Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

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.

Chinese Skeletons Found in Ancient Peruvian Pyramid

Chinese Skeletons Found in Ancient Peruvian Pyramid

Archaeologists exploring Peru’s pre-Colombian past recently unearthed a glimpse of a less prominent chapter in the Andean country’s history – the remains of 16 Chinese labourers from around the turn of the last century.

The bodies, thought to be those of indentured workers brought to Peru to replace slave labour, were found buried at the top of an adobe pyramid first used by the ancient Ichma people, Roxana Gomez, the lead archaeologist of the site, said in a statement.

Peru was one of the biggest destinations for Chinese labour in Latin America in the 20th century, a market that thrived after slavery was abolished in the country in 1854.

Chinese laborers in Peru circa 1900

The Chinese found at the Bellavista pyramid in Lima were buried in the late 1800s and early 1900s and had likely picked cotton at a nearby plantation in “very difficult” conditions, said Gomez.

In a possible sign of how the Chinese gradually emerged from dire poverty in Peru, the first 11 bodies were shrouded in cloth and placed in the ground, while the last five wore blue-green jackets and were buried in wooden coffins, Gomez said.

“In one Chinese coffin, an opium pipe and a small ceramic vessel were included in the funerary ensemble,” said Gomez.

Chinese labourers in the 20th century were generally not allowed to be buried at Lima’s Catholic cemeteries, forcing them to improvise burial sites, according to Peru’s Culture Ministry.

The remains of Chinese labourers were previously found in Lima at other adobe pyramids known as “huacas.” Built by the indigenous societies that once ruled much of Peru’s Pacific coast, huacas were used as administrative and religious centres where members of the elite were often buried with gold objects, ceramics or human sacrifices.

Gomez said the huacas had a sacred association that might have made them attractive places for burial by Chinese labourers.

The Bellavista Huaca was occupied by Ichma starting in about 1000 A.D. and was later annexed by the Incan empire until the arrival of Spanish conquerors who deemed huacas blasphemous.

Italian immigrants later kept vineyards at the base of the site, Gomez added.

“The best way to understand our history is as a continuum of different cultures,” said Gomez.

The Oldest Mummies in The World Are Turning Into Black Slime

The Oldest Mummies in The World Are Turning Into Black Slime

Climate change is converting the world’s oldest mummies into black slime, which were buried more than 7,000 years ago in the arid desert of northern Chile. Increasing humidity has been observed to cause an outbreak of bacteria living on the preserved skin of Chinchorro mummies, according to scientists.

The Oldest Mummies in The World Are Turning Into Black Slime
The preserved skin on the outside of Chinchorro mummies in Arica, northern Chile, have begun to rapidly degrade as bacteria and humid air is turning it into black slime, as can be seen in the photograph above

The bacteria then feeds on the ancient skin, causing it to break down into black slime. Researchers say that rising humidity levels in Arica, Chile, is putting the 120 Chinchorro mummies at the University of Tarapacá’s archaeological museum at risk.

However, they warn that hundreds of other mummies buried just beneath the sandy surface in the valleys throughout the region are also under threat. Professor Marcela Sepulveda, an archaeologist at the University of Tarapacá, said: ‘In the last 10 years, the process has accelerated.

‘It is very important to get more information about what’s causing this and to get the university and national government to do what’s necessary to preserve the Chinchorro mummies for the future.’

The Chinchorro mummies are in some cases nearly 4,000 years older than those found preserved from ancient Egypt. The oldest mummy discovered in the Atacama desert dates to 7020BC while the oldest in Egypt dates to 3,000BC.

However, the practice of preserving the dead with mummification became popular among the Chinchoro around 5,000 BC, with children and babies often being the most elaborately preserved. The Chinchorro were prehistoric people who lived in scattered communities and used fishing to help them survive on the desert coast of Chile and Peru.

It is thought they began preserving their dead though mummification as part of a religious act designed to bridge the world between the living and the dead.

An estimated 282 mummies have now been recovered from the dry, sandy soil in the region, but scientists say there could be hundreds more buried there.

Preserved corpses are often found as the shifting sand exposes their bodies. Arica and the surrounding Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world and the town receives less than 0.02 inches of rain a year.

The skin on the head of this Chinchorro mummy at the San Miguel de Azapa Museum in Arica, Chile has begun to break down due to the damage being caused by bacteria growing as humidity in the area increases.

It is this dry climate that has helped preserve the mummies for more than 7,000 years. However, the region has been growing slowly damper in recent years.

Scientists at the University of Tarapacá museum first noticed black slimy patches appearing on the preserved skin of the Chinchorro mummies around ten years ago.

As time has gone on they have degraded at ‘an alarming rate’ as the preserved skin has broken down into black slime.

Researchers at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have now conducted a series of tests to find out what was causing the degradation. They found that bacteria normally found growing on the human skin appeared to become ‘supercharged’ when placed on mummy skin in high humidity.

They found that mummies need to be kept at between 40 per cent and 60 per cent humidity to prevent degradation from occurring. If the humidity falls below this level, acidification could also damage the mummies.

Some of the Chinchorro mummies, like the one above buried in a coffin made from reeds, show highly sophisticated preservation thousands of years before mummification began to be used in ancient Egypt

Museum staff are now fine-tuning the temperature and humidity to help preserve the mummies in their extensive collection. Professor Ralph Mitchell, a biologist at Harvard who led the work, said: ‘We knew the mummies were degrading but nobody understood why.

‘This kind of degradation has never been studied before.

‘With many diseases we encounter, the microbe is in our body, to begin with, but when the environment changes it becomes an opportunist.’

Professor Mitchell and his colleagues are now keen to find ways to help protect the mummies still preserved out in the desert.

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina

Radio Cadena Agramonte reports that 12 graves dated between 6,000 and 1,300 years ago were unearthed in northwestern Argentina by a team of researchers from the University of Buenos Aires–National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), during investigations over the past 15 years.

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina
A group of Argentine researchers found in the province of Catamarca 12 graves with more than six thousand years old, reported the scientific outreach agency CTyS, of the University of La Matanza.

According to the source, most were found fortuitously by residents of the area who, upon finding the remains, alerted the archaeological team that has been studying pre-Hispanic burial practices in northwestern Argentina for years.

The doctor in Archeology, Leticia Cortés, a specialist in burial methodologies in pre-Hispanic populations that inhabited the Valle del Cajón area, explained that when these practices are compared with current ones, they may seem strange.

“Knowing these customs, we can reconstruct the cultural practices of the past and put into perspective our own traditions, which are part of a cultural construction,” said Cortés, a researcher at the Institute of Cultures.

The search of this type began more than 15 years ago, with a research team dependent on the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, led by María Cristina Scattolin and dedicated to excavation and analysis tasks in the town of Valle del Cajón.

This practice of burials before the arrival of the Spanish was far from what is customary today on the basis of the Judeo-Christian model.

Cortés pointed out that this type of find usually occurs after the rainy season, in summer, which is uncovered and the bones are exposed.

“There was a great variability of burial methods, in individual or collective graves, and also in the posture of the bodies. 

Some are hyperflexed, like squatting, with the shoulders touching the knees, others extended and disjointed and mixed, ”explained the specialist.

Cortés pointed out that many times people lived with their dead on a daily basis, buried them in the same patio where they cooked, made pots or carved stones. It is an interesting thing to see the different conceptions that were had about life and death, he said.

According to archaeology, they continue working and have found necklaces and pendants that would be associated with the deceased, as non-transferable objects that are buried next to the body and remain there.