in which he met friendly Blue Avians. Indeed, Goode claims that he has a close connection with the aliens, saying on his website he’s a member of the ‘Blue Avian soul group’ brought to Earth to ‘help with planetary ascension.’”

Maussan hosted a series of videos on Gaia’s website about the Nazca mummies which have accrued millions of views on YouTube.

Jack Brewer is the author of Wayward Sons: NICAP and the IC and a board member of Expanding Frontiers Research, an organization focused on providing the public with reliable research from sources that can be cited and authentic documents. Brewer says hoaxes using mummies, alien or otherwise, have long been part and parcel of the paranormal community.

“I’m sure it goes back probably centuries,” says Brewer. “People are just fascinated with this kind of stuff. In more recent years, I think we could kind of look at traveling circuses like Barnum and Bailey and their crypto-animals. You had your goats or your dogs or something that were supposed to be, you know, unusual and or often suspected to be fakes.”

One of P.T. Barnum’s most famous crypto-animals was the Fiji Mermaid, created by sewing the torso and head of a monkey onto the back of a fish. Skeptics argue that the Nazca mummies are a similar creation. A 2021 analysis of the mummies presented to Mexico’s Congress shows they were created using the skull of a llama.

Carbon dating of the mummies has shown discrepancies of hundreds of years between the ages of the mummies skin, bones, and fabric found with the mummies, indications of a forgery. The Nazca mummies would not be the first hoax Maussan has been involved with.

The Roswell slides mummy.

“We had the Roswell slides debacle,” explains Brewer. “That is where I Think Americans first got more aware of Mr. Maussan, and he promoted that heavily and paid high profile ufologists to come speak about it. … Maussan obviously appears to draw some type of income from these televised appearances. The Roswell slides were little slides that he got from an American that were promoted as depicting a deceased alien, and he sold tickets and pay-per-view to attend that event, and then paid American ufologists — like Richard Dolan was one that was paid to attend. I particularly recall Dolan calling those slides ‘compelling.’ Within a matter of hours of them finally being published, at that event they were shown to be part of a museum display that was a Native American child.”

Skeptics say the mummies are simply forgeries, created by Peruvian grave robbers, or huaqueros, to sell on the black market. The man who claims to have found the mummies, initially referred to as “Mario” but later identified as Leandro Rivera, was convicted in 2022 of assault on public monuments for unearthing the artifacts. A recent blog post from Josh McDowell revealed the existence of new “insectoid” mummies and that Rivera “has stated he also found ritual dolls, many loose mummified hands and feet, carved stone figures, ceramic figurines and small metal plates in the same cave. Among the carved stones, we find pyramids, elongated heads and even a figure that bears a striking resemblance to the depictions of the Alien of Varginha with a crested head (and tridactyl hand).”

The Varginha UFO incident is essentially Brazil’s Roswell. In 1996, three women encountered a creature they described as a large headed-biped with “spots like veins on the skin and some bumps on the head […] eyes were two red balls.” The creature sighting coincided with reports of UFO activity in the area, and claims that the Brazilian government and military was involved in collecting the remains of the creature and transporting it to a local hospital.

Last year in the U.S., congressional hearings on UFOs featured testimony from retired Maj. David Grusch, who claimed the U.S. has recovered non-human “biologics” from alleged UFO crash sites. Grusch’s testimony renewed interest in the Varginha incident among members of the online UFO community, and now, according to Josh McDowell, artifacts conveniently discovered alongside tridactyl humanoid and “insectoid” mummies appear to corroborate claims of the Varginha incident.

“Let me assure you that none of us — Dr. Caruso, Dr. Rodriguez, myself — have received any kind of financial remuneration for being here,” noted John McDowell during the press conference in Peru. 

A spokesperson with the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DPHE) noted that Caruso “used paid time off – similar to ‘vacation days’ – to assist the scientists in Peru. He was not on official business as Denver’s Chief Medical Examiner or representing Denver Public Health & Environment.”

Brian Cotter, the Pueblo County Coroner and chairman of the Colorado Coroners Association’s peer review committee, said in an email:

“The Colorado Coroners Association does not involve itself in the private interests or hobbies of our member Coroners. It seems as though Dr. Caruso and Dr. McDowell were in Peru on their own time pursuing an interest that was not of a criminal nature nor a violation of our Code of Ethics.”

Caruso did not respond to an emailed request for comment, nor did the Denver District Attorney’s office.

Emails obtained by the Colorado Times Recorder via a Colorado Open Records Act request shed light on Caruso’s take on the mummies.

“I am going to Peru to hunt for mummies in April,” wrote Caruso to a colleague at the DPHE. “Or they may be aliens. Or a scam … I think they are phony but they want us to give it a better look.”