Archaeologists have discovered more artifacts at the first Celtic chariot burial site to be found in southern Britain.
Two iron tires and a sword from the chariot had been retrieved throughout an excavation in Pembrokeshire.
The precise website stays a secret and follows the invention of ornamental objects by a steel detector fanatic on the identical land in February 2018.
Nationwide Museum Wales is conserving the chariot items.
Archaeologists had suspected they might uncover extra beneath the farmland the place steel detectorist Mike Smith discovered a variety of objects related to a chariot.
Following a preliminary investigation in June 2018 by archaeologists from NationwideMuseum Wales and Dyfed Archaeological Belief, a dig was carried out in March and April, funded by Nationwide Museum Wales, Cadw, and the Nationwide Lottery Heritage Fund.
The staff found bronze artifacts, the iron tyres of the chariot wheels and an iron sword.
Adam Gwilt, principal curator of prehistoric archaeology at Nationwide Museum Wales, stated: “It’s the first chariot burial to be discovered not simply in Wales, however in southern Britain.
“Chariots, like warfare and ceremonial autos, had been used to show the ability and id of their homeowners and tribal communities in late Iron Age Britain, because of the nice ornament on these artifacts exhibits.
“Whereas we nonetheless know little about their proprietor, these chariot items in all probability belonged to a person or lady of some standing inside their tribe or neighborhood.”
Nationwide Museum Wales hopes to purchase the objects discovered by Mr. Smith to allow them to be displayed alongside the chariot wheels and sword at St Fagans Nationwide Museum of Historical past.
Dr. Kate Roberts, the principal inspector of historical monuments at Cadw, stated: “A singular archaeological discovery like this stirs our creativeness – we marvel who the charioteer was and concerning the world, they lived in.
“By finding out these artifacts we hope to study extra a few time when the nice change within the form of the Roman Empire was sweeping throughout Wales.”
Oldest non-African modern human fossil revealed to be 195,000 years old
The popular consensus in palaeoanthropology places the ancestors of our species exclusively in Africa before making a successful migration into Eurasia around 60,000 years ago.
There has been some level of recognition that perhaps small numbers of early modern humans reached the Levant and the Middle East around 120,000 years ago.
It was believed that these earlier populations represented a small-scale failed migration that barely managed to leave the continent before dying off. Now new Homo sapiens fossils from Israel suggest that this popular model is almost completely wrong.
Human origins are a murky affair; there is no definitive narrative to this story beyond a few fixed points between which lines can potentially be drawn in multiple (at times conflicting) directions.
The first thing anyone that follows palaeoanthropology should recognize is that the entire subject is dependent not so much on archaeological and genetic evidence as it is on accurate interpretations and sensible assumptions.
There is no Homo sapiens DNA available that is older than 45,000 years, and the fossil record of early modern and archaic Homo sapiens is very sparse. This means any favored human-origins hypothesis can change rapidly on the turn of a trowel.
Israeli scientists have published a confirmation of an archaic Homo sapiens jaw fragment associated with a discovery made back in 2002, at the Misliya Cave site, one of Mount Carmel’s many caves.
The article released in the science journal Nature, titled “Israeli Fossils Are the Oldest Modern Humans Ever Found Outside of Africa,” explains that the archaeological dig is situated just a few kilometers away from the Skhul cave, which has already produced modern-human remains dated at 80,000 to 120,000 years old.
After considerable analysis by multiple methods and involving international teams, the jaw fragment was accepted to be that of an early modern human living around 177,000 to 194,000 years ago.
“We called it ‘Searching for the Origins of the Earliest Modern Humans’; this was what we were looking for,” says Mina Weinstein-Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.
This incredibly ancient human bone further erodes the recent “Out of Africa” model. Not only were early modern human populations living beyond Africa 120,000 years ago, but they had already colonized western Eurasia almost 200,000 years ago. This date from Israel is virtually contemporary with those of the oldest early modern human remains found in East Africa, at 160,000 to 195,000 years of age (the Omo and Herto Skulls).
This latest announcement comes hot on the heels of several other “problematic” findings, including a new status for China’s Dali Skull, now identified as being that of a 260,000-year-old archaic Homo sapiens.
The other major upset for existing models involved the detection of an interbreeding event between Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens that occurred somewhere in Eurasia around 270,000 years ago, emerging from the study of a Neanderthal bone at the Hohlenstein-Stadel archaeological site in Germany.
The Hohlenstein-Stadel genetic study was published by Nature in late 2016, under the title “Deeply Divergent Archaic Mitochondrial Genome Provides Lower Time Boundary for African Gene flows into Neanderthals.”
When we factor in additional discoveries of potential early Homo sapiens populations living at Jebel Irhoud in Morocco around 300,000 years ago and others in China at dates closely matching those of the Dali skull, we begin to recognize Homo sapiens as a highly mobile and widespread species even from their very earliest appearance in the fossil record. It is time to completely abandon any romantic idea of a human genesis in an Eden-like human enclave somewhere in East Africa around 200,000 years ago.
“The fossil could indicate that Israel and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula were part of a larger region in which H. sapiens evolved,” says John Shea, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York.
Perhaps the most intriguing implication of these very early modern human population in Eurasia is that we no longer require a migration into Eurasia 120,000 years ago to explain fossils from that later period.
It may well be that these were the descendants of more archaic Homo sapiens already present across the continent, while fully modern humans of today would be descendants of a few that survived extinction 73,000 years ago in a refuge somewhere before expanding once again across the continent 13,000 years later. Perhaps it is time for us to be more skeptical of claims involving additional migrations out of Africa and consider other interpretations of the available evidence.
Hoard of Viking coins worth at least £500,000 found during police raids
A hoard of Viking coins has been confiscated by police investigating an illegal trade in historic treasures that could rewrite British history.
The collection of coins and a silver ingot, dating back to King Alfred the Great’s reign of the 9th century, were retrieved at households in Durham County and Lancashire by police.
Believed to be worth at least £500,000, a leading expert has told the MailOnline they could ‘add significantly to our understanding of the political history of England in the AD 870s’ as they reveal a previously unknown alliance between King Alfred and his contemporary Ceolwulf II, King of Mercia.
Ceolwulf of Mercia was believed by historians to be simply a puppet of the Vikings – a minor nobleman rather than a proper King. But the recently discovered coins show the two rulers standing side by side, as allies suggesting a different story.
While Alfred became known as a national hero who defeated the Vikings, Ceolwulf was written off as insignificant and disappeared without a trace, with experts now suggesting the Mercia King was later ‘airbrushed out of history’ by Alfred. If confirmed, the discovery could reshape our view of how England was united and those who made it happen.
Police, who have now handed over the haul to the British Museum, have arrested a number of people on suspicion of dealing in culturally tainted objects and the complex police operation – codenamed Operation Fantail – is said by Durham Police to be in its early stages. They refused to give further detail on the arrests.
Detective Inspector Lee Gosling, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Fantail at Durham Constabulary, said: ‘We believe the material recovered comes from a hoard of immense historical significance relating to the Vikings and we are delighted to have been able to hand it over to the British Museum.’
The British Museum believe the coins were in circulation at the time of King Alfred when he won a number of major battles in AD 878 that led to the defeat on the Vikings. Dr. Gareth Williams, the curator of Early Medieval Coins and Viking Collections at the British Museum, called the latest find ‘nationally important’.
He said: ‘This is the period in which Alfred the Great was fighting the Vikings, but which also led to the creation of a unified kingdom of England under Alfred and his successors. ‘The hoard contains coins both of Alfred and of his contemporary Ceolwulf II, King of Mercia.
‘The coins I have seen so far add significantly to our understanding of the political history of England in the AD 870s. Around the time the hoard was buried, probably in AD 879, Ceolwulf mysteriously disappeared, and Alfred then took over Ceolwulf’s kingdom as well as his own.’
Dr Williams added: ‘I think that the coins show that Ceolwulf II was in an alliance with Alfred of Wessex, and not a puppet of the Vikings as suggested in sources written at Alfred’s court a few years later, by which time Ceolwulf had disappeared without trace from history and Alfred had taken over his kingdom.
‘Sources from Alfred’s court, writing more than fifteen years later, describe as ‘a foolish king’s thegn’, who was only made king by the Vikings. ‘However, the coins show a working relationship with Alfred which the sources ‘forgot’ to mention, and his name suggests that he may well have been a legitimate descendant of earlier kings of Mercia.
‘Some of the coins show the name of Ceolwulf and the images on their back show two emperors standing side by side, and was almost certainly a deliberate choice to symbolize their alliance.’ This isn’t a completely new idea, but until recently coins of this period were too rare to prove the idea.
‘The discovery of this hoard strengthens the case that Ceolwulf and Alfred were allies and that Alfred’s spin-doctors later re-wrote history to suit the political situation of the time.’ The iconic figure of King Alfred is widely believed to be the man who saved England from the Vikings and is currently being portrayed by David Dawson in the BBC epic The Last Kingdom.
He spent several years fighting the Vikings, who were wreaking devastation in England, and won several decisive victories. Alfred ruled from 871 to 899 was instrumental in setting the foundations for England known nowadays without whom the English may have even spoken another language.
His defeat of the Vikings earned him the name Alfred the Great. But in recent years, his role has been called into question by a number of archaeological finds.
More than 200 pieces of Viking silver including coins, ingots, and jewellery were discovered buried in a field in Oxfordshire in 2015 which Shedd fresh light on King Alfred and the little-known ally, Ceolwulf II.
A spokesperson for Durham Police has said the investigation is ongoing and a number of people have been arrested on suspicion of dealing in ‘culturally tainted objects’.
Huge Dinosaur Footprints Discovered on Scottish Coast
MORE THAN 160 million years ago, long-necked dinosaurs called sauropods lumbered through the ancient lagoons that dotted what is now Great Britain. Now, dozens of their footprints have been found on the forbidding, wave-pounded coast of Scotland’s Isle of Skye.
Researchers Davide Foffa and Hong-Yu Yi, University of Edinburgh paleontologist Dr. Stephen Brusatte and his student Paige dePolo went back to the site to take a closer look at the prints and learn more.
They are not so easy to access, located in the wave-pounded tidal zone of a headland called Brother’s Point. A collaborative study of the footprints by the University of Edinburgh, Staffin Museum, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by dePolo, was presented in the Scottish Journal of Geology, along with a full catalog of images of the 50 footprints.
The team has dated the tracks at about 170 million years of age, and conclude that they were made by the gargantuan animals as they waded through a shallow lagoon. In the distant past, when these tracks were made, Earth was a very different place. It was shortly after the time when Pangaea started to break apart, and our planet was transforming into the continents we know today.
In those days, experts believe that the area of Skye was positioned somewhere in the subtropic belt, with a much warmer climate. According to Brusatte, “This was a subtropical kind of paradise world, probably kind of like Florida or Spain today.”
The latest find of dinosaur prints in Scotland is a source of great excitement in the worlds of paleontology and geology because they are from the Middle Jurassic epoch.
As Brusatte explained to National Geographic, this was an important time in dinosaur evolution. It is probably the era when the first birds appeared and the largest species of a sauropod were thriving, but dinosaur fossils from this period are scarce compared to other periods.
The recent find follows hot on the heels of the discovery in 2015 of hundreds of Middle Jurassic sauropod tracks at another location on the Isle of Skye, Duntulm beach. The Brother’s Point prints were found in older rocks than those of the 2015 discovery.
The study has increased knowledge of dinosaurs from this era significantly and offered some valuable insights: for instance, sauropods were roaming this corner of the globe for a greater period of time than previously thought.
Sauropods were the largest land-dwelling animals at that time, and despite their size, they were plant-eating creatures. The field team not only mapped tracks from sauropods; scattered among them are distinctive three-toed prints belonging to theropods, a distant and more primitive relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. These meat-eating dinosaurs were able to grow to about 6.5 feet in height.
The largest sample of theropod footprint left on the Isle of Skye was about 19.6 inches across, which is still nowhere close to the largest belonging to a sauropod–one example of these was reportedly some 27.5 inches across.
The endeavors of the researchers were not without challenges. As the area is continuously hammered with cold winds and rain, the team could not easily proceed with mapping the area. Another challenge was the high tides that regularly reclaimed the footprints, hence the team was constantly clock-watching while they measured and inspected the tracks on the rocky ledges. They also had to improvise with cameras and equipment, but in the end, it paid off, as 3-D images of the terrain were produced.
Part of the dinosaur traces found were actually hand prints, Brusatte explained, a clue that it was a huge creature in question, like the sauropod. This enormous animal, which could grow up to 50 feet long, needed all four limbs to support itself while lumbering around. The theropod tracks indicate that these dinosaurs walked only on their hind legs.
Sauropods were previously thought to have been purely amphibious creatures, the Smithsonian notes. Paleontologists of the early 20th century believed that sauropods could not walk on the land because of their weight.
Evidence that was acquired later on proved the contrary. And the recent finds coming from Scotland suggest that, while some representatives of the species were able to move comfortably on land, others opted to wade through waters near the coast.
Related story from us: This dinosaur had a swan-like neck and crocodile teeth and walked like a duck and swam like a penguin
In fact, Brusatte remarked to National Geographic, sauropods “were so dynamic and so energetic,” meaning it is likely that they were abundant in various environments as their species spread around the world.
Brusatte also acknowledged that more Middle Jurassic era dinosaur fossils could lurk hidden on the Isle of Skye, hence this might be only the beginning of what this Scottish island has to offer to the knowledge of dinosaurs in the world.
Archaeologists Say New Airport Near Machu Picchu “Would Destroy It”
The Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru is one of the world’s most stunning pieces of engineering, and a hypnotizing, historical remnant of a mystical past.
Nestled in the Andes at around 8,000 feet, the government is now planning to boost the lucrative tourism it draws annually even more — by building a multibillion-dollar international airport nearby, which critics are adamant “would destroy it.”
The Unesco World Heritage Site is traditionally reached by taking a flight to the Cusco airport 46 miles away, which only has one runway. From there, visitors usually continue by train or by hiking through the Sacred Valley.
With more than 1.5 million visitors to the sacred site in 2017 — nearly twice what Unesco recommends to protect it — transportation to the ancient ruins is getting more crowded every year. Construction on the profitable corporate venture is already underway. Bulldozers are clearing millions of tons of earth in Chinchero, which is 12,500 feet above sea level and the gateway for the Sacred Valley.
Archaeologists, historians, locals, and activists are in utter disbelief, however, as the airport would bring push the region even further beyond its visitor capacity and put a huge strain on the regional ecology.
“This is a built landscape; there are terraces and routes which were designed by the Incas,” Natalia Majluf, a Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University, told The Guardian. “Putting an airport here would destroy it.”
South Korean and Canadian companies are preparing to bid on the construction project, which would provide direct flight access from major American and South American cities. The tiny town of Chinchero is reportedly hurrying to build new houses and hotels in anticipation of the incoming flood of tourists.
But for critics — who seem to have nothing but the sanctity and protection of this 15th-century site in mind — there are far more important matters at hand. This area was once home to the world’s largest empire, and jeopardizing its integrity for profit is simply unacceptable to countless academics.
“It seems ironic and in a way contradictory that here, just 20 minutes from the Sacred Valley, the nucleus of the Inca culture, they want to build an airport — right on top of exactly what the tourists have come here to see,” said Pablo Del Valle, a Cusco-based anthropologist. Should the airport be completed and function as intended, planes would make low flyovers over Ollantaytambo — a 134 square-mile archaeological park — and likely cause priceless damage to the Incan ruins.
Other critics are more focused on the Lake Piuray watershed being depleted during the airport’s construction, costing the city of Cusco half its water supply. The petition, which Majluf took upon herself to start, asks Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra to re-assess this project — or choose a different spot.
“I don’t think there’s any significant archaeologist or historian working in the Cusco area that hasn’t signed the petition,” said Majluf. Chinchero was built as a royal estate for Incan ruler Túpac Inca Yupanqui, about 600 years ago. The area is extremely well-preserved and offers an unquantifiable wealth of direct contact with a time long gone. Many of the structures in Machu Picchu befuddle archaeologists to this day.
The economy here is largely dependent on tourism and farming. As such, it’d be surprising if those desperate for more customers would oppose a big modern airport next door — but they do. Alejandrina Contreras a blanket-weaver who lives in Chincero, said, “We live peacefully here, there are no thieves, there are no criminals. There will be progress with the airport but a lot of things will change.”
“Think of the noise, the air pollution, the illnesses it will bring,” said 20-year-old Karen Auccapuma.
This project has actually already been delayed, as the private company who had the winning bid became entangled in price-hike and corruption allegations. Unfortunately, arbitration on the current business model has been settled — and the government is eager to complete construction by 2023.
“This airport will be built as soon as possible because it’s very necessary for the city of Cusco,” Carlos Oliva, Peru’s finance minister, suggested. “There’s a series of technical studies which support this airport’s construction.”
Naturally, there is local appeal for the project. Citizens have been regaled with the promise of 2,500 construction jobs, while the local land has increased in value so much that some have begun selling their properties for a pretty penny. Peasant families have changed their lives by selling farmland. Cusco Mayor Luis Cusicuna claimed local leaders have been desperate for a second, larger airport for decades.
The Incan site is “so singularly dominant for the Peruvian tourism offering,” said Mark Rice, author of Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru. “The best way I can describe it is if people going to Britain only went to Stonehenge.”
Rice explained that there’s “legitimate concern that Cusco’s travel infrastructure is at its limit,” however. So while the proposal has a rational backbone — in terms of business, at least — it most definitely will cause a “lot of damage to one of the key tourism offerings of Cusco, which is its scenic beauty.”
Unesco recently threatened the Peruvian government that it was prepared to remove Machu Picchu from its list, and place it on the list of world heritage sites in danger, instead. In response, Peru narrowed entry requirements, such as limiting visits to certain times of the day.
At this very moment, however, the nascent airport project is causing new houses, hotels, and buildings to be constructed in the area. Everyone is preparing to make this a lucrative endeavor while throwing caution to the Incan wind.
Europe’s Oldest Mosque May Be Buried Underground in This Visigothic City in Spain
Reccopolis, a rural area outside of Madrid, has witnessed an extraordinary archaeological effort, with researchers arriving at an important finding using a geomagnetic instrument that helped map walls and other structures still buried underground.
The ancient, 1,400-year-old city was found to have housed much more than the ruins currently visible at the site would imply: the yet unexplored plots of land include hidden parts of a city palace and what may be one of the oldest mosques in Europe.
Archaeologists have detected long-hidden features of a Visigothic city in Spain, including unexplored parts of a palace and a building that may be one of the oldest mosques in Europe.
Without digging, the researchers used a geomagnetic instrument to reveal walls and other structures still buried underground at Reccopolis, which is in a rural area outside of Madrid. They found that the 1,400-year-old city was far more extensive than the ruins visible at the site today would suggest.
“In every space that we were able to survey, we found buildings and streets and passages,” study co-author Michael McCormick, a medieval historian and archaeologist at Harvard University, told Live Science.
The Visigoths were Germanic people who established a kingdom in southwestern Europe in Late Antiquity, just before the Middle Ages began. They famously sacked Rome in the year 410.
In the second half of the sixth century, the Iberian Peninsula was the center of Visigothic power. King Leovigild made his royal capital in Toledo, Spain, and farther upstream along the Tagus River, he constructed a new town called Reccopolis in 578.
Excavations have been ongoing at Reccopolis for a few decades, but so far, archaeologists have uncovered only about 8% of the area inside the city walls. When McCormick visited the site in 2014, he saw the remains of the palace, a chapel, and some shops. But he teased his friend, study co-researcher and excavation director Lauro Olmo Enciso of the University of Alcalá in Spain, asking, “Where’s the rest of the city?”
The researchers and a few other colleagues teamed up the next year to perform the first geomagnetic survey of the site. This noninvasive prospecting technique allows researchers to see structures underground by mapping magnetic anomalies beneath the Earth’s surface.
Their results quickly showed that empty spaces inside the city walls of Reccopolis were full of hidden streets and buildings. There was even a suburb outside the city’s monumental gate. The findings were published last week in the journal Antiquity.
“Thanks to this new geomagnetic survey, we have learned that the space encircled by the city’s walls was fully developed and that its population was large enough even to spill beyond the city’s walls,” said Noel Lenski, a professor of classics and history at Yale University, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Just as importantly, this was happening in a period long thought to be characterized by urban decline and demographic collapse.”
Reccopolis was indeed constructed amid the turbulence of the sixth century. From Western Europe to China, the era is associated with mass migrations, imperial collapse, food shortages, and famine, as well as the first known outbreak of the bubonic plague.
Researchers have recently defined a period of rapid climate change, called the Late Antique Little Ice Age — which lasted from 536 to about 660 and was brought on by a series of volcanic eruptions in the Northern Hemisphere — that may have been the catalyst for the widespread upheaval.
“It’s really remarkable to see the Visigothic monarchy coming together at this time and assembling the resources to be able to found a new city,” McCormick said.
The Visigothic rulers of the region were deposed during the Islamic conquest of 711, and the new geophysical evidence shows some signs of Muslim occupation before the city was abandoned around 800.
The researchers found one large building with a different orientation from all the other buildings on the site, toward Mecca.
The floor plan also resembles that of mosques in the Middle East. McCormick says only excavations will be able to confirm that the building is indeed a mosque. But if it is, it could possibly be the oldest remaining mosque in Europe.
Workers Laying Pipe In Britain Discover Grisly Remains Of Roman-Era Human Sacrifice Victims
When engineers were tasked with the routine laying of water pipes in Oxfordshire, England, they likely did not expect to find a nearly 3,000-year-old settlement, Iron Age and Roman-era tools — and dozens of Neolithic skeletons.
According to CNN, the remains of 26 people were found at the site, many of which were likely victims of ritualistic human sacrifice. One of the victims had their skull placed by their feet. Another, a woman, had her feet cut off and her arms tied behind her back.
Meanwhile, the tools unearthed ranged across a variety of historical periods but were certainly thousands of years old — before the Romans invaded Britain.
According to The Telegraph, evidence of animal carcasses and household items such as knives, pottery, and a comb, were also found.
As for the human remains, archaeologists are confident these unfortunate victims belonged to the same community that helped create the Uffington White Horse — a prehistoric sculpture made of chalk, found on a nearby hill.
“These findings open a unique window into the lives and deaths of communities we often know only for their monumental buildings, such as hillforts or the Uffington White Horse,” said Paolo Guarino, project officer at Cotswold Archaeology.
“The results from the analysis of the artifacts, animal bones, the human skeletons, and the soil samples will help us add some important information to the history of the communities that occupied these lands so many years ago.”
All of the unearthed evidence has since been removed and taken in by experts for forensic investigation. The engineers who stumbled upon this substantial find were conducting engineering work on behalf of a Thames Water project focused on protecting a local chalk stream.
Neil Holbrook, Cotswold Archaeology chief executive, said the discoveries “provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest.
Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice.”
“The discovery challenges our perception about the past, and invites us to try to understand the beliefs of people who lived and died more than 2,000 years ago,” said Holbrook.
This news follows that of an incident in which two Danish workers found a medieval sword in a sewer.
But as for this latest find, it’s certainly added substantial insight to our previous understanding of the time period in question. Human sacrifice and ritualistic burial practices, for instance, can now arguably be considered as a standard custom of that region during that time.
Fortunately, the right people are hard at work at extracting as much functional information from the discovered artifacts and human remains as possible. Hopefully, there will be even more illuminating data to share in the near future.
Meet The Megatherium: The Adorable 13-Foot Sloth That Ruled The Prehistoric Amazon
The year is 9,000 B.C. Humongous cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, and massive-antlered Irish elk roam the grasslands and forests of South America, but the biggest of all is the Megatherium, an elephant-sized ground sloth.
The Megatherium was one of the largest ground mammals ever to have existed. The Megatherium dominated the continent’s southern grasslands and lightly forested areas and was something of a king of the mammals for thousands of years before a mass extinction event wiped it from the planet.
Or did it?
Rediscovering The Megatherium
It would not be until 1788 that the Megatherium would be seen again after the mass extinction event that wiped out pre-historic animals like the wooly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger, too.
It was then that an archaeologist named Manuel Torres discovered a rare fossil specimen on the banks of the Luján River in eastern Argentina. Though he did not immediately recognize it, he deemed it worth further study and sent it back to his base of study at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (The Spanish National Museum of Natural History) in Madrid, Spain. There, it was assembled into its most likely arrangement and mounted for display. A museum employee also created a thorough sketch of the animal to further study it.
Before long, the fossil caught the eye of esteemed French paleontologist Georges Cuvier. Cuvier was intrigued by the sketch of the creature and used it to further explore its anatomy and taxonomy, and over time, he managed to create a more complete picture of the Megatherium’s history. In 1796, just eight years after the Megatherium had been discovered, Cuvier published the first paper on it.
In this paper, Cuvier theorized that the Megatherium was a giant sloth, perhaps an early ancestor of the modern equivalent. Initially, he believed that the Megatherium used its claws to climb trees as modern-day sloths did. However, he later amended his theory and hypothesized instead that the sloth was much too large to climb trees and likely used its claws to dig subterranean holes and tunnels.
With this explanation, a picture of the Megatherium as it existed began to form; a sloth the size of an elephant, with giant, powerful claws, that lived mostly on and under the ground. With further study, scientists began to discover its habitat, diet, and reproductive cycle, and the picture became ever clearer.
The Megatherium likely lived across the continent of South America, from southern Argentina all the way to Colombia. Full grown, individual creatures likely weighed upwards of four tons — the weight of the average male elephant — making it the largest land mammal second only to the wooly mammoth. It probably walked most of its life on four legs, though it is believed that it could stand on its hind legs in order to reach treetops and high foliage to feed its herbivorous diet. When it stood, the Megatherium would have been upwards of 13 feet tall.
Due to its immense size, it’s likely that Megatherium moved slowly like the sloths of today. It was likely one of the slowest creatures in its environment. In looks, it was quite similar to the modern sloth, though with facial characteristics of another one of its descendants, the anteater. In fact, it was in part Megatherium’s resemblance to more modern creatures that got Darwin thinking about his theory of evolution.
The Megatherium lived in large groups, though individual fossils have been found in isolated locations such as caves. It gave birth to live young, as most other mammals do, and likely continued living in familial groups while their young matured. Due to the lack of predators – they outweighed (and could likely kill) saber-toothed cats and other small carnivores – they lived a quiet and probably diurnal lifestyle.
Further, the Megatherium wasn’t much of a picky eater. The gigantic herbivores didn’t have to compete with smaller mammals for food as they had the advantage of height and procuring food from distances that smaller mammals simply couldn’t. They could tolerate and adapt to various types of plants as well as allegedly nibble on the occasional carcass, which allowed the Megatherium to migrate and thrive all over the continent — for 5.3 million years.
So what, or perhaps who, led to this resilient mammalian force’s extinction?
Extinction And Possible Survival
In roughly 8,500 B.C., the earth experienced a “Quaternary extinction event” during which most of the earth’s large mammals disappeared.
The Irish elk and saber-toothed tiger went extinct during this time as well as mammoths within the confines of continents, as some survived for several thousand more years in remote island areas. And, of course, the Megatherium went extinct during this time as well. These giant ground sloths were thought to have survived in more remote areas for at least another 5,000 years following this extinction, though.
Scientists are still not entirely sure what accounts for this mass extinctionas it does occur simultaneously with glacial-interglacial climate change. Instead, the extinction of the Megatherium seems more to have been the work of the emergence of mankind. Indeed, Megatherium fossils have been found with cut marks on them, suggesting that they were hunted by humans. Whatever the reasons for their disappearance, scientists have long believed that the elephant-sized sloths have been out of commission for at least 4,000 years.
However, rumors of giant sloths living deep in the jungles of South America have emerged. Those who live in and around the Amazon rainforest have long passed down stories of a dangerous beast they call the “mapinguari,” a giant sloth-like creature who is over seven feet tall, with matted fur and large, sharp claws. They claim it tramples foliage and brush and roars out of a giant, second mouth on its stomach.
Stomach-mouth aside, the description of the mapinguari is actually quite similar to descriptions of the Megatherium, and indeed several drawings of the mapinguari are hard to discern from those of the Megatherium. Some experts have theorized that the initial mapinguari sightings many years ago may, in fact, have been Megatherium that survived extinction by sequestering themselves within the shelter of the rainforest.
As many theorize that the mass extinction event was, in part, caused by a human invasion of their habitat, it would make sense that some could survive by avoiding populated areas. If the Megatherium truly did evade extinction, then the modern-day interpretation of the mapinguari is most likely an exaggerated report blown out of proportion through a generations-long game of telephone.
However, it could always be the case that the Megatherium truly did go extinct all those years ago and that the mapinguari, with its fetid breath and giant stomach-mouth, is truly roaming the Amazon and we are all in terrible danger.