Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

Satellite Images Aided the Discovery of an Ancient Civilization Buried in the Amazon

Satellite Images Aided the Discovery of an Ancient Civilization Buried in the Amazon

Long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, one of the world’s largest rainforests teemed with people who transformed the woods around them, according to archaeologists who have found new evidence of farms, settlements and roads buried beneath the flora of Brazil’s Amazon Basin.

Satellite Images Aided the Discovery of an Ancient Civilization Buried in the Amazon
An aerial photo shows an earthwork located in the Upper Tapajos Basin of Mato Grosso Brazil.

A retiree poring over online satellite images led archaeologists to the ancient earthworks, the most recent in a series of finds made possible by satellite imagery, airborne radar, and drone-mounted cameras that are making ecologists and conservationists abandon longstanding notions of the Amazon as a virgin wilderness.

“It is all one type or another of the human-influenced forest,” said anthropologist Michael Heckenberger at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who wasn’t part of the new project. In the Amazon, “they were weaving their cities out of the forest itself.”

The findings include 81 pre-Columbian clusters of earthworks in the Upper Tapajos Basin, located along the southern rim of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

Dating to 1250‒1500 A.D., the sites range from small ditched enclosures to large settlements with multiple mounds, plazas and causeways, the archaeologists said.

Francisco Nakahara, a retired financial manager in São Paulo who studies free online satellite photos as a hobby, first spotted the traces of circular earthworks, the researchers said. The archaeologists, who reported their findings in Nature Communications Tuesday, then catalogued the discoveries using Zoom Earth and Google Earth.

To verify the finds, the team surveyed and excavated 24 sites, unearthing potsherds and decorated ceramics. In surrounding fields, they found widespread evidence of distinctive dark enriched soil—a blend of charcoal and nutrients unlike normal Amazon earth—suggesting the land was used for intensive farming.

“It is likely that many of these sites were fortified settlements,” said archaeologist Jonas Gregorio de Souza at the U.K.’s University of Exeter, who was the lead author of the study. “These regions, once considered marginal, were probably very densely populated.”

At their height, the settlements may have been home to as many as one million people. Most of them likely succumbed to diseases brought by European explorers and slavers, while the forest reclaimed their homes, roads and plazas, the scientists said.

“Many parts of the Americas now thought of as pristine forest are really abandoned gardens,” said Colorado State University archaeologist Christopher Fisher, who uses aerial laser radar to explore sites in Central America covered by the forest canopy. “When you are on the ground, you cannot really see the landscape. You need a bird’s-eye view.”

A field archaeologist stands in a ditch that forms part of a large enclosure that once may have encircled a fortified village in the Upper Tapajos Basin.

Last year, researchers from Brazil, the U.K. and Canada led by Jennifer Watling at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at the University of São Paulo announced their discovery of 455 huge earthworks spread across hundreds of thousands of acres in the nearby Brazilian state of Acre. They also date to pre-Columbian times.

Outlined by ditches up to 12 yards wide and 12 feet deep, these circular and square enclosures are known as geoglyphs were carved into the soil within woodlands that had been managed for thousands of years, the scientists said. Until exposed by modern deforestation, they had been concealed for centuries by the surrounding rainforest.

And in the headwaters of the Xingu River in the Amazon basin, Dr. Heckenberger and his colleagues discovered remains of broad highways and dozens of fortified pre-Columbian villages. The area between these urban centres had been cultivated or managed as parkland, he said.

Such ancient human disturbances still affect the forests today, altering patterns of growth and the mix of tree species. That in turn can make it difficult for climate scientists to judge how much carbon from greenhouse emissions can be absorbed by the Amazon rainforest every year.

“These forests may be much younger than we think they are,” said ecologist Crystal McMichael at the University of Amsterdam, who wasn’t involved in the latest research.

The oldest civilisation in the Americas: Have you heard of it?

The oldest civilisation in the Americas: Have you heard of it?

Almost five thousand years ago, humankind came together in a way never seen before. We began to turn our backs on the traditional hunter-gatherer form of survival.

Tribal communities based around families began to form into larger hierarchical systems. The techniques to build permanent structures were developed. And the worship of deities was taken to a new level.

Civilisations were being born – and one of the first was Caral in Peru.

I find it a bit strange the way this happened almost simultaneously (in the grand scheme of human history) around the world – but just in a few select places.

Experts debate whether this happened independently or whether the idea spread across the world. Regardless, it was the dawn of a new era for mankind.

The oldest civilisation in the Americas: Have you heard of it?

In the Americas, it was on the coast of what is now Peru that the first cradle of civilisation emerged in about 2600BC. On a site called Caral, these ancient people with bountiful food on hand in the rich ocean, rose at around the same time as five other major civilisations.

Caral was eerily similar to some of the other great cultures growing at the same time. They built stone pyramids here, for instance, at exactly the same time that the Egyptians were building their much more famous counterparts.

But there were also differences. No artwork adorned the structures of Caral in Peru. Unlike in Egypt or Mesopotamia, the people of Caral did not seem to have the same aesthetic tastes (or knowledge).

There is no evidence they made or used ceramics, another key utensil and form of artwork in other civilisations. But they did have textiles.

In fact, the textiles were for more than just clothing and decoration. It’s believed the people of Caral also used textiles as their form of writing. Strings of different lengths with knots in various places are one way they could have communicated.

If this new advanced culture was not famous for art or ceramics, it was its architecture that was its strength. The same grand pyramids and temples of worship that were built here thousands of years ago are still partly standing around me on the day I visit.

They don’t just prove that the Caral civilisation was advanced enough to build these large monuments – it also shows that they had an advanced religious ideology.

The pyramids and other important structured would certainly have been used for worship and other ceremonies.

Although Caral-Supe is not one of the most famous sights in the country, I think it’s one of the most interesting places to visit in Peru. There’s a fascinating story behind it and there’s much more to see than you might expected for something that is 5000 years old!

The Mythical Peruvian Giants, Whose Skeletons Were Seen By Conquistadors

The Mythical Peruvian Giants, Whose Skeletons Were Seen By Conquistadors

There is one special area on our planet where there are especially many stories and legends about people of very large stature. Moreover, these stories are not thousands of years old, but only a few hundred.

Stories about the Peruvian giants have been known since the 16th century when the first Spanish conquistadors reached this region.

One of the earliest reports of the Peruvian giants is the story of conquistador Pedro Cieza de Leon, described in the folio Royal Inca Commentaries, Volume 1. This man apparently did not see the giants with his own eyes but talked with those who saw them.

In his report, he described that once people of great growth sailed on their large rafts from reeds to the shore where the village of local Indians stood. The village was located on the peninsula of Santa Elena, which is now the territory of Ecuador.

The giants landed from the rafts on the peninsula and set up their camp near the conquistadors. They apparently decided to settle here for a long time, because immediately they began to dig deep wells in order to extract water from them.

“Some of them were so tall that a man of ordinary size would barely reach their knees. Their limbs were proportional to the body, but their huge heads with hair to their shoulders were monstrous. Their eyes were huge like plates and their faces had no beards.

Some of them were dressed in animal skins, but some were in their natural state (without clothes). Not a single woman was visible among them. When they set up the camp, they began to dig deep wells for water. They dug them in stony soil and then built strong stone wells. The water in them was excellent, always cool, and tasted good. “

As soon as the giants set up their camp, they immediately made a bloodthirsty raid on the village of local Indians. According to the description of de Leon, they robbed everything they could grab and ate everything they could eat, including people!

It was a terrible sight when these huge people hung over the trees and the Indians fleeing from them, who practically could not defend themselves from them. Then, on the site of the devastated village, the giants built their large huts and stayed here to fish and hunt in the local forests.

This story ended with a completely surreal story when a “shining angel” appeared in the sky and drove all these giants away.

Despite this, de Leon himself believed that this story was completely true and described that he personally saw the huge stone wells constructed by the giants. He also writes that other conquistadors saw the wells and the remains of huge houses that could not be built by local Indians.

Further, de Leon writes about even more curious things. He writes that the conquistadors found in this area human bones of very large sizes, as well as pieces of teeth that were large and heavy.

“In 1550, in the city of Lima, I heard that when His Excellency Don Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy and governor of New Spain was here, some bones were found of people who were huge and could belong to giants.

I also heard that whole deposits of giants’ bones were found in an ancient tomb in the city of Mexico City or nearby. Since many locals claim to have seen them firsthand, we can assume that these giants really exist and can belong to a single race. “

Another proof of the existence of the Peruvian giants can be found in the records of Captain Juan Olmos, who in 1543 dug up ancient burials in the Trujillo Valley and allegedly discovered bones of people of very large stature there.

Later, another giant skeleton was found in the province of Tucuman by conquistador Augustine de Zarate and his people. In general, similar stories came from the Spaniards who visited Peru throughout the 16th century and continued to appear in the 17th century.

In 1620, the Jesuit priest and missionary Pablo Jose Arriaga in his manuscript “On the Eradication of Idolatry in Peru” wrote the following:

“They (representatives of the Spanish inspectors) led us to the other side of the village, where there was a very large cave and the remains of Giants lay in it. Among them were three giant bodies with deformed heads (elongated skulls) wrapped in combi (ceremonial fabric).

These giants were considered the ancestors of all these people in the village who worshiped and worshiped them, even sacrifices were made in their honor. Then they (Spaniards) burned all these bodies.”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, stories about Peruvian giants also appeared, but they were becoming smaller and they were already perceived as myths and legends, and not something real.

Peru archaeologists find a hall for human sacrifice

Peru archaeologists find a hall for human sacrifice

Archaeologists discovered an ancient ritual ground used by a Pre-Columbian civilization for human sacrifices on Peru’s northern coast.

The finding appears to support existing hypotheses about a ritual known as “the introduction” performed by the Moche people, an agricultural culture that existed between 100 B.C. and 800 A.D.

“There was a great ceremonial hall or passage integrated into the rest of the architecture that establishes the presence of certain figures of the Moche elite and also the practice of complex rituals such as human sacrifice,” Wester told Reuters.

Carlos Wester La Torre, director of the Bruning Museum in Peru and a leader of the dig, said the ceremonial site likely hosted ritual killings of prisoners of war.

Photographs were taken at the site show more than half a dozen skeletons on the floor of the hall.

Peru archaeologists find a hall for human sacrifice
Excavations at the San Jose de Moro site

The remnants of a mural found within the corridor depict three high priests whose ornamentation confirms the involvement of the culture’s political leadership in the ceremony, he said.

His team uncovered a 60-meter-long (197-foot-long) corridor opening up to face three equidistant porticos and five thrones on the archaeological site’s main pyramid.

Peru is believed to be one of the places in the world where agriculture first developed and has hundreds of ancient archaeological sites, including the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.

Mummified Parrots Found In The Atacama Desert Transported Hundreds Of Miles While Alive

Mummified Parrots Found In The Atacama Desert Transported Hundreds Of Miles While Alive

The more we delve into Chile’s desolate Atacama Desert, the more we discover, Phenomena both mystifying and wonderful, occasionally bordering on alien. But in this incredibly dry place, it wasn’t just the climate that was unforgiving. Its ancient human inhabitants, making do in a parched place not best suited to hosting them, traded in whatever they could get their hands on.

Sometimes, it seems, that was the brilliant feathers of colourful birds brought unceremoniously to a desert they didn’t belong to, but were destined to be buried within. What we consider acceptable interactions with animals under our care was very different back then, says anthropological archaeologist Jose Capriles from Pennsylvania State University.

“Some of these birds did not live a happy life. They were kept to produce feathers and their feathers were plucked out as soon as they grew in.” Capriles is something of a specialist when it comes to discovering the exotic oddities of pre-Columbian American culture.

This is how the mummified macaws would’ve looked when they were alive.

This time, his mother – Eliana Flores Bedregal, an ornithologist by profession – came along for the ride, co-authoring a new study examining the life and death of over two-dozen mummified and partially mummified parrots found within the Atacama Desert.

In total, at least six species of parrots originally recovered from five of the desert’s archaeological sites were studied in the research, with the remains variously dating from between 1100 to 1450 CE.

Mummified Parrots Found In The Atacama Desert Transported Hundreds Of Miles While Alive
Researchers identified a mummified Blue-Fronted Amazon parrot, recovered from an ancient cemetery in the Atacama Desert.

“The feathers of tropical birds were one of the most significant symbols of economic, social, and sacred status in the pre-Columbian Americas,” the authors write in their study.

In the Andes, finely produced clothing and textiles containing multicoloured feathers of tropical parrots materialized power, prestige, and distinction and were particularly prized by political and religious elites. Behind the folds of this marvellous drapery, the colourful birds likely lived a miserable existence in captivity, far from the Amazonian rainforests that were once their home.

Sometimes, the feathers were plucked elsewhere and imported into the Andes in special containers, but the remains of the 27 parrots and macaws analyzed here suggest many other birds were specifically brought to the desert for their vibrant plumage.

The feather trade in the region dates back much longer than this, at least to the Chinchorro mummies of around 5050 BCE. Thousands of years later, feathers were still a cherished feature used in garments, hats, headdresses, and other ornaments.

Most of the mummified birds examined in the new study were originally recovered from an archaeological site called Pica 8, located close to an oasis community within the Atacama Desert that still exists today.

Mummified scarlet macaw.

Once upon a time, though, the people here buried their birds alongside themselves.

“Most birds were placed in direct association with human burials,” the researchers write, noting the parrots’ tails were often removed.

Sometimes the animals were positioned in elaborate stances, with beaks opened and tongues sticking out, perhaps tied to ritualistic practices invoking parrots’ ability to mimic human speech. Others had their wings spread as if to forever soar in the afterlife.

During their life on Earth, it seems many had their wings broken and their feet strapped, although the researchers also observe care was taken with some of the animals, with evidence of clipping of their beaks and claws, in addition to healing processes for fractures sustained by the parrots.

“We have absolutely no idea why they were mummified like this,” Capriles says.

“They seem to be eviscerated through their cloaca (a common excretory and reproductive opening), which helped to preserve them. Many times, they were wrapped in textiles or bags.”

What is certain is that it can’t have been easy to get these grounded birds to the desert. Transported by llama caravans, it’s likely the journey from the Amazon would have taken months, the researchers think, although it’s possible some of the birds were procured from regions closer to the desert.

Once there, they were held as valuable pets, treasured for their wondrous palette of feathers, with each enticing shade certain to be stolen.

Fossil Found of Ancient Four-Legged Whale that Could Walk on Land

Fossil Found of Ancient Four-Legged Whale that Could Walk on Land

The four-legged creature above resembles an otter or a platypus at first glance. In fact, it’s a 42.6 million-year-old whale with a length of 13 feet. In a new study published in the journal Current Biology, palaeontologists have documented their discovery of this whale ancestor, whose skeleton was unearthed in Peru in 2011.

An artistic reconstruction of two individuals of Peregocetus, one standing on the rocky shore of modern-day Peru and the other preying on fish. The existence of a tail fluke remains hypothetical.

Named Peregocetus pacificus, which means “the travelling whale that reached the Pacific” in Latin, this recent finding is upending scientists’ understanding of how these creatures evolved and spread around the world millions of years ago.

“This is the first indisputable record of a quadrupedal whale skeleton for the whole Pacific Ocean,” study co-author Olivier Lambert said in a press release.

This ancient whale could walk and swim

Peregocetus had four legs, with small hooves of the tips of its fingers and toes. That adaption, along with the orientation of its hip and leg bones, suggests this whale ancestor could maneuver on land.

Its tail and webbed feet, however, indicate that Peregocetus could swim well, too, much in the same way modern-day otters do. So Lambert and his colleagues categorized the creature as amphibious (meaning it lived partially in water and partially on land).

But that doesn’t mean the animal was good at walking, and “certainly not at running,” according to the Los Angeles Times. It likely ate in the water and only took to solid ground for activities like breeding and giving birth, Lambert told the LA Times.

Palaeontologists uncovered the animal’s bones just inland of Peru’s western coast at a site called Playa Media Luna, a three-hour drive south of Lima.

They excavated the whale’s tail vertebrae, jawbones, some of its spine, and it’s front and hind limbs. The animal’s skeleton suggests it was just over 13 feet long, and there’s evidence it had a pronounced snout filled with sharp teeth for chomping on fish.

Peregocetus’ tail bones appear similar to those of beavers and otters, suggesting that the limb played a large role in swimming, the authors wrote.

Unfortunately, the bones from the tip of Peregocetus’ tail were missing, so the researchers weren’t able to determine whether it had a well-developed tail fluke (like modern whales have) to help propel it through the water.

Whales’ new evolutionary story

Scientists agree that today’s massive, flippered whales evolved from small, four-legged ancestors in south Asia more than 50 million years ago. Fossils from one of the oldest quadrupedal whales that lived 53 million years ago were discovered in India.

The ancient creatures likely migrated west from Asia to Africa and then swam across the Atlantic until they hit the shores of the Americas.

Until now, palaeontologists thought these ancient whales had only made it to North America and hadn’t strayed south.

This is the first time a whale ancestor with four legs has been found in South America. And according to the study authors, Peregocetus might also be the oldest quadrupedal whale found in the Americas.

Whale ancestors with four legs are ample in the North American fossil record. Researchers found a 41.2 million-year-old whale ancestor off the shores of South Carolina in 2014. This led scientists to hypothesize that amphibious whales likely reached North America after leaving Africa’s western shores.

But the discovery of Peregocetus – which is 1.4 million years older than the South Carolina fossil – in Peru suggests that the animal may actually have arrived in South America before spreading to North America.

Schematic drawings depict the skeleton of Peregocetus in walking and swimming stance. Solid lines indicate the main preserved bones, while dotted lines indicate reconstructed parts.

So the study authors suggest that, contrary to previous ideas, Peregocetus and other whale ancestors likely traveled from Africa to South America. The distance between those was far smaller during the era in which Peregocetus lived – a period called the middle Eocene – than it is today. At the time, the distance between South America and Africa was about half of what it is today.

During the Eocene, North and South America were also separated by ocean, which created a channel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. So the researchers now think that four-legged whales sliced through this gap between the Americas, then traveled north.

Amazing Heart-Shaped Amethyst Geode Discovered by Miners in Uruguay

Amazing Heart-Shaped Amethyst Geode Discovered by Miners in Uruguay

Beautiful gemstones that have been transformed to take on different shapes adorn several items of jewelry. However, the natural amethyst geode discovered by these miners did not need any processing. That’s because it already seems to be fine!

In its latest Santa Rosa mine near the Uruguay-Brazil border, Uruguay Minerals recently discovered a rare heart-shaped natural amethyst geode. Workers were able to separate a hard-to-break rock, and that’s when they found a pair of purple and white hearts embedded on either side of it.

“It was a normal day at our mine located in the Catalan area in Artigas. The workers were just now allowed in the area to find more geodes in the new mine,” Marcos Lorenzelli of Uruguay Minerals recalled of that fateful day.

“We were opening the mine to work normally but the land was difficult to work and our employees said, ‘We have to find something really nice due to the hard work we are doing.’” he told Modern Met.

The workers had no idea how true that statement would be, considering that they were struggling to get the excavation going because of the harder-than-usual basalt in the area.

Amazing Heart-Shaped Amethyst Geode Discovered by Miners in Uruguay

But after two to three hours of non-stop toiling, the miners cracked open a rock using their excavator machine, and it revealed the most precious treasure inside.

Surely, this geode took many, many years to form, and it’s amazing to think how Mother Nature has managed to create such beauty. And these miners were the lucky ones to unearth it!

Geodes come in all shapes, colours, and sizes, but Uruguay Minerals has never found something quite like this before.

“This is very unique and it’s the first time we found something like this,” Lorenzelli said.

Extremely proud of its recent discovery, the company quickly shared photos of the heart-shaped geode on its website and social media pages.

The rare geode caught the internet by storm as photos of it went viral. On Reddit, a picture of two miners holding rocks bearing the heart geodes have earned 116K upvotes on the platform. Over 1.2K have engaged in the comments.

Here are some of the people’s reactions to this extraordinary natural amethyst geode.

“I wouldn’t mind betting that this started because someone carved a heart into a rock many decades ago.”

“Wow! That’s amazing!!! I love this! A few of my favourite things…. rocks, purple, hearts.”

“No way that’s amazing. I love Amethyst and that piece is definitely a gift from Mother Earth. Others took the discovery as a reminder to take care of our natural resources.

“Make a choice to love the earth back!”

Uruguay Minerals transforms its geodes into different shapes, including hearts, angels, wings, and Christmas trees. The brand sells its creations through its website, including this heart-shaped one, which they’ve named “The New Treasure.”

Unlike its other products, the brand left “The New Treasure” untouched because of how naturally beautiful it looks.

3,200-Year-Old Spider Mural Identified in Peru

3,200-Year-Old Spider Mural Identified in Peru

The Guardian reports that a 3,200-year-old mural on a mudbrick structure situated near a river in northwestern Peru depicts a knife-wielding spider god associated with rain and fertility.

3,200-Year-Old Spider Mural Identified in Peru
Experts believe the shrine was built by the pre-Columbian Cupisnique culture, which developed along Peru’s northern coast more than 3,000 years ago.

The image was painted with yellow, grey, and white paint in addition to ochre. 

The wall of the 15m x 5m mud-brick structure in the Virú province of Peru’s La Libertad region – was discovered last year after much of the site was destroyed by local farmers trying to extend their avocado and sugarcane plantations.

Experts believe the shrine was built by the pre-Columbian Cupisnique culture, which developed along Peru’s northern coast more than 3,000 years ago.

The archaeologist Régulo Franco Jordán said the shrine’s strategic location near the river had led researchers to believe it had been a temple dedicated to water deities.

The mural – applied in ochre, yellow, grey and white paint to the wall of the 15m by 5m mud-brick structure in the Virú province of Peru’s La Libertad region – was discovered last year.

“What we have here is a shrine that would have been a ceremonial centre thousands of years ago,” he told Peru’s La República newspaper.

“The spider on the shrine is associated with water and was an incredibly important animal in pre-Hispanic cultures, which lived according to a ceremonial calendar. It’s likely that there was a special, sacred water ceremony held between January and March when the rains came down from the higher areas.”

According to the archaeologists, about 60% of the complex, which lies 500km north of Lima, was destroyed in November last year when farmers in the region used heavy machinery to try to extend their crop fields.

Jordán has named the temple Tomabalito after the nearby archaeological site known as El Castillo de Tomabal.

“The site has been registered and the discovery will be covered up until the [Covid] pandemic is over and it can be properly investigated,” he told La República.

The spider god is not the only ancient animal artwork to have appeared in Peru over recent months.

In October last year, the form of an enormous cat, dated to between 200 BC and 100 BC, emerged during work to improve access to one of the hills that overlook the country’s famous Nazca line geoglyphs.