Category Archives: PERU

Ancient Peruvians gave themselves elongated skulls as a mark of status

Ancient Peruvians gave themselves elongated skulls as a mark of status

Ancient Peruvians gave themselves elongated skulls as a mark of status
The Collagua people would bind pieces of wood to children’s heads to modify the shape of the developing skull (Creative Commons)

Members of the ruling elite in parts of South America would have been very easy to spot 700 years ago – due to their tall, elongated skulls. Their artificially extended heads were apparently status symbols, and could have helped foster a sense of community and collective identity, according to a study.

Over 300 years before the Inca empire swept the south western Americas, members of a small ethnic community known as the Collagua practised intentional head shaping which developed to focus on creating a tall thin skull shape.

According to bioarchaeologist Matthew Velasco of Cornell University the cranial modifications may have bound the powerful elite together, but it may also have polarised other groups, resulting in social inequality.

The Collagua people lived in the Colca Valley in south-eastern Peru, where they raised Alpacas and llamas for wool.

Early Spanish accounts also detail another ethnic group – the Cavanas, who also populated the region. Spanish records say that in contrast to the tall narrow heads of the Collagua, the Cavanas also modified their skulls, widening and flattening them.

The Collagua would use pieces of wood, which were tightly bound to the heads of infants to modify how their heads grew. The practice was banned by the invading Spanish in the 16th Century.

Mr Velasco’s research, published in the journal Current Anthropology is the first time skull shape has been studied as a class differentiator within the Collagua.

By looking at skull shapes from over 200 individuals from a 300-year period, the research team saw that tall thin skulls became increasingly linked to high social status.

Chemical analysis of the bones revealed that Collagua women with purposefully distended heads were more likely to eat a broader diet than those without cranial modifications. The team also observed that these women typically had fewer injuries from physical attacks than women with unaltered skulls, Science News reports.

The study suggests the changes to head shape among those with power may have helped pave the way for a peaceful incorporation for the Collagua into the Incan empire.

“Greater standardisation of head-shaping practices echoes broader patterns of identity formation across the south-central highlands and may have provided a symbolic basis for the cooperation of elite groups during an era of intensive conflict,” says Mr Velasco.

The intensive conflict was due to the encroaching Incas, who originated from the highlands of Peru and through armed takeovers and assimilation, ultimately controlled most of Peru, as well as large parts of what are now Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, in addition to a small part of southwest Colombia.

The civilisation was one of the largest empires in the world when it reached its peak in the 16th century before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.

Characterizing red pigment in ancient bone samples in Peru to reveal their sources

Characterizing red pigment in ancient bone samples in Peru to reveal their sources

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in the U.S. and one in Canada has characterized a large number of red pigment samples found on the bones of ancient people who once lived in what is now southern Peru.

In their paper published in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, the group describes their study of the pigments.

Prior studies of the use of red pigments in funeral rites by people who lived in ancient Peru suggest the practice is related to prolonging the existence of the dead.

In this new effort, the researchers used various techniques to analyze red pigments found on bones left behind by members of the Chincha, people who lived around Peru over the years 1000 AD to 1825 AD.

The pigments were found on bones excavated from over 100 chullpas, or mass burial graves. The aim of the research was to determine why the bones were painted and how it was done.

To find their answers, the researchers subjected the 35 bones (25 of which were skulls) to laser ablation, X-ray fluorescence spectrometry and X-ray powder diffraction in order to identify all of the components in the pigments.

They found that the bulk of them were made using iron-based ochres such as hematite. Another major material they found was cinnabar, which had a mercury base.

They also found that cinnabar was not native to the local area—it would have been imported. This suggested its use was likely meant for important or rich people.

The researchers also noted that while there were some women and children’s bones in their collection, most were from adult males.

The researchers concluded that the arrangement of the pigments on the bones indicates it had been applied using either leaves or bare fingers.

The researchers also noted that the arrangement of the bones in the chullpas suggested that the pigments may have been applied long after the people had been skeletonized.

This, they suggest, indicates that the people of the time may have exhumed loved ones and applied the paints to their bones to protect them from European invaders.

Scientists Found 168 More Ancient Figures Etched Into the Peruvian Desert

Scientists Found 168 More Ancient Figures Etched Into the Peruvian Desert

The Nazca Desert in Peru is decorated with hundreds of mysterious figures, called geoglyphs, that were etched into the soil by the Indigenous peoples who lived in this area between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago. 

The ancient drawings, collectively known as the Nazca Lines, cover an estimated 170 square miles of this arid terrain.

Many of the figures are visible only from an aerial viewpoint, leaving researchers puzzled about the purpose of this huge artistic display. 

Scientists Found 168 More Ancient Figures Etched Into the Peruvian Desert

Now, an international team of researchers from Japan and Peru have discovered 168 previously unknown geoglyphs in this Peruvian desert, including depictions of humans, birds, orcas, cats, snakes, and camel relatives, according to a statement from Yamagata University released on Friday

The figures date back nearly 2,000 years, according to preliminary research, and were identified with the help of high-resolution aerial images captured by drones during field surveys from June 2019 to February 2020.

Many of the newly discovered geoglyphs are relatively small, measuring only ten to 20 feet across, which kept them hidden from past searches.

One of the most memorable figures looks to be a bearded man with an Anton Chigurh-style haircut, but the new haul also includes a wide variety of animals, from marine mammals to birds, reflecting the ecological richness of the area thousands of years ago.

Researchers led by Masato Sakai, an archaeologist and anthropologist at Yamagata University, made the discovery in collaboration with Jorge Olano, a Peruvian archaeologist based at Panthéon-Sorbonne University.

The same team previously identified 143 geoglyphs in the same area, an achievement that the researchers announced in 2019. 

These breakthroughs follow the 2012 establishment of the Institute of Nazca, a research center in the area supported by Yamagata University.

Sakai and his colleagues are hopeful that their efforts will uncover many more of these enigmatic drawings in the coming years, perhaps revealing new insights into the meaning of this natural desert canvas to the people who lived here long ago. 

Long-lost ancient mural rediscovered in northern Peru after more than a century

Long-lost ancient mural rediscovered in northern Peru after more than a century

A team of student archaeologists has rediscovered a 1,000-year-old multicoloured mural depicting a deity surrounded by warriors which were last seen a century ago in northern Peru.

Swiss archaeologist Sâm Ghavami with his team of Peruvian students at the Huaca Pintada in northern Peru.

Known as the Huaca Pintada, the 30-metre-long wall painted with fantastical images depicting mythical scenes was first found in 1916 by a band of treasure-hunting tomb raiders in Illimo near the city of Chiclayo.

The full splendour of the mural was captured in photographs taken at the time by Hans Heinrich Brüning, a German ethnographer whose work galvanised the archaeological study of the pre-Columbian ruins and relics in the region.

But then the grave robbers destroyed part of the wall after being forbidden from looting their find, and the site fell back into obscurity.

More than a century went by until a Swiss-Peruvian team led by Sâm Ghavami from the University of Fribourg decided to take on the mystery and rediscover the lost mural which had disappeared from view under carob trees and undergrowth.

Sâm Ghavami uses a brush to reveal the mural.

“When we got access to the site, it was a huge relief,” Ghavami, 33, told the Guardian by phone from northern Peru. One of the main challenges was accessing the site which is located on private land, he explained. It took two years to persuade the fiercely protective landowning family to allow them to excavate.

The Swiss archaeologist and some 18 Peruvian students began excavations in 2019, thanks to a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation. After a pause in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they were able to continue in 2021 completing the dig in November this year.

A detail from the mural.

“The first time we saw the huge wall, it was by just scratching the sand,” said Ghavami. “We could see the walls were unexcavated.” In the final two months of the dig, the team rediscovered the murals that had been lost during Brüning’s time, as well as new panels stretching some 11 to 12 metres that had not been uncovered by the looters.

“It was a lot of work,” said Ghavami. “No one could see its monumentality when it was covered by trees.

“When that was cleared away, people start to see it in a new way,” he added.

Archaeologists believe the mural dates back to the Lambayeque culture of the 9th century AD. It was buried in a pyramidal mound in La Leche valley near another site called Túcume, in the Lambayeque region.

“It’s the most exciting and important find of recent years,” said Luis Jaime Castillo, an archaeology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “The long-lost murals of Huaca Pintada have been recuperated after more than 100 years.”

The excavation site is on private land near the city of Chiclayo.

“The depictions have a mixture of Mochica and Lambayeque iconography,” said Castillo. The Mochica civilization flourished in the region between AD100 and 700. “They show a transition, and maybe changes in the cosmologies.

“They give us a unique opportunity to contemplate the ancient societies of northern Peru, their deities and myths,” he added.

For now, the site has been covered up to preserve it but Ghavami – who is writing his doctoral thesis about the sociocultural changes that occurred in Lambayeque at the time when the mural was made – would like it to be restored to its former glory and, eventually, opened to the public.

Archaeologists In Peru Unearth 800-year-old Mummy Buried In Underground Tomb In Lima

Archaeologists In Peru Unearth 800-year-old Mummy Buried In Underground Tomb In Lima

Recently on Peru’s central coast, archaeologists have discovered a mummy that is thought to be approximately 800 years old. The remains of the mummy were believed to match an individual who belonged to a society that flourished prior to the Inca Empire which rose to power during the 1400s.

Archaeologists In Peru Unearth 800-year-old Mummy Buried In Underground Tomb In Lima

Archaeologists claimed that the society was settled between Peru’s coastline and mountains, Sky News reported.  

According to archaeologist Pieter Van Dalen Luna of the State University of San Marcos, the mummified remains have been unearthed in an underground structure in the suburbs of Lima, the capital city of the nation. 

However, the gender of the mummy has yet to be determined, as per the Independent. Further, archaeologist Dalen Luna claimed that the fossils belong to a person who has lived in the nation’s high Andean area. 

‘The main characteristic of the mummy is that the whole body was tied up

“The main characteristic of the mummy is that the whole body was tied up by ropes and with the hands covering the face, which would be part of the local funeral pattern,” Sky News reported, citing archaeologist Dalen Luna. He went on to explain that after evaluating carbon dating, more exact dates will be obtained. Further, it has been reported that Ceramics, vegetable remnants, as well as stone tools were also discovered within the tomb with the mummy. 

As per the Sky News, hundreds of archaeological places are found in Peru which are from civilizations that existed during and after the Inca Empire. From the south of Ecuador and Colombia to central Chile, the empire ruled over the southern half of South America. 

25 individuals were discovered in Peru’s ancient city of Chan Chan

Furthermore, earlier this month, archaeologists unearthed the bones of 25 individuals in Peru’s ancient city of Chan Chan.

According to BBC, the bones were excavated in a 10-square-meter area in what was once the Chim empire’s capital.

The collective grave, according to experts, was a burial location for Chim royalty. As per archaeologist Sinthya Cueva, the majority of the bones belonged to young women, all of them were under the age of 30.

According to local media, the burial also included roughly 50 pieces of pottery. 

According to the British news organisation, even though the Chim was notorious for performing human sacrifices, particularly those of children, archaeologist Jorge Meneses Bartra claimed there was no confirmation that individuals found in the cemetery died as a result of human sacrifice, BBC reported. 

One of the bones’ placements, according to Meneses, indicated that it was buried quickly after the individual died. 

Ancient “Trophy Head” Child Was High On Psychedelic Cactus Before Ritual Sacrifice

Ancient “Trophy Head” Child Was High On Psychedelic Cactus Before Ritual Sacrifice

Ancient "Trophy Head" Child Was High On Psychedelic Cactus Before Ritual Sacrifice
A Nazca trophy head, once belonging to a child (who kinda looks like Elon Musk).

A child who had the honour of being made into a trophy head by the ancient Nazca culture of southern Peru was drugged up on a mescaline-containing cactus prior to being sacrificed, a new analysis has revealed.

The same study also found evidence of ayahuasca use among other mummified individuals from the Early Nazca Period – which ran from 100 BCE to 450 CE – and therefore provides the earliest archaeological evidence for the consumption of these two psychedelic plants.

Though the use of hallucinogenic substances was common throughout South America in pre-Columbian times, little is known about which concoctions were ritually consumed during the Early Nazca Period. To investigate, researchers analyzed hair samples from 22 individuals from three separate Nazca sites.

Famous for their incredible geoglyphs – known as the Nazca Lines – the Nazca were also prolific collectors of trophy heads. So far, about 150 such heads have been discovered, although scholars are unsure if these were removed from the shoulders of sacrificial victims or enemy warriors during battle.

Among the 22 specimens assessed in the study were four trophy heads, including a child of unknown sex, an adult female and two adult males.

When conducting their analysis, the study authors searched for metabolites of the coca plant – such as cocaine and benzoylecgonine – as well as mescaline and other compounds found in the psychedelic Amazonian brew ayahuasca.

A Nazca trophy head belonging to a female victim.

Reporting their findings, the researchers explain that “the level of the mescaline in the child’s hair suggested a high consumption of the San Pedro cactus.” Named after Saint Peter – who holds the keys to heaven – San Pedro has been used as a sacrament by Indigenous Andean cultures for millennia. Interestingly, the psychedelic cactus is also known by its Quechua name “Huachuma”, which roughly translates as “removing the head”.

At the same time, the authors discovered that the female victim had chewed coca leaves, while neither of the adult male trophy heads showed any signs of drug use.

Based on these findings, the researchers speculate that the woman and child may have been ritually sacrificed before having their heads removed and that their consumption of coca and San Pedro might have formed part of the ceremony.

In contrast, the male heads may have been captured during warfare, thus explaining why these victims were not supplied with any substances before being dispatched.

This hypothesis is supported by evidence that the more recent Inca civilization gave ayahuasca to child sacrifice victims as an anti-depressant while they awaited their fate. However, as the study authors note, “this is the first proof that some of the victims transformed into trophy heads were given stimulants prior to their death.”

Turning their attention to the 18 remaining Nazca specimens, the researchers found ayahuasca compounds in the hair of two further individuals. Concentrations of these substances in the hair of one mummy “far exceeded any previously investigated ancient samples, suggesting a possible shamanistic occupation of this individual.”

Coca metabolites, meanwhile, were present in five samples, including a six-month infant who probably ingested the substance via its mother’s breastmilk.

Collectively, these findings represent the earliest evidence for the use of San Pedro and ayahuasca, while also confirming for the first time that coca leaves were present on the southern Peruvian coast during the Early Nazca Period.

The study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

76 child sacrifice victims with their hearts ripped out found in Peru excavation

76 child sacrifice victims with their hearts ripped out found in Peru excavation

The remains of dozens of child sacrifice victims have been unearthed in Peru, and many more are likely waiting to be found, archaeologists say.

76 child sacrifice victims with their hearts ripped out found in Peru excavation
Seventy-six child sacrifices were found recently as part of ongoing excavations near Huanchaco, Peru.

The skeletons show evidence that the children’s hearts were removed, said Gabriel Prieto, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Florida who directs the excavations at Pampa La Cruz, the site near Huanchaco where the remains were found.

All 76 skeletons had a “transversal clean cut across the sternum,” Prieto said, which suggests that “they possibly opened up the rib cage and then they possibly extracted the heart.”

“They were buried on an extended position, with the feet toward the east,” Prieto told Live Science in an email. “They were buried on top of an artificial mound.” It’s not clear why the sacrifices were located in this position in this place. “We thought that the area, and particularly the mound, was free of Chimu child sacrifices, but we found the opposite,” Prieto said. 

Excavations have been underway at Pampa La Cruz for several years. So far, 323 child sacrifice victims have been found at the site, and another 137 child and three adult sacrifice victims were found at a nearby site called Las Llamas. These remains also show that the children’s hearts had been removed. 

The child sacrifices were buried on top of this artificial mound seen here.

Based on the archaeological finds found so far, there are likely many more child sacrifices waiting to be discovered near Huanchaco, Prieto said. “It could be more [than] 1,000 victims, as crazy as it sounds,” he said. 

Radiocarbon dating needs to be done on the 76 newly uncovered skeletons, but previously found victims at Pampa La Cruz dated to between A.D. 1100 and 1200, Prieto said. Around this time, the Chimu people, known for their fine metalwork and the city Chan Chan, flourished in the area. 

Why the Chimu would have engaged in child sacrifice in this area on such a large scale is unclear, Prieto said, but the Chimu also built an artificial irrigation system and new agricultural fields nearby, and some of the sacrifices may have been done to “sanctify” this agricultural system. 

People who lived in Huanchaco during the first millennium A.D. also practiced human sacrifice in the area, said Richard Sutter, an anthropology professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, who is part of the team working at Huanchaco. This means that the Chimu may have been carrying on a long-running practice in the area, Sutter said in an email. 

There are likely many more child sacrifices waiting to be found in the area.

Why were children sacrificed?

Scholars who were not involved with the excavations told Live Science that the finds at Huanchaco are important. While other cases of child sacrifices are known from the Andean area, “what is striking here is the scale, of course,” Peter Eeckhout, a professor of pre-Columbian art and archaeology at the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, told Live Science in an email. 

Why the child sacrifices were carried out is difficult to tell, Eeckhout said, noting that writing was not used in Peru at this time and thus there are no written records detailing the youngsters’ deaths. Problems with climate or environmental changes that may have disrupted agriculture in the area could have played a role in the sacrifice, Eeckhout said. 

“It’s an amazing site with the potential to help us understand much better what was going on at this time in prehistory,” Catherine Gaither, an independent bioarchaeologist, told Live Science in an email. “I think the reason for the sacrifices was likely related in some way to a cultural response to environmental changes that brought about significant cultural upheaval. There may have been associations with environmental events like an El Niño, for example,” a climate cycle in which warm water in the Pacific Ocean shifts closer to South America causing changes in the weather, she said. 

The team is requesting permission from Peru’s Ministry of Culture to transport some samples abroad so that the specimens can undergo testing to determine more exact dates. 

5000-year-old Pyramid Structure Leads to Grisly Finds In Peru

5000-year-old Pyramid Structure Leads to Grisly Finds In Peru

5000-year-old Pyramid Structure Leads to Grisly Finds In Peru
A previously discovered pendant made by the Sechin culture. (Lombard Museum/CC BY 3.0) Right: The newly unearthed Peruvian pyramid was also made by the Sechin culture. (Andina)

In Peru, archaeologists have uncovered a mysterious pyramid structure in a massive archaeological complex. The pyramid may have been used for ceremonial purposes and could even have been the site of human sacrifices. It is hoped that this discovery will help researchers to better understand one of the first Andean civilizations.

The amazing discovery was made at the Sechin Archaeological Project, in the northern province of Casma in the Ancash region. This historic site dates back over 5000 years and it is believed to have been the centre of an enigmatic prehistoric society known as the Sechin culture.

Little is known about this culture, but it constructed some of the first monumental buildings in the Americas. Many experts believe that it even may be the first known civilization in the Andes.

Sechín Archaeological site (relief – head profile left).

A Sacrificial Pyramid-Structure?

Staff and experts from the Sechin Archaeological Project had been excavating the site when they made the discovery. The structure was buried deep in the ground. A team of specialists and workers had to dig 18 feet (5.49 meters) of earth and move large stones to uncover the pyramidical construction.

This structure consists of a series of steps that are made out of slabs and stones and are similar to a step-pyramid. It is an estimated 10 feet (3.05 meters) high and 15 feet (4.57 meters) wide.

The pyramid is believed to be approximately 5000 years old and is in good condition.

The newly found Peruvian pyramid consists of a series of steps.

According to Archaeology News Network, ‘the pyramid is located within the south-central part of the main building’. This massive structure was once believed to be the seat of government for the Sechin culture.

The researcher’s initial assessment is that the pyramid was used for ritual and possibly religious purposes. Archaeologist Monica Suarez, the coordinator at the Archaeological Project, stated “It served a ceremonial purpose, but we need to make further analysis.” Many cultures in the ancient Andes used similar buildings for rites and sacrifices. Living and Traveling in Peru reports that stepped pyramids were ‘aimed at attaining higher or elevated levels of spirituality.’

Skulls and a Dismembered Skeleton

There were a number of grisly discoveries made near the pyramid. For example, the archaeologists uncovered two human skulls, which after a preliminary study were determined to have belonged to an adult and a young child. At the side of the structure, they found a skeleton that appears to have been dismembered. This is evidence that a person may have had his or her limbs cut off while still alive or post-mortem.

The discovery of the skulls and skeletons ‘makes the theory of ceremonial practices gain traction,’ reports Andina. It is also possible that human sacrifices took place on the stepped structure. There was a long tradition of human sacrifices in the Andes until the coming of the Spanish.

Two skulls and a dismembered skeleton have been found. ( Andina)

However, researchers at the archaeological park believe that it is also possible ‘that the stepped, pyramid-shaped structure served as a ladder to get to a higher level,’ according to Andina. The nature of the stepped structure and its location may mean that it was used to access the centre of the ancient site. It may have allowed the inhabitants of the massive complex to approach the central building.

The Peruvian Pyramid Provides Insights into a Mysterious Culture

Andina quotes Suarez as saying, “There is an adobe wall at the top, with fingerprints of Sechin inhabitants visible in the mud.” It appears that when the mud bricks were still wet the workers deliberately left impressions with their fingers. These fingerprints can be viewed as workers signing their work.

Work will continue on the pyramidical construction and the remains found in its vicinity will be thoroughly studied. The pyramid-like structure can provide more information on the Sechin complex. More importantly, if it is proven to have been a ceremonial site, it can help researchers to better understand the mysterious people who lived here 5000 years ago.

Pendants made by the Sechin culture.