Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

This Circular Island in Argentina Not Only Floats, But Also Rotates Constantly

This Circular Island in Argentina Not Only Floats, But Also Rotates Constantly

This Circular Island in Argentina Not Only Floats, But Also Rotates Constantly

South America’s second longest river, the Paraná, which has a length of 4,880 kilometers, flows through three countries: Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. 4,880 kilometers is no short distance – it gives plenty of opportunities for discovering amazing things.

In the case of the Paraná, one of the most exciting discoveries was made at its delta: an island 120 meters in diameter, almost completely circular in shape, and floating freely on its axis.

So-called floating islands are found in many parts of the world, including Finland, Turkey, Italy, Serbia, the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine, Lake Titicaca on the border between Bolivia and Peru, Lake Loktak in India, and many other places. However, this Argentinean island stands out from the rest because of its shape and its continuous rotation.

Floating islands are usually based on large roots that have ended up in the water and on which some other aquatic plant starts to grow. Plants found along the shoreline of wetlands often spread inwards from the shore, to where their roots no longer reach the deeper parts of the lake or river. When this happens, they use the oxygen in their root mass as buoyancy and the surrounding vegetation as support to survive in the water.

However, occasional violent storms can tear away these floating islands of vegetation, which can then be carried back and forth across the lake by the wind. Usually, they find calm somewhere again along the shoreline or break up completely due to stronger winds.

In some cases, however, the floating islands may persist for longer periods. In the aforementioned Lake Titicaca, for example, a group of 120 islands has been taken by an indigenous tribe, the Uru, but these islands require constant maintenance to survive.

The unusual piece of land known only as “El Ojo” (Eye Island) was formed by some very special currents that keep the circular island in constant motion. As it collides with its surroundings, it repeatedly detaches the muddy bits that might have given it a rest.

The island itself was just recently discovered by Argentine filmmaker Sergio Neuspiller, who was looking for a location for one of his films about paranormal phenomena when he came across the island in the delta. He didn’t know at the time that the piece of land was spinning around slowly – he only found out when he returned to the site shortly afterwards and was surprised to see that the island had moved elsewhere in the meantime.

The movement can also be seen in Google satellite images taken at different times.

The recordings also prove that the island has been in the Paraná delta for almost 20 years, since 2003.

Neuspiller got preoccupied with the question of the rotating island later, around 2016, when he, together with an engineer from New York, started raising funds to find out what’s behind the phenomenon.

They wanted to collect 50,000 dollars to solve the mystery, but since not even a fifth of the amount came together, their investigation, which would have also covered the supernatural, was not completed. What a shame.

Study Investigates Source of Amazon’s “Dark Earth”

Study Investigates Source of Amazon’s “Dark Earth”

Indigenous people in the Amazon may have been deliberately creating fertile soil for farming for thousands of years.

Study Investigates Source of Amazon’s “Dark Earth”
Growing crops in the Amazon’s nutrient-poor dirt is tough. In a tradition that may be thousands of years old, indigenous Kuikuro people in Brazil overcome this issue by making their own fertile soil from ash, food scraps and controlled burns.

At archaeological sites across the Amazon River basin, mysterious patches of unusually fertile soil dot the landscape. Scientists have long debated the origin of this “dark earth,” which is darker in color than surrounding soils and richer in carbon.

Now, researchers have shown that indigenous Kuikuro people in southeastern Brazil intentionally create similar soil around their villages. The finding, presented December 16 at the American Geophysical Union meeting, adds evidence to the idea that long-ago Amazonians deliberately manufactured such soil too.

The fact that Kuikuro people make dark earth today is a “pretty strong argument” that people were also making it in the past, says Paul Baker, a geochemist at Duke University who was not involved in the research.

In doing so, these early inhabitants may have inadvertently stored massive quantities of carbon in the soil, says study presenter Taylor Perron, an earth scientist at MIT. The technique, he says, could provide a blueprint for developing methods of sustainably locking atmospheric carbon in tropical soils, helping fight climate change.   

Indigenous people have altered the Amazon for thousands of years

The Western world has long viewed the Amazon as a vast wilderness that was relatively untouched before Europeans showed up. At the center of this argument is the idea that the Amazon’s soil, which is poor in nutrients like other tropical soils, precluded its inhabitants from developing agriculture at a scale required to support complex societies.     

But a slew of archeological finds in recent decades — including the discovery of ancient urban centers in Amazonian areas of modern-day Bolivia — has revealed that people were actively shaping the Amazon for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans (SN: 5/25/22).

Most scientists today agree that the presence of dark earth near archaeological sites means that long-ago Amazonians used this soil to grow crops. But while some archaeologists argue that people purposely made the soil, others contend that dark earth was laid down through geologic processes.

Perron and colleagues reviewed interviews of Kuikuro people conducted by a Kuikuro filmmaker in 2018. Those conversations revealed that Kuikuro villagers actively make dark earth — eegepe in Kuikuro — using ash, food scraps and controlled burns.

“When you plant where there is no eegepe, the soil is weak,” explained elder Kanu Kuikuro in one of the interviews. “That is why we throw the ash, manioc peelings and manioc pulp.”

The researchers collected soil samples from around Kuikuro villages and archaeological sites in Brazil’s Xingu River basin. The team found “striking similarities” between dark earth samples from ancient and modern sites, Perron says. Both were far less acidic than surrounding soils — probably thanks to the neutralizing effect of ash — and contained higher levels of plant-friendly nutrients.

Soil that bears a striking resemblance to dark earth can be found in and around Kuikuro villages (one seen here from above) in southeastern Brazil.

Dark earth could store a lot of carbon in the Amazon

These analyses also revealed that dark earth holds twice the amount of carbon as surrounding soils on average. Infrared scans of the Xingu region suggest that the area is pockmarked with dark earth, and that as much as roughly 9 megatons of carbon — the annual carbon emissions of a small, industrialized country — may have gone unaccounted in the area, the researchers reported at the meeting.  

This number, while preliminary, could inflate to roughly the annual carbon emissions of the United States when all dark earth across the Amazon is taken into consideration, Perron says.

Figuring out how much carbon is actually stored in the Amazon could help improve climate simulations. But the researchers’ estimates are a “huge extrapolation from a very small dataset,” Baker cautions — a sentiment echoed by Perron.

Pinning down the true value of carbon stored in the Amazon’s dark earth will require more data, says Antoinette WinklerPrins, a geographer at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved in the study. Still, the research has “profound implications of the past and future” of the Amazon, she says.

For one thing, the technique highlights how ancient people were able to thrive in the Amazon by developing sustainable farming that doubled as a carbon-sequestration technique. With more and more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, making dark earth — or something like it — could be a method of mitigating climate change while supporting agriculture in the tropics.

“People in the ancient past figured out a way to store lots of carbon for hundreds or even thousands of years,” Perron says. “Maybe we can learn something from that.”

Possible Funerary Structures Uncovered at Peru’s Huaca Bandera

Possible Funerary Structures Uncovered at Peru’s Huaca Bandera

Possible Funerary Structures Uncovered at Peru’s Huaca Bandera

Culture Ministry’s researchers digging at Huaca Bandera —located in the district of Pacora in Lambayeque region— have found architectural structures of the Mochica elite, as well as human remains linked to important ancestral iconography.

The head of the Decentralized Culture Directorate (DDC) in Lambayeque, Julio Fernandez, reported that a new investment phase of the project ‘Recovery of Walled Complex 2 in the Central Sector of Archaeological Complex Huaca Bandera’ was successfully completed for S/624,921 (about US$163,335).

These resources created 95 jobs for professional and working-class people, mostly people from the aforementioned Lambayeque’s district.

According to Fernandez, the work at Huaca Bandera included archaeological research studies —both field and desktop— preventive conservation practices, archaeometry research, and dating using radiocarbon techniques.

Walled Complex

Archaeologist Manuel Curo, the project’s director, commented that at this stage the team continued to study Walled Complex 2 —one of the areas used by ruling elites in the lower valley of La Leche-Motupe in 850 B.C. during the transition from the Mochica to Lambayeque periods.

Moreover, the specialist explained that it has been possible to document the design of the pyramidal platform at Walled Complex 2 and its main architectural elements, particularly those found in its upper platform.

“Here, we have found a red and cream-colored ceremonial bench, a wall pierced with rows of niches —with the same colors— in reverse order, and a burial place located in the central part of these structures,” he noted.

These elements were also present in a Mochica vessel, whose iconography consists of a burial ceremony for an elite person, in a coffin that is placed into a grave by means of ropes, led by two mythological figures.

The scene takes place in settings similar to those of Huaca Bandera.

Thus, the researchers believe that this could confirm that said structures were a symbol of power, as they would be the environments where Huaca Bandera leaders operated, as well as the place where they met death.

2,000-Year-Old Maya Civilization Spotted in Guatemala

2,000-Year-Old Maya Civilization Spotted in Guatemala

A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in the U.S., working with a colleague from France and another from Guatemala, has discovered a very large 2,000-year-old Mayan civilization in northern Guatemala.

Triadic structures in El Mirador: (a) LiDAR image showing triadic structures in the civic center of El Mirador (Tigre pyramid is the largest in this section of the city); (b) LiDAR 3D view showing the pyramidal complex of La Danta, located on the east side of the civic center at El Mirador.

In their paper published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica, the group describes using LiDAR to conduct a survey of the area.

LiDAR is a detection system similar to radar but is based on laser light rather than radio waves. In recent years, it has been used to scan parts of dense tropical rain forests for signs of ancient civilizations.

Lasers used in such systems are able to penetrate vegetative canopies over rain forests, revealing what is on the ground beneath them.

In this new effort, the researchers flew over parts of Guatemala as part of a mapping effort, when they came across what they describe as a vast ancient Maya civilization.

In studying their maps, they were able to see that the ancient civilization was made up of more than 1,000 settlements covering approximately 650 square miles, most of which were linked by multiple causeways.

The researchers were also able to see that the people who once lived in the settlements had been densely packed—a finding that goes against theories suggesting early Mesoamerican settlements tended to be sparsely populated.

The causeways (cleared, raised beds used as roads) added up to 110 miles of traversable pathways, making it relatively easy for the people in the civilization to visit other settlements.

The researchers note that the road network would have allowed for collective labor efforts.

The researchers also found evidence of large platforms and pyramids in some settlements, which, they note, suggests some of them served as centralized hubs for work, recreation and politics. They note also that some of the settlements had ball courts that prior research has shown were used for playing a variety of sports native to the region.

The researchers also found that the people of the civilization had built canals for moving water and reservoirs for holding it to allow for use during dry periods.

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.