Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

Ancient DNA gives new insights into the ‘lost’ Indigenous people of Uruguay

Ancient DNA gives new insights into the ‘lost’ Indigenous people of Uruguay

The first whole-genome sequences of the ancient people of Uruguay provide a genetic snapshot of Indigenous populations of the region before they were decimated by a series of European military campaigns. PNAS Nexus published the research, led by anthropologists at Emory University and the University of the Republic, Montevideo, Uruguay. 

Ancient DNA gives new insights into the 'lost' Indigenous people of Uruguay

“Our work shows that the Indigenous people of ancient Uruguay exhibit an ancestry that has not been previously detected in South America,” says John Lindo, co-corresponding author and an Emory assistant professor of anthropology specializing in ancient DNA. “This contributes to the idea of South America being a place where multi-regional diversity existed, instead of the monolithic idea of a single Native American race across North and South America.”

The analyses drew from a DNA sample of a man that dated back 800 years and another from a woman that went back 1,500 years, both well before the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. The samples were collected from an archaeological site in eastern Uruguay by co-corresponding author Gonzalo Figueiro, a biological anthropologist at the University of the Republic. 

The results of the analyses showed a surprising connection to ancient individuals from Panama — the land bridge that connects North and South America — and to eastern Brazil, but not to modern Amazonians. These findings support the theory proposed by some archaeologists of separate migrations into South America, including one that led to the Amazonian populations and another that led to the populations along the East coast. 

“We’ve now provided genetic evidence that this theory may be correct,” Lindo says. “It runs counter to the theory of a single migration that split at the foot of the Andes.”

The archaeological evidence for human settlement of the area now known as Uruguay, located on the Atlantic coast south of Brazil, goes back more than 10,000 years. European colonizers made initial contact with the Indigenous people of the region in the early 1500s. 

During the 1800s, the colonizers launched a series of military campaigns to exterminate the native peoples, culminating in what is known as the massacre at Salsipuedes Creek, in 1831, which targeted an ethnic group called the Charrúa. At that time, the authors write, the term Charrúa was being applied broadly to the remnants of various hunter-gatherer groups in the territory of Uruguay.

“Through these first whole-genome sequences of the Indigenous people of the region before the arrival of Europeans, we were able to reconstruct at least a small part of their genetic prehistory,” Lindo says. 

The work opens the door to modern-day Uruguayans seeking to potentially link themselves genetically to populations that existed in the region before European colonizers arrived. “We would like to gather more DNA samples from ancient archaeological sites from all over Uruguay, which would allow people living in the country today to explore a possible genetic connection,” Lindo says.

The Lindo ancient DNA lab specializes in mapping little-explored human lineages of the Americas. Most ancient DNA labs are located in Europe, where the cooler climate has better-preserved specimens. 

Less focus has been put on sequencing ancient DNA from South America. One reason is that warmer, more humid climates throughout much of the continent have made it more challenging to collect usable ancient DNA specimens, although advances in sequencing technology are helping to remove some of these limitations.

“If you’re of European descent, you can have your DNA sequenced and use that information to pinpoint where your ancestors are from down to specific villages,” Lindo says. “If you are descended from people Indigenous to the Americas you may be able to learn that some chunk of your genome is Native American, but it’s unlikely that you can trace a direct lineage because there are not enough ancient DNA references available.”

Further complicating the picture, he adds, is the massive disruption caused by the arrival of Europeans given that many civilizations were destroyed and whole populations were killed.

By collaborating closely with Indigenous communities and local archaeologists, Lindo hopes to use advanced DNA sequencing techniques to build a free, online portal with increasing numbers of ancient DNA references from the Americas, to help people better explore and understand their ancestry.

Co-authors of the current paper include Emory senior Rosseirys De La Rosa, Andrew Luize Campelo dos Santos (the Federal University of Penambuco, Recife, Brazil), and Monica Sans (University of the Republic, Montevideo, Uruguay), and Michael De Giorgio (Florida Atlantic University).

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children

Two Inca children slated for ritual sacrifice more than 500 years ago quaffed a special soothing concoction that has gone undetected until now. Those young victims, most likely a girl and a boy roughly 4 to 8 years old, drank a liquid that may have lightened their moods and calmed their nerves in the days or weeks before they were ceremonially killed and buried on Peru’s Ampato mountain, a new study suggests.

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children
Previously excavated bodies of two ritually sacrificed Inca children, including this girl still wearing a ceremonial headdress, have yielded chemical clues to a beverage that may have been used to calm them in the days or weeks before being killed.

The youngsters’ bodies contained chemical remnants from one of the primary ingredients of ayahuasca, a liquid concoction known for its hallucinogenic effects, say bioarchaeologist Dagmara Socha of the University of Warsaw, Poland, and her colleagues (SN: 5/6/19). Analyses focused on hair from the girl’s naturally mummified body and fingernails from the boy’s partially mummified remains.

While no molecular signs of ayahuasca’s strong hallucinogens appeared in those remains, the team did find traces of harmine and harmaline, chemical products of Banisteriopsis caapi vines, Socha’s group reports in the June Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. In ayahuasca, B. caapi amplifies the strength of other more hallucinogenic ingredients.

Recent investigations with rodents suggest that solutions containing harmine affect the brain much as some antidepressant drugs do. “This is the first [evidence] that B. caapi could have been used in the past for its antidepressant properties,” Socha says.

While research on whether harmine can lessen depression or anxiety in people is in its infancy, archaeologist Christine VanPool of the University of Missouri, Columbia, thinks it’s possible that the ingredient was used on purpose.

Spanish documents written after the fall of the Inca empire say that alcohol was used to calm those about to be sacrificed, so other brews may have been used too, speculates VanPool, who was not part of Socha’s team.

“I tentatively say yes, the Inca understood that B. caapi reduced anxiety in sacrificial victims,” she says.

Spanish chroniclers may have mistakenly assumed that Inca sacrifice victims drank a popular corn beer known as chicha rather than a B. caapi beverage, Socha suspects.

No evidence of alcohol appeared in molecular analyses of the Ampato mountain children. But alcohol consumed just before being sacrificed would have gone undetected in the researchers’ tests.

Trace evidence did also indicate that both children had chewed coca leaves in the weeks leading up to their deaths.

Spanish written accounts described the widespread use of coca leaves during Inca rites of passage. Those events included ritual sacrifices of children and young women, who were believed to become envoys to various local gods after death.

The grave of an Inca boy who was ritually sacrificed in the Andes more than 500 years ago included valuable items, such as this silver llama figurine, signifying his status as an envoy to local deities.

The sacrificed children were found during a 1995 expedition near the summit of Ampato (SN: 11/11/95). It would have taken at least two weeks and possibly several months for the pair of Inca children to complete a pilgrimage from wherever their homes were located to the capital city of Cuzco for official ceremonies and then to Ampato mountain, Socha says.

Giving those kids a calming B. caapi drink as well as coca leaves to chew doesn’t surprise archaeologist Lidio Valdez of the University of Calgary, who did not participate in the new study.

Children may not have understood that they were going to die, but they had to endure the rigors and loneliness of a long trip while separated from their families, he says.  

Valdez suspects Ampato mountain was originally called Qampato, a word meaning toad in the Inca language. Andean societies such as the Inca associated toads with water or rain. “The mountain was also likely linked with water or rain and the children perhaps sacrificed to ask the mountain gods to send water,” he says.

The earliest evidence of the Maya divination calendar was discovered in an ancient temple

The earliest evidence of the Maya divination calendar was discovered in an ancient temple

Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the oldest evidence of the Maya calendar on record: two mural fragments that, when pieced together, reveal a notation known as “7 deer,” a new study finds.

The two mural fragments with the 7 Deer day-sign and partial hieroglyphic text, among a total of 249 fragments of painted plaster and painted masonry blocks collected during archaeological excavations of the Ixbalamque context.

The two “7 deer” fragments date to between 300 B.C. and 200 B.C., according to radiocarbon dating done by the research team. This early date indicates that this Maya divination calendar, which was also used by other pre-Columbian cultures in Mesoamerica, such as the Aztecs, has been in continuous use for at least 2,300 years, as it is still followed today by modern Maya, the researchers said. (Notably, this is not the Long Count calendar that some people used to suggest the world was going to end in 2012.) 

“It’s the one calendar that survives all the conquests and the civil war in Guatemala,” the latter of which was waged from 1960 to 1996, study first author David Stuart, the Schele professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, told Live Science. “The Maya of today in many communities have kept it as a way of connecting to their ideas of fate and how people relate to the world around them. It’s not a revival. It’s actually preservation of the calendar.”

The researchers found the mural fragments at the archaeological site of San Bartolo, northeast of the ancient Maya city of Tikal. Stuart was part of the team that discovered San Bartolo in 2001. “It’s in the remote jungles of northern Guatemala” and famous for its Maya murals dating to the Late Preclassic period (400 B.C. to A.D. 200), he said. 

The earliest evidence of the Maya divination calendar was discovered in an ancient temple
A reconstruction of San Bartolo at the phase when the 7 deer day-sign mural fragments were created.

The murals at San Bartolo are in a massive complex known as Las Pinturas, which the Maya built over hundreds of years. Every so often, the Maya would build over an old complex, constructing larger and more impressive structures. As a result, Las Pinturas is layered like an onion. If archaeologists tunnel into its inner layers, they can find earlier structures and murals, Stuart said.

The researchers collected ancient organic material, such as charcoal, within the layer where the mural fragments were discovered. By radiocarbon-dating these fragments, they could estimate when the murals were created.

However, these murals weren’t in one piece. In total, the team discovered about 7,000 fragments from various murals. Of this colossal collection, the team analyzed 11 wall fragments, discovered between 2002 and 2012, with radiocarbon dating. These included the two pieces that formed the “7 deer” notation, which includes a glyph, or image of a deer under the Maya symbol for the number seven (a horizontal line with two dots over it).

These fragments with the 7 deer day-sign dated to between 300 B.C. and 200 B.C.
The second dot over the line (top) is missing but is thought to be the number 7.
Mural fragments on masonry blocks from the Ixbalamque structure. It dates to the same time period as the 7 deer fragments but depicts the image of the Late Preclassic period Maya maize god.

Four Maya calendars

The Maya had four calendars, as “they were very interested in timekeeping,” Stuart said. “They had very elaborate and elegant ways of tracking time.”

One is the sacred divination calendar, or Tzolk’in, from which this “7 deer” notation originates. This calendar has 260 days consisting of a combination of 13 numbers and 20 days that have different signs (like deer). 

The 260 days don’t make up a year, however. Rather, it’s a cycle similar to the seven-day week. The notation “7 deer” doesn’t give you a date; it doesn’t tell you the season or year in which something happened. “It’s like saying Napoleon invaded Russia on a Wednesday,” Marcello Canuto, director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University, who wasn’t involved with the study, told Live Science.

Today, the 260-day cycle in the Tzolk’in calendar is used for soothsaying and ceremonial record-keeping, Stuart said. “There are date keepers, as they’re called, in Guatemala today,” Stuart said. “If you said the day is 7 deer, they would go, ‘Oh yeah, 7 deer, that means this, this and this.'”

An illustration showing the detail of the 7 deer day sign found at San Bartolo, Guatemala.

The other Maya calendars are the Haab’, a solar calendar that lasts 365 days but doesn’t account for a leap year; a lunar calendar; and the Long Count calendar, which tracks major time cycles and caused a lot of brouhahas when some people (mistakenly) thought it was foretelling the end of the world in 2012, Live Science previously reported.

“[I remember] all that nonsense back in 2012 about the end of a cycle,” Stuart said. “Everyone was saying, ‘It’s the end of the calendar.’ But no, they didn’t understand there was yet another cycle after that.”

There are other calendar notations that might be older than the newly described 7-deer finding, but these artifacts are challenging to date because they were carved into stone (which does not hold any radioactive carbon that can be dated). Moreover, these carved stones were possibly moved around, meaning a date from the site might not reflect the date of these calendars, Stuart said. For instance, a proposed Tzolk’in calendar found in Oaxaca Valley, Mexico has dates ranging from 700 B.C. to 100 B.C., according to several studies.

When these four types of calendars are taken into account, this “7 deer” notation is the “earliest evidence of any Maya calendar, possibly [the] earliest securely dated evidence anywhere in Mesoamerica,” Stuart said. 

Surprising deer

The archaeologists were surprised to find the deer glyph. Later Maya Tzolk’in notations almost always write out the word for deer rather than drawing a glyph of the animal, Stuart said. In effect, these fragments might be evidence of an early stage of Maya script, he said.

“We speculate a little bit in the article that it may be that this is an early phase of the writing system where they haven’t quite established the norms that we’re used to,” Stuart said. He added that it’s unclear where in Mesoamerica this calendrical system began.

These two lines of evidence help tie everything together, Canuto noted. “The text seems to suggest something really archaic, and then the radiocarbon and the context of the dating seems to support that,” he said.

The study is “meticulously done,” Walter Witschey, a retired research professor of anthropology and geography at Longwood University in Virginia and a research fellow at the Middle American Research Institute, told Live Science in an email. The finding is “evidence for the earliest known calendar notation from the Maya region,” he said. 

Evidence For Biggest Earthquake In Human History That Caused 66-Ft Tall Tsunamis Found In Chile

Evidence For Biggest Earthquake In Human History That Caused 66-Ft Tall Tsunamis Found In Chile

Archaeologists have found evidence of the largest known earthquake in human history — a terrifying magnitude-9.5 megaquake that caused a 5,000-mile-long (8,000 kilometres) tsunami and prompted human populations to abandon nearby coastlines for 1,000 years, a new study finds.

Evidence For Biggest Earthquake In Human History That Caused 66-Ft Tall Tsunamis Found In Chile
The earthquake sent waves as high as 66 feet and 5000 miles across the Pacific Ocean.

The earthquake struck about 3,800 years ago in what is now northern Chile when a tectonic plate rupture lifted the region’s coastline. The subsequent tsunami was so powerful, that it created waves as high as 66 feet (20 meters) and travelled all the way to New Zealand, where it hurled car-size boulders hundreds of miles inland, the researchers found. 

Until now, the largest earthquake ever recorded was the 1960 Valdivia earthquake, which hit southern Chile with a magnitude between 9.4 and 9.6, killing up to 6,000 people and sending tsunamis barreling across the Pacific Ocean.

The rupture that caused the Valdivia earthquake was enormous, extending as far as 500 miles (800 km) in length. But, as scientists detail in research published April 6 in the journal Science Advances, the newly discovered ancient megaquake was even bigger, coming from a rupture roughly 620 miles (1,000 km) long.

“It had been thought that there could not be an event of that size in the north of the country simply because you could not get a long enough rupture,” study co-author James Goff, a geologist at the University of Southampton in England, said in a statement

Like the Valdivia earthquake, the ancient quake was a megathrust earthquake, the most powerful type of earthquake in the world. These earthquakes occur when one of Earth’s tectonic plates gets forced, or subducted, underneath another.

The two plates eventually get locked into place by friction, but the forces that caused the plates to collide continue to build. Eventually, so much strain gathers that the point of contact between the plates rips apart, creating a gigantic rupture and releasing energy in the form of devastating seismic waves. 

Evidence for the giant quake was found in marine and coastal items — such as littoral deposits (boulders, pebbles and sand native to coastal regions) and marine rocks, shells and sea life — that the researchers discovered displaced far inland in Chile’s the Atacama Desert. 

“We found evidence of marine sediments and a lot of beasties that would have been living quietly in the sea before being thrown inland,” Goff said in the statement. “And we found all these very high up and a long way inland, so it could not have been a storm that put them there.”

To get a better sense of what brought these deposits so far from the sea, the researchers used radiocarbon dating. This method involves measuring the quantities of carbon 14, a radioactive carbon isotope, found inside a material to determine its age.

As carbon 14 is everywhere on Earth, deposits easily absorb it while they form. The half-life of carbon 14, or the time it takes for half of it to radioactively decay, is 5,730 years, making it ideal for scientists who want to peer back into the last 50,000 years of history by checking how much-undecayed carbon 14 a material has.

After dating 17 deposits across seven separate dig sites over 370 miles (600 km) of Chile’s northern coast, the researchers found that the ages of the out-of-place coastal material suggested that it had been washed inland some 3,800 years ago. 

Further evidence also came in the form of ancient stone structures that the archaeologists excavated. These stone walls, built by humans, were found lying beneath the tsunami’s deposits, and some were lying backwards, pointing toward the sea, suggesting that they had been toppled by the strong currents of the tsunami’s backwash.

“The local population there were left with nothing,” Goff said. “Our archaeological work found that a huge social upheaval followed as communities moved inland beyond the reach of tsunamis. It was over 1,000 years before people returned to live at the coast again, which is an amazing length of time given that they relied on the sea for food.”

As this is the oldest known discovery in the Southern Hemisphere of an earthquake and tsunami devastating human lives, the researchers are excited to probe the region further. They think their research could better inform us of the potential dangers of future megathrust quakes.

“While this had a major impact on people in Chile, the South Pacific islands were uninhabited when they took a pummeling from the tsunami 3,800 years ago,” Goff said. “But they are all well-populated now, and many are popular tourist destinations. So when such an event occurs next time, the consequences could be catastrophic unless we learn from these findings.”

Drowned Stone Age fishermen were examined with a forensic method that could rewrite prehistory

Drowned Stone Age fishermen were examined with a forensic method that could rewrite prehistory

Human bones dating to the Stone Age found in what is now northern Chile are the remains of a fisherman who died by drowning, scientists have discovered.

Drowned Stone Age fishermen were examined with a forensic method that could rewrite prehistory
Archaeologists unearthed the skeleton in a coastal area near Chile’s Atacama Desert.

The man lived about 5,000 years ago, and he was around 35 to 45 years old when he died. Scientists found the skeleton in a mass burial in the coastal region of Copaca near the Atacama Desert, and the grave held four individuals: three adults (two males and one female) and one child. 

The man would have been about 5 feet, 3 inches (1.6 meters) tall when alive, and his remains showed signs of degenerative diseases and metabolic stress, researchers reported in the April 2022 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The bones revealed traces of osteoarthritis in his back and both elbows; the back of his skull had evidence of healed injuries from blunt trauma; his teeth and jaws were marred by tartar, periodontal disease and abscesses; and lesions in his eye sockets hinted at an iron deficiency caused by ingesting a parasite found in marine animals, according to the study. 

Other marks on the arm and leg bones where muscles were once attached told of repetitive activities related to fishing, such as rowing, harpooning and squatting to harvest shellfish. If the individual was a fisherman, perhaps he died by drowning, the researchers proposed.

When forensic teams examine modern skeletons that were found without any soft tissue attached, experts can confirm drowning as the cause of death by looking inside large bones for delicate microscopic algae, called diatoms, which live in watery habitats and soil.

When a person drowns, inhaled water can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body after the lungs rupture, even reaching the “closed system” of bone marrow through capillaries, the authors reported. Looking at diatom species in bone marrow can thereby reveal if the person ingested saltwater. However, this method had never been used to examine ancient bones.

Algae, sponge spines and parasitic eggs

For the new study, the scientists decided that the modern diatom test was too “chemically aggressive,” and in removing bone marrow from samples, it also destroyed small particles and organisms that weren’t diatoms. Such particles could be highly significant for analyzing Stone Age bones, according to the study.

The researchers, therefore, adopted “a less aggressive process” that eliminated residual bone marrow in their samples, while preserving a wider range of microscopic material absorbed by the marrow, which could then be detected by scanning electron microscopy (SEM).

Their SEM scans revealed a microorganism jackpot. While there was no marine material clinging to the outside of the bones, the scans showed that the marrow contained plenty of tiny ocean fossils, including algae, parasitic eggs and broken sponge structures called spicules. This variety of marine life deep inside the man’s bones suggests that he died by drowning in saltwater. 

It’s possible that the cause of death was a natural disaster, as the geologic record in this coastal region of Chile preserves evidence of powerful tsunamis dating to around 5,000 years ago, the scientists reported. But with ample skeletal evidence that the person was a fisherman, the more likely explanation is that he died during a fishing accident, they said.

Damage to the skeleton — missing shoulder joints, cervical vertebrae that were replaced with shells and a broken ribcage — could have happened when waves pummeled the drowned man’s body and then washed it ashore, the researchers explained.

Interior analysis of the man’s bones revealed traces of microscopic sea life, such as parasite eggs and algae. This image shows a degraded unicellular green alga that lives in marine ecosystems.

As to why the man was buried in a mass grave, “what we can assess from similar contexts is that they probably belonged to the same family group,” said lead study author Pedro Andrade, an archaeologist and a professor of anthropology at the University of Concepción in Chile.

The individuals likely shared an ancestor but weren’t immediate family members, as the dates of the skeletons spanned about 100 years, Andrade told Live Science in an email. 

By expanding the range of the modern diatom test to include a broader selection of microscopic marine life in their search through the interior cavities of prehistoric bones, “we’ve cracked open a whole new way to do things,” study co-author James Goff, a visiting professor in the School of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. 

“This can help us understand much more about how tough it was living by the coast in prehistoric days — and how people there were affected by catastrophic events, just as we are today,” Goff said.

Applying this method across other archaeological sites in coastal areas with mass graves could offer game-changing insight into how ancient people survived — and often died — while living under potentially perilous conditions, Andrade told Live Science.

While there are many coastal mass burial sites worldwide that have been investigated by scientists, “the fundamental question of what caused so many deaths has not been addressed,” Goff added. 

Meet The Inca Ice Maiden, Perhaps The Best-Preserved Mummy In Human History

Meet The Inca Ice Maiden, Perhaps The Best-Preserved Mummy In Human History

The must-see attraction for visitors to Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) in Arequipa, Peru is without a doubt the Mummy Juanita, one of the world’s best-preserved corpses.

Her full head of dark hair is still intact and the skin on her hands and arms, discolouration aside, shows almost no decay. The mummy’s discoverer, Johan Reinhard, even made note of just how perfectly the mummy’s skin had been preserved, “down to visible hairs.”

As peaceful as she looks — a far cry from some of the more ghastly mummies that researchers have discovered — Juanita’s life was a short one that ended with her being sacrificed to the Inca gods.

Meet The Inca Ice Maiden, Perhaps The Best-Preserved Mummy In Human History
Mummy Juanita is on display at the Museum of the Nation in Lima, Peru. March 1999.

Scientists estimate that Juanita was between 12 and 15 years old when she died as part of capacocha, a sacrificial rite among the Inca that involved the deaths of children.

Translated as “royal obligation,” capacocha was the Inca’s attempt at ensuring that the best and healthiest among them were sacrificed to appease the gods, often as a way to stop a natural disaster or ensure a healthy harvest. Considering that Juanita’s body was discovered atop Ampato, a volcano in the Andes, her sacrifice very likely played into the Inca’s mountain worship.

Preparation For Death

Juanita’s life prior to her selection for human sacrifice probably wasn’t all that unusual. Her days leading up to her death, however, were very different from the lifestyle of a typical Inca girl. Scientists were able to use DNA from Juanita’s well-preserved hair to create a timeline of those days and deduce what her diet was like before capacocha.

Markers in her hair indicate that she was selected for sacrifice about a year before her actual death and switched from a standard Inca diet of potatoes and vegetables to the more elite foods of animal protein and maze, along with large quantities of coca and alcohol.

As Andrew Wilson, a forensic and archaeological expert, explained to National Geographic, the final six to eight weeks of life of Inca child sacrifices were one of a very intoxicated psychological state altered by the chemical reaction of coca and chicha alcohol.

Thus archaeologists believe that upon Juanita’s death, she was likely in a very docile and relaxed state. While the Incas would eventually perfect this drug mixture — which, coupled with the mountainous high altitudes, would cause the child sacrifices to fall into a permanent sleep — Juanita wasn’t so lucky.

Momia Juanita

Radiologist Elliot Fishman would discover that Juanita’s death was brought about by a massive haemorrhage from a club blow to the head. Fishman concluded that her injuries were “typical of someone who has been hit by a baseball bat.” After the death blow, her skull swelled with blood, pushing her brain to the side. Had blunt trauma to the head not occurred, her brain would have dried symmetrically in the centre of her skull.

Juanita’s Discovery

After her death, sometime between 1450 and 1480, Juanita would sit alone in the mountains until she was uncovered in September 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner, Miguel Zárate.

If it weren’t for volcanic activity, it’s possible that the mummified young girl would have continued to sit on the frozen mountain top for centuries to come. But because of the volcanic activity warming the snow though, Mt. Ampato’s snowcap began to melt, pushing the wrapped mummy and her burial site down the mountain.

Reinhard and Zárate discovered the small bundled mummy inside a crater on the mountain, along with numerous burial items including pottery, shells, and small figurines.

The thin, cold air 20,000-feet up near the summit of Mt. Ampato had left the mummy incredibly intact. “The doctors have been shaking their heads and saying [the mummies] sure don’t look 500 years old [but] could have died a few weeks ago,” Reinhard recalled in a 1999 interview.

The discovery of such a well-preserved mummy instantly created a surge of interest throughout the scientific community. Reinhard would return to the mountain top a month later with a full team and find two more mummified children, this time a boy and a girl.

Reports from a Spanish soldier who witnessed sacrifices of children in pairs suggest that the boy and girl might have been buried as “companion sacrifices” for Mummy Juanita.

All in all, experts estimate that there may be hundreds of Inca children mummified in the mountain peaks of the Andes still waiting to be discovered.

Ancient Mayans built pyramids partly from ash after a catastrophic volcanic eruption

Ancient Mayans built pyramids partly from ash after a catastrophic volcanic eruption

Akira Ichikawa, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, has found evidence of Mayans returning to a part of Central America that was destroyed after a catastrophic volcanic eruption, much sooner than previously thought.

In his paper published on the Cambridge University Press site Cambridge Core, he describes his study of the area around what was once the site of San Andrés in the Zapotitán Valley, in what is now El Salvador.

Prior research has shown that in AD 539, the Ilopango volcano erupted in an event now known as the Tierra Blanca Joven eruption, and it was a really big one—the largest in Central America over the past 10,000 years, and the largest on Earth over the past 7,000 years.

The blast was so powerful that it covered the area around the volcano in waist-high ash for 35 kilometers. It also blew itself apart, leaving behind a deep gash that is now a crater lake.

The eruption also greatly impacted the Mayan civilization, sending it into a period of decline due to the loss of nearby settlements and cooler temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere.

Due to lack of evidence, historians have debated for years about how soon the Maya returned to the area, with most suggesting it likely took hundreds of years.

In this new effort, Ichikawa describes evidence of the Mayan people returning to a site 40 miles west of the volcano between 30 and 80 years after the eruption. And not only did they return; they built a large pyramid using ash and dirt.

To learn more about what went on in the area around the site, over the years 2015 to 2019, Ichikawa collected and analyzed samples from the ground and from the Campana structure, a pyramid resting atop a large platform.

He found that work on the structure appears to have begun approximately 30 years after the eruption, though it could have been as long as 80 years.

Ancient Mayans built pyramids partly from ash after a catastrophic volcanic eruption

Either way, the data suggest that the Mayan people returned to the area quickly—soon enough that some could have been survivors of the blast.

Ichikawa suggests it is likely the people built the pyramid as a way to appease the gods who had shown their anger by setting off the eruption.

Earliest Known Mayan Calendar Found in Guatemalan Pyramid

Earliest Known Mayan Calendar Found in Guatemalan Pyramid

Researchers David Stuart from the University of Texas at Austin, Heather Hurst, Boris Beltrán from Skidmore College, and independent scholar William Saturno report the earliest evidence of a Maya sacred calendar in Guatemala.

Earliest Known Mayan Calendar Found in Guatemalan Pyramid
Reconstruction of San Bartolo Sub-V phase architectural complex and the 7 Deer day-sign mural fragments associated with this context. Reconstruction view of the San Bartolo Sub-V phase architecture (300 to 200 BCE) showing the radial structure, miniature ballcourt, and elongated platform referred to as structure Ixbalamque that together form an E-group. Drawing by Heather Hurst. Inset: Example of two mural fragments (consolidated as #4778), the 7 Deer day-sign and partial hieroglyphic text, among a total of 249 fragments of painted plaster and painted masonry blocks collected during archaeological excavations of the Ixbalamque context. Photograph by Karl Taube, courtesy of the Proyecto Regional Arqueológico San Bartolo-Xultun. Credit: Science Advances (2022).

In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes their work, which involved sifting through painted mural fragments at the Las Pinturas pyramid complex in Guatemala, and how they found the calendar.

The Las Pinturas pyramid complex is located near San Bartolo and has been the site of excavation for a number of years.

Prior research has shown construction at the site began 2,300 to 2,200 years ago and that the pyramids at the site were built in multiple phases. As each phase of the project was completed, parts of the old structure were knocked down.

As the pyramids grew in size, the pieces of the knocked-down structures remained hidden inside, providing a timeline of sorts of the construction of the complex. In this new effort, the researchers found the calendar fragments while sifting through the pieces of a wall, decorated by the Maya of that period, that had been knocked down.

Dating of charcoal fragments—found in the same layer of debris as the wall fragments—showed them to be from approximately 300 and 200 BCE, making them the oldest known samples of a Maya sacred calendar.

Detail of fragment #4778 collected from the Sub-V phase (~300 to 200 BCE), with the 7 Deer day sign.Consolidated mural fragment #4778 in black-line style, collected from the Ixbalamque structure: (A) the digital scan and (B) the illustration depicting the 7 Deer day sign and two hieroglyphic signs in a vertical column. Scans by Heather Hurst and illustration by David Stuart. Credit: Science Advances (2022).

The Maya calendar was based on the 260-day divinatory calendar that is still used by some people in parts of Mexico and Central America today.

It was used by a number of people across Mesoamerica. In their work, the researchers found two pieces of wall debris that fit together.

The markings included symbols that are known to have been used to represent a date symbol—a dot over a line above a deer head.

It is known as “7 deer” and represents one of the days in the 260-day calendar. The researchers suggest the artwork shows maturity, which, they contend, indicates that the calendar had been in use for many years.