In November 2009, various news sources began reporting the discovery of an “alien graveyard” discovered by a Swiss anthropologist working near Kigali, Rwanda. The earliest source for the story appears to be The Weekly World News for 3 November 2009. Written by Erik Van Datiken, the article claims that a Dr Hugo Childs discovered more than two hundred remarkably well preserved bodies in a clearing in the Rwandan jungle. Tissue and soil samples suggested that they had been in the ground for at least 500 years. They were taller and more slender than humans, standing about 7 feet (2.13 m) tall and about as thick as small saplings, although their heads were larger than the average human’s. Bizarrely, they lacked mouth, nose and eyes. Dr Childs assumed that “they communicated with one another telepathically and moved around like bats with some kind of biological radar.”
The bodies were supposedly stacked in groups of five (although the report does not say whether this was vertically, one on top of the other, or side by side). The only photograph reproduced with the report does not show any bodies, just a collection of rocks in a small trench. Dr Childs believed that “the two hundred aliens were part of a single landing party that encountered a deadly virus… Some of them must have survived because there is no evidence of a spaceship to be found”.
It’s difficult to know where to begin… Firstly, there are no independent references to be found to a Dr Hugo Childs: they all go back to this story. If we want to be charitable, we might speculate that it is early in his career and that he has not yet published any research. On the other hand, he is presumably attached to some kind of research institution (a museum or a university, perhaps), where one might expect to find reference to him as a member of staff or as an associate. But there is nothing. All we can know about Hugo Childs comes from this one press statement.
Next, the source is The Weekly World News, which is hardly a prestigious journal of record. A recent story challenges parents to prove Santa isn’t real by not buying their children presents for Christmas! While one may applaud a sentiment that attempts to subvert the commercialisation of a religious festival, the newspaper reports it as a serious scientific experiment. As with the Rwanda graveyard story, an “expert” is on hand to provide quotes, but we know nothing about who he is or in what subject he is supposed to be an expert. Upsetting children, perhaps.
Then there’s the reporter, Erik Van Datiken. He is The Weekly World News’s reporter on all things alien, including such unmissable stories as Aliens Destroyed Atlantis, which has a rather cute graphic of aliens and cattle, or Titanic Sunk by Underwater UFO, a revelation that means at least two Hollywood blockbusters will have to be remade. My favourite story concerns the hospitalisation of chanteuse Amy Winehouse for stress induced by crop circles in her hair! He has been working for the paper since at least August 2008, when the first story under his name was published. And what an illustrious name it (almost) is! Doesn’t it remind you of someone? Yes! It’s a close linguistic relative of Erich von Däniken, the world’s foremost expert on alien intervention in human history.
Needless to say, this story is a poorly constructed hoax. Yet it is a depressing commentary on contemporary attitudes that it spread rapidly throughout the blogosphere and UFOlogical corners of the web as a serious news story that, in the words of “Dr Hugo Childs” “will change the world”. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for The Weekly World News’s promised updates on the story.
Indeed not. The most recent story by Mr von Datiken is UFO in clouds, a story posted on 29 January 2010, it concerns a video of moving clouds with another cloud behind them, moving more slowly. From this, Mr von Datiken concludes that it is a UFO hiding behind the faster moving clouds! Alas, the video is no longer visible (“because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated”, a good sign that it was not what it was claimed to be). We can only hope that Mr von Datiken is restored by his employer to his rightful position of reporting the stories no-one else has the courage to cover.