Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

Human spines on sticks found in 500-year-old graves in Peru

Human spines on sticks found in 500-year-old graves in Peru

Human spines on sticks found in 500-year-old graves in Peru
Examples of vertebrae on posts, found in Peru’s Chincha Valley.

Hundreds of years ago, Indigenous people in coastal Peru may have collected the scattered remains of their dead from desecrated graves and threaded reed posts through the spinal bones. Scientists recently counted nearly 200 of these bone-threaded posts in stone tombs in Peru’s Chincha Valley, and they suspect that the practice arose as a means of reassembling remains after the Spanish had looted and desecrated Indigenous graves.  

Archaeologists investigated 664 graves in a 15-square-mile (40 square kilometres) zone that contained 44 mortuary sites. They documented 192 examples of posts threaded with vertebrae.

The researchers then measured the amount of radioactive carbon in the bones and reed posts. Radioactive carbon accumulates when an organism is alive but decays to nitrogen at a constant rate once the organism is dead. So based on the amount of this carbon, the scientists could estimate when the posts were assembled.

Their analysis placed the vertebrae and posts between A.D. 1450 and 1650 — a time when the Inca Empire was crumbling and European colonizers were consolidating power, the researchers wrote in a new study.

This was a period of upheaval and crisis in which Indigenous tombs were frequently desecrated by the Spanish, and Chincha people may have revisited looted tombs and threaded spinal bones on reeds in order to reconstruct disturbed burials, said lead study author Jacob Bongers, a senior research associate of archaeology with the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

“The fact that there’s 192 of these and that they’re widespread — we find these throughout the Chincha Valley — it means on one level that multiple groups of people coordinated and responded in a shared way, that this interesting practice was deemed the appropriate way of dealing with disturbed bodies of the dead,” Bongers told Live Science.

Most of the vertebrae on posts were found in and around large and elaborate stone tombs, called chullpas, that typically held multiple burials; in fact, one chullpa contained remains from hundreds of people, Bongers said.

The people who performed the burials were part of the Chincha Kingdom, “a wealthy, centralized society that dominated Chincha Valley during the Late Intermediate period, which is the period that precedes the Incan Empire,” Bongers explained.

In one of the chullpas, threaded vertebrae were inserted into a cranium.

The Chincha Kingdom once had a population numbering around 30,000, and it thrived from around A.D. 1000 to 1400, eventually merging with the Inca Empire toward the end of the 15th century. But after the Europeans arrived and brought famines and epidemics, Chincha numbers plummeted to just 979 heads of household in 1583, according to the study.

Historic documents record accounts of Spaniards frequently looting Chincha graves across the valley, stealing gold and valuable artefacts, and destroying or desecrating remains.

For the new study, the researchers closely examined 79 bone-threaded posts, each of which represented a collection of spinal bones from an adult or from a child.

Most posts held bones belonging to a single individual, but the spines were incomplete, with most of the bones disconnected and out of order. This suggested that the threading was not performed as a part of the original burial. Rather, someone gathered and threaded the spinal vertebrae after the bodies had decomposed — and perhaps after some of the bones were lost to looting, the study authors reported.

Two chullpas in the middle of Chincha Valley.

And because Andean cultures valued preserving the integrity and completeness of a dead body, the likeliest explanation is that Chincha people revisited looted graves and reconstructed the scattered remains in this way to try and restore some semblance of wholeness to remains that had been dispersed and desecrated.

“When you look at all data we gathered, all of that supports the model that these were made after these tombs had been looted,” Bongers said.

Ancient mortuary practices, such as this bone threading, provide valuable clues about how long-ago communities dealt with their dead, but they also shed light on how people defined their identities and culture through their relationships with the dead, Bongers told Live Science.

“Mortuary practices arguably are what make us human — this is one of the key distinguishing features of our species. So, by documenting mortuary practices, we’re learning diverse ways of how people showcased their humanity.”

The findings were published on Feb. 2 in the journal Antiquity.

Gold and silver treasures were discovered with ‘elite craftspeople’ burials near the powerful Wari queen’s tomb

Gold and silver treasures were discovered with ‘elite craftspeople’ burials near the powerful Wari queen’s tomb

Archaeologists excavating a necropolis north of Lima have unearthed a 1,300-year-old ornate tomb from the Wari era of Peru. The tomb contains the remains of a high-status man dubbed the “Lord of Huarmey.” 

Gold and silver treasures were discovered with 'elite craftspeople' burials near the powerful Wari queen's tomb
The tomb includes the shrouded remains of an elite male, dubbed the “Lord of Huarmey,” and six other people, some of whom may have first been buried elsewhere and brought to the tomb later.

The remains of six other people were found in the same tomb, some of which were likely reinterred after first being buried elsewhere. The remains include four adults — possibly two males and two females — and three people who may be adolescents, according to the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Archaeology.

All the remains in the tomb were buried with gold and silver jewellery, bronze tools, knives, axes, baskets, woven textiles, raw materials for basketry, and wood and leather items — an abundance of objects that makes archaeologists think the people buried there were skilled craftspeople, as well as members of the Wari elite.

“We could call this part of the royal necropolis ‘The Gallery of Elite Craftsmen,'” Miłosz Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland who leads the project, told Live Science in an email. “For the first time, we have found the burials of male Wari elite, who were also fine craftsmen and artists.”

Giersz’s team discovered the latest tomb in February at the Wari necropolis near the modern coastal town of Huarmey, in the Ancash region about 155 miles (250 kilometres) north of Lima. It lies just a short distance from a larger tomb, discovered in 2012 by Giersz and his wife Patrycja Prządka-Giersz, an assistant professor at the University of Warsaw. This larger tomb contained the remains of three high-status women deemed to be “Wari queens,” as Live Science previously reported.

The queens were buried alongside the remains of 58 other people. Most of the individuals were noblewomen who may have been interred later, but some were from lower social classes and seem to have been sacrificed. 

The latest tomb was discovered in February beneath a larger tomb attributed to Wari “queens,” found ten years ago at the Castillo de Huarmey archaeological site in Peru.

Andean empire

The Wari people lived in towns in the mountains and coast of what’s now Peru from about A.D. 500 to 1000. They are famed for their rich tradition of artwork, including gold and silver jewellery, painted pottery(opens in new tab) and vivid woven textiles.

The Wari Empire existed at roughly the same time as the Tiwanaku Empire farther south, and the two Andean states were often rivals, according to a 2003 article by archaeologists at Chicago’s Field Museum(opens in new tab). But both the Wari and the Tiwanaku empires had collapsed by the time the Inca Empire arose in much the same regions after about A.D. 1200.

The site near modern-day Huarmey features a pyramidal structure known as “El Castillo de Huarmey” — meaning the castle of Huarmey. Researchers have known about the structure since at least the 1940s, but many thought it was largely empty due to grave robbers who had already looted its gold and silver.

Many ornate artefacts in various stages of completion were found in the tomb, including this ear ornament made with gold and inlaid with semiprecious stones.

But the excavations in 2012 and 2013 by Giersz and Prządka-Giersz revealed it was an ancient Wari necropolis with at least one untouched tomb.

The subsequent excavation of the tomb of the Wari queens revealed that Castillo de Huarmey had once been “a large Wari mausoleum and site of ancestor worship on the Peruvian North Coast, an area that lies on the borders of the world controlled by the first Andean empire,” Giersz said.

The team also unearthed more than 1,300 artefacts that had been buried as grave gifts in the tomb of the Wari queens, including rich objects made of gold, silver, bronze, precious gems, wood, bone and shells, he said.

These silver ornaments, known as ear spools, were among the grave goods interred in the tomb of the seven people who were buried there about 1,300 years ago.

Wari tomb

Giersz thinks the “Lord of Huarmey” and the other people buried in the newly found tomb may have been members of the Wari elite and highly skilled craftspeople.

“The golden and silver artefacts deposited with them support this assumption,” he said. “Both men and women buried in the royal necropolis at Castillo de Huarmey were directly connected with the highest level of craft production and made the finest luxury goods of their era.”

As well as an elite necropolis, the finds show that Castillo de Huarmey was an important administrative centre of the Wari Empire, he said: “A place of production of the finest handicrafts in the domain, especially exclusive clothing… metal ornaments, and jewellery.”

This decoration for a headdress, made of gold, was found in one of the graves in the tomb. Archaeologists think such finds may signify that only elite craftspeople were buried there
University of Warsaw archaeologist Miłosz Giersz and his colleagues have been working at the Castillo de Huarmey site in northern Peru for more than 10 years.

Archaeologist Justin Jennings of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto was not involved in the latest study, but he has excavated other Wari sites in Peru.

He called the latest discoveries “spectacular,” but cautioned that the function of the Castillo de Huarmey site during the Wari era isn’t well understood. It may be that the people buried there were not elite craftspeople, as Giersz has proposed.

“These are wonderful pieces, and it’s so nice to have these associated with the graves,” Jennings said. But “the dead don’t get to choose what goes into their tombs — their grave goods can reflect what they did in life, but they could also very much reflect other types of messages.”

He noted, however, that the upper classes of ancient American societies were often also elite craftspeople, most famously the later Maya in Mesoamerica. “The Maya elite spent a lot of their time making elite goods, so it’s certainly not out of the ordinary,” Jennings said. 

The inclusion in the grave goods of unfinished objects was also notable, he said. “I think that does lend some credence to the idea that some of these individuals were involved in the production of things.”

An archaeological discovery in Peru: 76 graves of sacrificed children found in Huanchaco

An archaeological discovery in Peru: 76 graves of sacrificed children found in Huanchaco

A new archaeological find has been reported in the Huanchaco district in the province of Trujillo. An additional 76 graves of sacrificed children were discovered, thus totalling six child sacrificial events in more than 450 years.

The graves were unearthed at Pampa La Cruz archaeological site, located in the Huanchaco district. 

The head of the Huanchaco Archaeological Program (Pahuan), Gabriel Prieto, reported that the results of the 80 radiocarbon dating analyses carried out on the evidence found so far led us to conclude this thesis.

In addition, there were six sacrificial events, dating from between 1050 and 1500 AD, associated with important moments in the beginning, development, and consolidation of the Chimu society.

Prieto, who was born in Huanchaco, told the Andina news agency that 76 new children’s graves were discovered in the last excavation process carried out between July and August this year.

Out of that total, 25 graves were found in Mound I and the other 51 were uncovered in Mound II.

To date, the remains of 302 minors have been unearthed in said area.

An archaeological discovery in Peru: 76 graves of sacrificed children found in Huanchaco

The most unusual tomb was found in Mound I: It belonged to five women sitting head to head in a sort of circle. The analysis will determine its meaning.

Time periods and burials

The archaeologist, who is also a researcher at the University of Florida in the United States, pointed out that the earliest sacrificial event occurred between about 1050 and 1100, until 1200 AD, and was found in Mound I.

In this area, the children have something in common: their bodies are placed with their feet towards the east and their heads towards the west; that is, they turn their backs on the sea —a pattern that is repeated in all the bodies dating to that time.

Rock Art Discovered Near Machu Picchu

Rock Art Discovered Near Machu Picchu

Archaeologists from the Decentralized Culture Directorate in Cusco (DDC Cusco) have discovered samples of cave art in a sector of the Qhapaq Ñan or Great Inca Trail that crosses the Archaeological Park of Machu Picchu in Peru.

This information was provided by Francisco Huarcaya, the person responsible for the sector of the Inca Trail that crosses the aforementioned park.

Huarcaya reported that said discovery occurred in early September this year at the 87th kilometre of the railway that leads to the Inca citadel, on the left side of the Vilcanota River.

Said samples consist of a set of images painted on different parts of a huge rock and represent figures of camelids and the sun  —the most important deity for the Inca civilization. 

Abstract graphics and other graphics with geometric shapes have been identified as well. 

“There are other images that cannot be identified due to geological problems and rock wear caused by long exposure to sun, wind, rain, and water filtration,” he noted.

The archaeologist explained that this cave art was associated with a funerary context and the cult of the apus (guardian deities in the form of mountains), such as the Huacayhuilca and Casamentuyoc mountains, as well as the Huilcamayo River —considered sacred and located near the area.

In addition to said evidence of cave art, archaeologists found human bones of a skull and a femur, which were exposed to the surface and partially covered by brush.

CT Scans Reveal Gnarly, 1,000-Year-Old Mummies Were Murdered

CT Scans Reveal Gnarly, 1,000-Year-Old Mummies Were Murdered

A 3D CT scan of the skull of one of the South American mummies in the new study.

Around 1,000 years ago, two men in South America were likely murdered in cold blood — one getting stabbed in the back and the other experiencing severe neck trauma, according to a new analysis of their mummified remains. 

Behaving more like detectives than academics, a research team scanned three mummified bodies from Chile and Peru in South America to look for clues on how the individuals died. One male victim was hit on the head and stabbed in the back, while another male was likely killed after receiving “massive trauma” to the neck, which included dislocation, the researchers revealed.

The study adds to evidence of violence in prehistoric human societies and highlights how mummified remains can hold secrets that are lost when only bones are preserved. Both the stabbing and the cervical rotational trauma of the dislocated neck would have escaped detection in skeletons, the authors wrote in the study. 

“The types of trauma we found would not have been detectable if these human remains had been mere skeletons,” study co-author Andreas Nerlich, a professor in the department of pathology at Munich Clinic Bogenhausen in Germany, said in a statement(opens in new tab). 

Human bodies can be naturally mummified in dry, cold or other extreme environments, as these environments interfere with the process of decay that normally destroys soft tissues and organs. In this case, researchers studied mummies that were preserved in the very dry environments of South America and were held by museums in Germany and Switzerland. 

Radiocarbon dating revealed that the mummies were between 740 and 1,120 years old, meaning they predated the colonial Spanish period.

One male mummy likely came from the Arica culture in what is now northern Chile. He was buried alongside fishing tools, so the researchers determined he likely came from a fishing community.

The two other mummies, a male and female, likely came from the Arequipa region in what is now southwestern Peru and were buried wearing materials made out of cotton and hair from llamas or alpacas, as well as viscachas, which are rodents in the chinchilla family. 

The researchers used computed tomography (CT) scans to create virtual 3D reconstructions of the bodies, which revealed previously hidden details about their deaths. While the female died of natural causes, both of the male mummies died from extreme intentional violence, according to the research.

Other mummified remains may also have histories waiting to be revealed through modern scanning and reconstruction techniques. “There are dozens of South American mummies which might profit from a similar investigation as done here,” Nerlich said. 

The study was published online on Sept. 9 in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. 

South American Mummies Were Brutally Murdered, CT Scans Reveal

South American Mummies Were Brutally Murdered, CT Scans Reveal

South American Mummies Were Brutally Murdered, CT Scans Reveal
One of the mummified skulls was analyzed in the study.

One secret of the past that can be revealed through the study of skulls and skeletons is how frequent violence was amongst our ancestors. However, with their preserved soft tissues, mummified remains can be an even more telling indicator than bones alone.

That brings us to a new analysis of three pre-Columbian South American mummies, carried out with 3D computed tomography (3D CT) scans that use X-rays to view the internal state of the remains without having to open them up.

The research reveals that two out of these three people were brutally killed.

South American Mummies Were Brutally Murdered, CT Scans Reveal
The Marburg male mummy. (A-M Begerock, R Loynes, OK Peschel, J Verano, R Bianucci, I Martinez Armijo, M González, AG Nerlich)

These are naturally mummified bodies, created in dry environments when fluid is soaked up by the surroundings of a body faster than the rate of decay. These conditions are common in the southern part of South America.

“Here we show lethal trauma in two out of three South American mummies that we investigated with 3D CT,” says pathologist Andreas Nerlich, from the Munich Clinic Bogenhausen in Germany.

“The types of trauma we found would not have been detectable if these human remains had been mere skeletons.”

The male mummy from the Philipps University Marburg, Germany originally belonged to the Arica culture in what is today northern Chile.

He most likely lived in a fishing community and showed signs of severe tuberculosis on his lungs. Aged between 20 and 25 years, radiocarbon dating suggests that this man died between 996 and 1147 CE.

As for the male and female mummies from the Art and History Museum of Delémont in Switzerland, they probably came from the region of Arequipa in what is today southwestern Peru. The man is thought to have died between 902 and 994 CE, and the woman between 1224 and 1282 CE.

Signs of “interpersonal violence” were identified by the researchers in the two male mummies, violence that would have killed them on the spot.

It would seem that the Marburg mummy died from a heavy blow to the head and a stab to the back, which may have come from one or two attackers.

As for the male Delémont mummy, the study notes “massive trauma against the cervical spine which represents most likely the cause of death” – so a hard blow to the back of the neck most likely caused him to meet his end.

Though the female Delémont mummy also had damage to the skeleton, it’s thought this came after death, probably during the burial.

“The availability of modern CT scans with the opportunity for 3D reconstructions offers unique insight into bodies that would otherwise not have been detected,” says Nerlich.

“Previous studies would have either destroyed the mummy, while x-rays or older CT scans without three-dimensional reconstruction functions could not have detected the diagnostic key features we found here.”

The Delémont mummies. (A-M Begerock, R Loynes, OK Peschel, J Verano, R Bianucci, I Martinez Armijo, M González, AG Nerlich)

As chilling as the findings of the study might be, learning about these deaths and these types of violence is incredibly useful in getting a better picture of how these ancient civilizations lived and got along – or didn’t get along.

While mummified remains are nowhere near as common as skeletons, there are still plenty that have been recovered and preserved in museums, and which can be given the same kind of scientific detective treatment.

“Importantly, the study of human mummified material can reveal a much higher rate of trauma, especially intentional trauma, than the study of skeletons.”

“There are dozens of South American mummies which might profit from a similar investigation as we did here,” says Nerlich.

The research has been published in Frontiers in Medicine.

The scientific community is perplexed by the discovery of a mummified Alien body in the Atacama desert

The scientific community is perplexed by the discovery of a mummified Alien body in the Atacama desert

The mummified alien body from the Atacama Desert is at the top of the list when it comes to findings that the science world shudders at the thought of.

When it was found in 2003, no scientist could come up with a proper explanation other than the fact that it was unquestionably out of this universe.

Professor Harry Nolan also thought this was evidence that a mutant had been unleashed into the wild after a series of unsuccessful trials.

Ramon Navia, an employee of the prestigious Institute for Exobiological Research, has claimed on record that this is evidence of a very small mummy that was cast off, but unfortunately, that hypothesis does not hold water either, as careful examination reveals that this isn’t your ordinary bipedal specimen that has been mummified.

Brian Fester, an amazing scholar, investigated and examined the skull inside, ultimately concluding that the remains of the body were either human or, more likely, alien fossils.

The scientific community is perplexed by the discovery of a mummified Alien body in the Atacama desert

According to him, the beast must have had grey skin because it was unaffected by the atmosphere, and the elongated skull could indicate that it came from South America because their ancestors were known to have the head shape.

Some may also speculate that this is an infant who was mummified several years ago, but no one has a definitive response.

Possible Priest’s Grave Discovered at Pacopampa

Possible Priest’s Grave Discovered at Pacopampa

A team of archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the tomb of a religious leader from ancient Peru at the Pacopampa site, a priestly figure, who was baptized as the “priest of the pututos,” or the priest of the shell trumpets.

The Pacopampa priest’s tomb remains have been dated to around 1000 BC. He was buried with musical instruments and an assortment of exotic objects.

Pacopampa is located in the province of Chota in the larger Cajamarca region. The tomb was located in the “La Capilla” building, and the man in the Pacopampa priest’s tomb was between 25 and 35 years of age, as reported by Agency Andina. Two other tombs have also been previously found at the site: the Lady of Pacopampa, who died in 750 BC (discovered in 2009), and the Serpent Jaguar Priest, from 700 BC (uncovered in 2015).

The National University of San Marcos and the Ethnographic Museum of Japan team, pictured here, that discovered the Pacopampa priest’s tomb has been working at the site since 2005.

The Pacopampa Priest’s Tomb: Uncovering a Tomb Full of Riches

The Peruvian National University of San Marcos and the Ethnographic Museum of Japan have been working on the Pacopampa site continuously since 2005.

Together, this team has undertaken numerous research projects within the framework of the International Cooperation Agreement on Research and Development, signed between both countries in 1988.

The Pacopampa priest’s tomb had been sealed with a huge rock that weighed more than half a ton (1,100 pounds). Inside, the team found offerings, votive deposits, trousseaus of exotic objects, seashell necklaces, malachite beads, and semi-precious stone earmuffs. And they also found pututos or shell trumpets.

Pututos were used as instruments in rituals and ceremonies. Ancient pututos were made from seashells imported from northern seaside settlements, including Tumbes and Guayaquil.

In a report, the archaeologists have argued that the Pacopampa shell trumpets are older than the ones found in Kuntur Wasi in Cajamarca, and Chavin de Huantar in Ancash.

“The burial is also associated with the Strombus snail that you don’t find in the Peruvian sea but in the Ecuadorian one. They were brought from a faraway place, it could mean this person had a quite important religious power back then,” said Yuji Seki, one of the directors of the Pacopampa Archaeological Project, to Reuters. The team has also shared the Pacopampa priest’s tomb finds on their Twitter account.

The original state of the Pacopampa priest’s tomb when it was first opened and before it was “cleaned up.”

The Pacopampa Archaeological Complex and a New Museum

The Pacopampa Archaeological Complex was a large ceremonial centre made with carved and polished stone. There are 12 archaeological sites within the complex, including La Capilla and El Mirador. In 2009, the tomb of a 30–40-year-old woman, “La Dama de Pacopampa” (The Dame of Pacopampa), was discovered at the site, she was believed to be a woman of power in the local community.

In 2012, five more tombs were discovered that were dated to roughly 2,900 years ago.

The first occupation at the Pacopampa Archaeological Complex dates to the beginning of the Middle Formative Period (1200 BC onwards). Historical records indicate a constant stream of construction right up until 500 BC. The temperate climate and fertile soils, along with ready access to the Chotano River provided this flourishing civilization with an abundance of corn, beans, squash, and yacon.

Roxana Judith Padilla Malca, director of the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cajamarca, is the head of the complex. She has highlighted the work of the Japanese and Peruvian researchers. The archaeological complex is widely believed to be the most extensive and important one in the Sierra Norte region of Peru.

Further digging has been approved by the Ministry of Culture for the 2022 season, under the supervision of archaeologist Francisco Esquerre, representatives of the Cajamarca Decentralized Directorate of Culture announced.

There are plans now to construct a site museum, which the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism has promised to finance. The facility will showcase the work of this international research team and give the public a chance to see the treasures of ancient northern Peru.