Archaeologists Discover Wreckage of Notorious Slave Ship Off Brazil
The wreckage of a 19th-century U.S. ship with more than 500 slaves on board may have been identified by archaeologists in the sea of Angra dos Rei, Brazil, according to the local news outlet TV Prefeito.
Though researchers are still investigating, they believe it was a North American ship led by slave trader Nathanial Gordon, who was en route to deliver 500 enslaved Africans from Mozambique to Bracuí in Angra dos Reis in 1851.
Gordon illegally participated in the slave trade to Brazil, for which he was later tried, convicted, and executed under the Piracy Law of 1820.
Police had been chasing Gordon because the slave trade and the sailing of ships were illegal in Brazil and believe he may have sunk the ship to cover his tracks.
He lived as a fugitive for the next decade before being hung for his crimes in the U.S. in 1862.
Last year, archaeologists from the AfrOrigens Institute, the Fluminense Federal University, the Federal University of Sergipe, and multiple North American research institutions started searching for the ship.
Brazil was built on the enslavement of millions of Africans and Indigenous peoples. Research conducted by Princeton University observes that, “Of the 12 million enslaved Africans brought to the New World, almost half—5.5 million people—were forcibly taken to Brazil as early as 1540 and until the 1860s.”
Pedra do Inga: A 6,000-Year-Old Monument Depicting an Ancient Star Map
Its most prominent symbols depict stars, the Milky Way as well as the constellation of Orion. Most glyphs etched on the massive stone represent animals, fruits, humans, and constellations, but also a plethora of yet unrecognizable symbols and images.
There’s a strange, massive stone located in the municipality of Ingá, in the interior of the Brazilian state of Paraíba called the Inga stone or Pedra do Inga.
On its surface, the ancients carved a series of intricate symbols, stars, and spirals.
The stone itself is massive; the rock formation covers an area of approximately 250 square meters.
Altogether primarily, a vertical wall 46 meters long by 3.8 meters high, and adjacent areas, there are entries whose meanings are unknown.
In addition to the stars, and spirals, ancient ‘astronomers’ carved other entries whose exact meanings remain a mystery to experts.
Despite this, scholars have agreed on the fact that depictions of stars, constellations, and ever galaxies are clearly visible on the rock’s surface.
While the exact age of the inscriptions is hard to tell, researchers argue that the rock formation can be dated back to around 6,000 years.
So far, experts have identified more than 400 engravings on the stone’s surface. Some of them are zoomorphic in nature, while others represent abstract symbols as well as stars.
There is a hypothesis that indicates the petroglyphs of Ingá are exceptionally important from an archaeoastronomical point of view.
Back in 1976, Spanish engineer Francisco Pavía Alemany began mathematically studying the archaeological monument.
His first results were published in 1986 by the Instituto of Arqueologia Brasileira (Pavía Alemany F. 1986). Alemany identified on the stone’s surface a series of “bowls” and another petroglyph etched into the vertical surface of the wall of Inga that formed a “solar calendar”, over which a gnomon projected the shadow of the first sun rays of every day.
Alemany later continued studying the stone bit this time focusing on recording and documenting a series of symbols on the surface where the observer could identify petroglyphs reminiscent of stars, that appeared to have been grouped together in what appeared to be constellations.
But it is the coexistence of the “bowls” and “constellations” on the rock’s surface which gives the Pedra do Inga its archaeoastronomical significance.
The site where the Inga Stone stands today is in constant danger of being damaged beyond repair by vandals.
Reconstruction of 9,600-Year-Old Skull Completed in Brazil
In 1997, archaeologists unearthed a skeleton buried in the fetal position at Toca dos Coqueiros, an archaeological site in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park.
Based on the size and shape of the skull, they identified the remains as female and named the skeleton Zuzu. But that classification has remained steeped in controversy, with many researchers claiming the deceased was actually male.
Now, a new facial approximation of the 9,600-year-old skull may help put this debate to rest.
Last year, researchers took dozens of photos from different angles of the skull, which is on display at the Museum of Nature in Piauí, Brazil. Using photogrammetry, they digitally stitched the 57 photographs together to create a virtual 3D model of the skull “in order to reveal the face of that figure so mysterious and so important to Brazilian history,” the researchers wrote in their study, published Jan. 25.
“Trying to recover the appearance that an individual had in life thousands of years ago is a way to bring them to the present day, bringing them closer to the public,” first author Moacir Elias Santos, an archaeologist with the Ciro Flamarion Cardoso Archaeology Museum in Brazil, told Live Science in an email. “The main interest was to be able to glimpse the face of Zuzu, whose skeleton is one of the most important finds in the Serra da Capivara National Park region.”
To inform their work, they used computerized tomography (CT scans) from living virtual donors and applied that information to “adjust the structure of the skull” by including tissue thickness markers, study co-author Cícero Moraes, a Brazilian graphics expert, told Live Science in an email.
“[We] adjust the structure of the skull to transform the donor’s skull into a volume almost equal to Zuzu’s skull,” Moraes said. “When we do this, the soft tissue follows this deformation/adaptation and results in a face that is expected, [and] compatible with Zuzu in life.”
The researchers created two results, both depicting a young man with a broad nose and lips. One of the approximations included hair and eyebrows based on information provided by the virtual donors, and the other featured Zuzu with closed eyes and without hair.
Because the digital face was “slightly emaciated,” the researchers retracted the lower jaw to match a gap that came from some missing teeth, according to the study.
“Although the skull has affinity with an Asian population, among individuals of such ancestry there are a large number of structural differences, which are circumvented by closing the eyelids,” the researchers wrote in the study.
“The image was also rendered in grayscale (black and white) as there is no accurate information about the skin color. Therefore, such an image would be the closest to what the real face could be.”
“The most interesting thing when looking at Zuzu’s skull is having an idea of what he would have looked like in life,” Santos said. “It is a reunion with one of the oldest ancestors of our country.”
Brazil: Fossilised Eggs Dating 60-80 Mn Yrs Ago Belongs To Dinosaurs, Confirms Scientists
A nest of fossilized dinosaur eggs have been found in Brazil that would have hatched into vicious carnivores 60 million to 80 million years ago if the eggs were not buried by loose sediment.
The five eggs, which are well-preserved were originally believed to be ancient crocodile eggs – fossilized faeces belonging to crocodylomorph was previously uncovered at the site.
After deeper analysis by a team of palaeontologists led by William Roberto Nava, the eggs were determined to be larger and have a thicker shell than those from a crocodylomorph, according to g1.
Nava, who is responsible for most of the finds, at the Paleontological Museum in Marilia, told g1 that the dinosaur eggs measure four to five inches long and two to three inches wide, while the ancient crocodiles’ egg is typically no longer than three inches.
He further explained that the shell of fossilized crocodylomorph eggs is a porous or smooth texture, while those from the dinosaur have a ‘ripple-shaped’ texture.
‘They look like little wavy earthworms, which differs from the texture of the crocodile,’ he told g1.
The dinosaur eggs, which were uncovered in the city of Presidente Prudente, in the interior of São Paulo, were preserved by the soil transforming into sandstone over time.
The material acts as a natural protector, forming several layers of sand over millions of years that have protected the eggs until palaeontologists recently pulled them from the ground last year – it wasn’t until this month did they determine the eggs came from a dinosaur.
Nava told g1: ‘ Who knows if in one of these [five] eggs we have a fossilized embryo. It would be super cool, it would be something new for Brazil.’
The statement was highlighting the discovery of an exquisitely preserved dinosaur embryo found in China. The embryo, dubbed ‘Baby Yingliang, was found curled up inside a fossilized egg and was found in the rocks of the ‘Hekou Formation’ at the Shahe Industrial Park in Ganzhou City, Jiangxi Province.
The specimen is one of the most complete dino embryos known and notably sports a posture closer to those seen in embryonic birds than usually found in dinosaurs. Specifically, Baby Yingliang was close to hatching, and had its head below its body, its back curled into the egg’s blunt end and its feet positioned on either side of it.
Palaeontologists led from the University of Birmingham said that Baby Yingliang belonged to species of toothless, beaked theropod dinosaurs, or ‘oviraptorosaurs’.
Baby Yingliang takes its nickname from the Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum in Xiamen, among whose fossil collections it is held.
The researchers believe that the embryonic oviraptorosaur would have been some 10.6 inches (27 cm) from head to tail, but was developing curled inside a 6.7 inch (17 cm) -long egg.
‘This dinosaur embryo was acquired by the director of Yingliang Group, Mr Liang Liu, as suspected egg fossils around the year 2000,’ said paper author and palaeontologist Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences in Beijing.
‘During the construction of Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum in the 2010s, museum staff sorted through the storage and discovered the specimens.
‘These specimens were identified as dinosaur egg fossils. Fossil preparation was conducted and eventually unveiled the embryo hidden inside the egg.
‘This is how ‘Baby Yingliang’ was brought to light.’
Satellite Images Aided the Discovery of an Ancient Civilization Buried in the Amazon
Long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, one of the world’s largest rainforests teemed with people who transformed the woods around them, according to archaeologists who have found new evidence of farms, settlements and roads buried beneath the flora of Brazil’s Amazon Basin.
A retiree poring over online satellite images led archaeologists to the ancient earthworks, the most recent in a series of finds made possible by satellite imagery, airborne radar, and drone-mounted cameras that are making ecologists and conservationists abandon longstanding notions of the Amazon as a virgin wilderness.
“It is all one type or another of the human-influenced forest,” said anthropologist Michael Heckenberger at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who wasn’t part of the new project. In the Amazon, “they were weaving their cities out of the forest itself.”
The findings include 81 pre-Columbian clusters of earthworks in the Upper Tapajos Basin, located along the southern rim of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.
Dating to 1250‒1500 A.D., the sites range from small ditched enclosures to large settlements with multiple mounds, plazas and causeways, the archaeologists said.
Francisco Nakahara, a retired financial manager in São Paulo who studies free online satellite photos as a hobby, first spotted the traces of circular earthworks, the researchers said. The archaeologists, who reported their findings in Nature Communications Tuesday, then catalogued the discoveries using Zoom Earth and Google Earth.
To verify the finds, the team surveyed and excavated 24 sites, unearthing potsherds and decorated ceramics. In surrounding fields, they found widespread evidence of distinctive dark enriched soil—a blend of charcoal and nutrients unlike normal Amazon earth—suggesting the land was used for intensive farming.
“It is likely that many of these sites were fortified settlements,” said archaeologist Jonas Gregorio de Souza at the U.K.’s University of Exeter, who was the lead author of the study. “These regions, once considered marginal, were probably very densely populated.”
At their height, the settlements may have been home to as many as one million people. Most of them likely succumbed to diseases brought by European explorers and slavers, while the forest reclaimed their homes, roads and plazas, the scientists said.
“Many parts of the Americas now thought of as pristine forest are really abandoned gardens,” said Colorado State University archaeologist Christopher Fisher, who uses aerial laser radar to explore sites in Central America covered by the forest canopy. “When you are on the ground, you cannot really see the landscape. You need a bird’s-eye view.”
Last year, researchers from Brazil, the U.K. and Canada led by Jennifer Watling at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at the University of São Paulo announced their discovery of 455 huge earthworks spread across hundreds of thousands of acres in the nearby Brazilian state of Acre. They also date to pre-Columbian times.
Outlined by ditches up to 12 yards wide and 12 feet deep, these circular and square enclosures are known as geoglyphs were carved into the soil within woodlands that had been managed for thousands of years, the scientists said. Until exposed by modern deforestation, they had been concealed for centuries by the surrounding rainforest.
And in the headwaters of the Xingu River in the Amazon basin, Dr. Heckenberger and his colleagues discovered remains of broad highways and dozens of fortified pre-Columbian villages. The area between these urban centres had been cultivated or managed as parkland, he said.
Such ancient human disturbances still affect the forests today, altering patterns of growth and the mix of tree species. That in turn can make it difficult for climate scientists to judge how much carbon from greenhouse emissions can be absorbed by the Amazon rainforest every year.
“These forests may be much younger than we think they are,” said ecologist Crystal McMichael at the University of Amsterdam, who wasn’t involved in the latest research.
A bizarre chicken-sized dinosaur named lord of the spear is discovered in Brazil
With a mane of yellow and brown fur down its back and long ‘needles’ growing from its shoulders, a peacock-like elaborate dinosaur has been identified. The neck spines of the creature are rare in the fossil record and made of keratin, which is the same protein that makes up parts of our hair, nails and skin. Dubbed Ubirajara jubatus, indigenous Indian for ‘Maned Lord of the Spear’
Experts led from the University of Portsmouth believe the flamboyant spines may have been used to impress prospective mates, and that the dinosaur may have indulged in ‘elaborate dancing’ to show them off.
The needle-like displays were positioned so they would not impede the dinosaur’s arms and legs — and would not have stopped it from hunting, preening or sending signals.
Ubirajara jubatus lived around 110 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, the researchers explained. The new species was originally unearthed in 1995 in the Chapada do Araripe in north-eastern Brazil, and was found among the collections of the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe, Germany. The find could explain where birds like peacocks inherited their ability to show off, the team said. Birds are the modern descendants of dinosaurs.
‘What is especially unusual about the beast is the presence of two very long, probably stiff ribbons on either side of its shoulders,’ said paper author and palaeontologist David Martill of the University of Portsmouth. These, he explained, ‘were probably used for display, for mate attraction, inter-male rivalry or to frighten off foes.’
‘We cannot prove the specimen is a male, but given the disparity between male and female birds, it appears likely the specimen was a male — and young, too, which is surprising given most complex display abilities are reserved for mature adult males.’
‘Given its flamboyance, we can imagine that the dinosaur may have indulged in elaborate dancing to show off its display structures.’
‘These are such extravagant features for such a small animal — and not at all what we would predict if we only had the skeleton preserved,’ said paper author and palaeontologist Robert Smyth, also of the University of Portsmouth.
‘Why adorn yourself in a way that makes you more obvious to both your prey and to potential predators?’ he mused. The truth is that for many animals, evolutionary success is about more than just surviving — you also have to look good if you want to pass your genes on to the next generation.’
‘Modern birds are famed for their elaborate plumage and displays that are used to attract mates — the peacock’s tail and male birds-of-paradise are textbook examples of this.’
‘Ubirajara shows us that this tendency to show off is not a uniquely avian characteristic, but something that birds inherited from their dinosaur ancestors.’
The fossil specimen of Ubirajara jubatus sports a section of extremely-well preserved mane. Long and thick, this would have run down the animal’s back. The researchers believe that the mane would have been manipulated by muscles — allowing it to be lifted, much like a dog raises its hackles when it feels threatened. Ubirajara would have been able to lower the mane flush to its skin when not putting on a display, allowing it to move fast without getting tangled in vegetation.
Its arms were also covered in fur, the team noted.
‘Any creature with movable hair or feathers as a body coverage has a great advantage in streamlining the body contour for faster hunts or escapes but also to capture or release heat,’ explained Professor Martill.
‘We know lots of dinosaurs had bony crests, spines and frills that were probably used for display but we don’t see these very often in living birds,’ said Mr Smyth.
‘In birds, crests are made of feathers. This little dinosaur provides some insight into why this might be the case.’ Bone requires a lot of energy for a body to grow and maintain. It’s also heavy and can cause serious injury if broken,’ he continued.
‘Keratin — the material that makes up hair, feathers and scales — is a much better display alternative for a small animal like this one. Keratin is less costly for a body to produce, it’s also lightweight, flexible and can be regularly replaced if damaged.’
‘Ubirajara is the most primitive known dinosaur to possess integumentary [external] display structures. It represents a revolution in dinosaur communication, the effects of which we can still see today in living birds.’
The specimen was originally excavated by palaeontologist Eberhard Frey of the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe. It came out of the ground in two pieces. X-ray scans revealed previously hidden skeletal elements and soft tissue, from which the researchers were able to build a clearer picture of Ubirajara in life. Ubirajara jubatus is the first non-avian dinosaur to be discovered in a fossil-rich rock formation known to geologists as the Crato Formation.
At the time this was being deposited, the South Atlantic was opening up in a long narrow shallow sea, which accounts for the exquisite preservation of Ubirajara. The find is also important for the Americas, explained paper author and palaeontologist Hector Rivera Sylva, who curates the Desert Museum, in Mexico.
‘The Ubirajara jubatus is not only important because of the integumentary structures present for the first time in a non-avian dinosaur — completely changing the way of seeing the behaviour of certain dinosaurs,’ he added.
Rather, the find provides ‘the first evidence for this group in Latin America, as well as one of the few reported for the subcontinent of Gondwana,’ he explained.
This, he added, expands our ‘knowledge about non-avian feathered dinosaurs [in] America, whose evidence is very scarce.’ The full findings of the study were published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
Lidar Reveals Network of Ancient Villages in Brazil’s Rainforest
Jose Iriarte and Mark Robinson of the University of Exeter and their multinational team of scientists explored Brazil’s southern Acre State with Lidar remote sensing equipment, according to a statement issued by the University of Exeter, and revealed a sequence of more than 35 villages dating from A.D. 1300 to 1700 in the thick vegetation of the Amazon.
This is further evidence the rainforest has long-been occupied by indigenous communities, whose cultures rose, fell, transformed, and rose again, long before Europeans made an impact in the Americas.
The research shows after the abandonment of the large geometrically patterned ceremonial earthworks, around AD 950, a new culture arose with communities living in mounded villages with highly defined concepts of social and architectural space.
The circular mound villages are connected across the wider landscape through paired sunken roads with high banks that radiate from the village circle like the marks of a clock or the rays of the sun.
The villages have both minor roads and principal roads, which were deeper and wider with higher banks. Most villages have paired cardinally orientated principal roads, two leaving in a northward direction and two leaving in a southward direction.
The survey reveals that the straight roads often connect one village to another, creating a network of communities over many kilometres.
Deforestation in the region had previously revealed the presence of large geoglyph earthworks on the landscape with archaeological research also documenting the presence of circular mound villages.
However, until now the extent of earthwork constructions, their architectural layouts, and their regional organisation remained hidden beneath the remaining dense tropical forest.
Experts from the UK and South America used a RIEGL VUX-1 UAV Lidar sensor integrated into an MD 500 helicopter to document architectural features below the forest canopy, revealing a more complex and spatially organised landscape than previously thought.
Over 35 villages and dozens of roads were documented in the research with many more predicted to still be hidden below the unexplored jungle.
The villages were composed of 3 to 32 mounds arranged in a circle, the diameter of which ranged from 40 m to 153 m with the area enclosed by the central plaza ranging from ~0.12 to 1.8 ha.
The research was carried out by Jose Iriarte, and Mark Robinson from the University of Exeter; Jonas Gregorio de Souza from Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Antonia Damasceno and Franciele da Silva from the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional; Francisco Nakahara from the Federal University of Pará; Alceu Ranzi from the Federal University of Acre and Luiz Aragao from the Brazil National Institute for Space Research.
Professor Iriarte said: “Lidar has allowed us to detect these villages, and their features such as roads, which wasn’t possible before because most are not visible within the best satellite data available. The technology helps to show diverse and complex construction history of this part of the Amazon.
“Lidar provides a new opportunity to locate and document earthen sites in forested parts of Amazonia characterized by dense vegetation. It can also document the smallest surficial earthen features in the recently opened pasture areas.”
A 9,000-year-old head with amputated hands laid over could be the oldest ritual beheading in the Americas
The Amazon rain forest has long inspired gruesome stories of ritualistic violence from 19th-century tales of tribes searching for “trophy heads” to Hollywood films such as Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.
But a much longer history than commonly believed can be portrayed of civilizations such as the Incas, Nazcas, and the Wari cultures making human sacrifices in South America may have a much longer tradition than previously thought.
Recent research, reported in PLOS One, records the discovery of a 9,000-year-old case of ritualized human decapitation that seems to be the oldest in the Americas by some margin.
Execution or burial?
The researchers found the remains of the beheaded young man from a rock shelter in Lapa do Santo, East-Central Brazil. Quite astonishingly the decapitated remains date to between 9,100 and 9,400 years ago.
The decapitated skull was found with an amputated right hand laid over the left side of the face, with fingers pointing to the chin. It also had an amputated left hand laid over the right side of the face with fingers pointing to the forehead, making it highly ritualistic and extremely unusual.
However, the process of extracting the body parts from the victim seems straight out of a horror movie. The man was decapitated by blows from a sharp instrument to the neck, but there was also evidence that the head was distorted and twisted in places, suggesting there was difficulty getting the head off the body.
Furthermore, the cuts left on the bones were signs that the flesh had been removed from the head prior to it being buried. However, there’s no evidence to suggest decapitation was the cause of death.
The decapitation is reminiscent of Neolithic skull cults from the Middle East, which often buried their deceased under the floors of their homes – sometimes with the skull removed, plastered, and painted.
The placement of the hands is also similar to partial coverage of facial gestures that we see in different cultural settings today (such as signs of tiredness, shock, horror, etc).
This ritualistic behavior may seem barbaric to us today but it is becoming clearer that during the Neolithic period decapitations, skull cults, and ancestor worship were an important cultural practice. Excavations of neolithic sites in the Middle East have uncovered ancestors that had their fleshed removed in a similar way before being buried in the houses of their relatives.
The rituals undoubtedly involved many of the community to honour their ancestors and may be similar to what has been discovered at Lapa do Santo.
Local but unusual man
The researchers also undertook a number of scientific analyses to find out more about the individual. One of these was to analyze the teeth for isotopes of strontium, which is taken up in the human body through food and water.
The analysis of the tooth enamel, which is formed during childhood can be compared to the isotope signatures in the local geology. This can tell whether or not the individual was related to the place they were buried.
The analysis showed that the man was clearly associated with his place of burial. This implies he was a local man who grew up in the area and not a captured trophy from a warring faction.
But perhaps most intriguingly, they took measurements of the skull and compared it to measurements of other skeletons, including ones excavated at the same site. In this case, the young man’s head was a little bit of an outlier on the overall size of the skull, being slightly larger. Did he look different from the other men? Was he somehow distinctive? The remarkable evidence from this site suggests he was unique to their community but living with them and perhaps chosen for this reason?
This forensic approach to understanding archaeological remains is now shedding light on how much information can be gleaned from these deposits and the value of careful and meticulous work.
More broadly, this is one of many revelations that are starting to appear regarding South American archaeology ranging from evidence of early extensive burning of the landscape 9,500 years ago, through to large-scale deforestation and the production of glyphs by pre-European culture.
It remains to be seen how many more discoveries like this will be made in the future but there is one clear message, losing your head in South America is not a new phenomenon!