Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

The mummified corpse of ‘magical’ baby boy who died 50 years ago attracts thousands of pilgrims

The mummified corpse of ‘magical’ baby boy who died 50 years ago attracts thousands of pilgrims

There are thousands of pilgrims hundreds of miles traveling to visit the tiny body of Miguel Ángel Gaitán, Spanish for “Miracle Child”. “El Angelito Milagroso.”

Fifteen days prior to his first birthday in 1967, Miguel died of meningitis. Seven years ago, however, he apparently returned from beyond the grave seven years later and refused to go back – so his family members displayed their wrinkled corpse to worshippers to visit. 

A young boy poses with Miguel

El Angelito was buried where he was born in Banda Florida, a small town in the northwest of Argentina.

But seven years later something odd began to happen when the boy’s grave and the coffin would often be found open – with objects and pieces of a stone thrown all around it.

The cemetery janitors initially blamed violent rainstorms that were battering the city at the time.

But the mysterious happenings continued even after the weather improved.

Pilgrims leave flowers, pictures, and toys around Miguel

The boy’s mother said: “We would even put stones and other objects over the cover – but every morning we’d find it open.

“We then figured Miguelito did not want to be covered – he wanted to be seen.”

Villagers moved the coffin out in the open – but then the coffin’s lid kept being removed.

Interpreting the bizarre phenomenon as a further sign Miguel wanted to be seen, the family moved him to a coffin with a glass lid.

Even after almost 50 years, Miguel’s tiny wrinkled corpse is still incredibly well-preserved.

The child’s body quickly became a local attraction and rumours began to spread far and wide about his supposed magical powers.

For decades now thousands of Argentinians from across the country have descended on the remote town to seek a miracle.

One man – Daniel Saavedra – went to visit El Angelito when he fell ill with a rare pancreatic disease and within weeks he made a full recovery – he claims.

While some people believe touching the mummy’s forehead can help them, others just come to see the peculiar situation and hear the story.

Many of the visitors leave toys and flowers at the tomb.

What made this ancient society sacrifice its own children?

Why were hundreds of children sacrificed in ancient Peru?

Archeologists who found them must have been shocked, perplexed and saddened before they first found the children’s bodies. Why would someone ever kill hundreds of kids ritually? What kind of monster is capable of such incredible evil.

In Peru archeologists who have lately digged something out of a horror novel have stumbled upon, according to Al Jazeera:

“Archaeologists in Peru have discovered a grave containing the bodies of 227 children who were almost certainly killed as part of a child sacrifice ritual.

“The sacrificial site was found near Huanchaco, a beachside tourist town north of Lima.

“‘This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found.

All of the children had been ritually sacrificed with their hearts cut out.

The bodies of the children are believed to have been a part of the ancient Chimú culture are the date from a period between 1400 and 1450.

“From about 900 until 1470 AD, at which time they were conquered by the Inca empire. A scientific paper published in March in PLOS One details the results of recent excavations at the Huanchaquito-Las Llamas archaeological site, where ‘evidence of a previously unknown ritual involving a massive sacrifice of 140 children and 200 young camelids (llamas) by the Chimú State, c. AD 1450.’

The site, according to the Los Angeles Times, is one of the largest known cases of child sacrifice in the history of the Americas, and those who uncovered the bodies were said to be “shocked” unable to believe they had found so many tiny children who had been slaughtered in such a ritualistic fashion.

Archaeologists were astonished by what they found at the burial site

The Chimú people were highly advanced and valued agriculture because it helped feed their nation. They even build a network of hydraulic canals so they could bring water from the mountainous region down to irrigate their crops.

Yet none of these facts explain why the Chimú would have suddenly felt a need to sacrifice so many children. There are no written records of their specific religious beliefs, but we do know that the bodies were buried “in a thick layer of mud that lay on top of the sand” and this would seem to suggest they were placed there after heavy rains caused massive mudslides in the area.

Could the weather have been the reason for the sacrifices?

“The northern coast of Peru is very dry in general, but El Niño climate conditions can bring unexpected heavy rains and flooding.”

What gods were being appeased by the sacrifices?

Haagen Klaus, an anthropologist at George Mason University, believes the floods were what caused the sudden need for human sacrifices, adding that “he had little doubt that the sacrifice was a response to the rains.”

It was believed that the ancestors controlled water supplies and offerings were made to appease the ancestors, ‘to bring the world back into balance.’”

Imagine what must have transpired: The rains and flooding came, destroying the crops and economy of the Chimú.

They felt a need to appease the gods, so they arranged for the ritual sacrifice of children and llamas, the most valuable things in their society.

Though it seems barbaric and unforgivable to us thousands of years later, the Chimú were merely doing what they hoped would revive their nation and return balance to nature and life.

But the evidence they left seems to suggest that all they accomplished was leaving a charnel house of horrors to document their own lack of understanding.

500-Year-Old Incan ‘Princess’ Mummy Finally Returned To Bolivia After 129 Years

500-Year-Old Incan ‘Princess’ Mummy Finally Returned To Bolivia After 129 Years

Some 129 years after it was donated to the Michigan State University Museum, a 500-year-old Incan Girl’s mummy has been returned to Bolivia and an official says that human remains of archeological significance are the first time being repatriated back to the Andean country.

Known as Ñusta, a Quechua word for ‘Princess,’ the mummy amazes many because of its excellent state of preservation: Its black braids seem recently combed and its hands still cling to small feathers.

Experts say the mummy originally came from a region in the Andean highlands near La Paz during the last years of the Inca civilization. 

Radiocarbon tests also have revealed that it dates to the second half of the 15th century, confirming the likelihood that its tomb burial preceded the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the conquest of the Inca by the Spanish.

Close-up of Ñusta’s very well-preserved feet and hands.

‘Despite the fact that it was given the name Ñusta, or ‘Princess,’ we don’t know if she was really a princess.

We will only be able to answer that with DNA studies,’ said William A. Lovis, an MSU emeritus professor of anthropology who worked for years to help bring the remains home.

The mummy was returned more than two weeks ago with the assistance of the U.S. embassy in La Paz, and a new study is expected to be carried out by November by Bolivian academics and foreign experts. 

Until then, accompanying funerary objects will be exhibited to the public during a celebration that pays homage to the dead on Nov. 2.

Culture Minister Wilma Alanoca said that in recent years, the Bolivian government has achieved the repatriation of several archaeological goods that were taken illegally, but this is the first time that a body has been brought back.

‘It’s the first time that a body has been recovered, a mummy from the Inca period,’ she said.

Still, many mysteries remain unsolved.

The girl, who is thought to have been part of an ethnic Aymara group known as the Pacajes, had originally been placed in a stone tomb along with sandals, a small clay jar, pouches, feathers and several types of plants including maize and coca – perhaps because some Andean civilizations believed that offerings helped the dead transition into the next life.

The mummy was originally found in a chullpa, a stone burial tomb built by the Aymara.

‘It’s possible that the girl was an important person and that the objects placed with her had as much sacred importance as they had a useful purpose,’ said Lovis. 

‘Another possibility is that her death was an Inca sacrifice to appease or an offer to Inca deities.’

Ñusta is believed to have been about 8 years old when she died and was buried in a dress made with threads from llama or alpaca, animals which were domesticated more than 4,000 years ago in the Andes and still roam the highlands of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

David Trigo, who heads the National Archaeology Museum in La Paz, said the well-kept objects open new doors into a society that has barely been studied.

‘We can say that she was an important member of her ethnic group,’ Trigo said, referring to Incan and Aymara traditions of building adobe or stone tombs known as chullpa for elite members of their communities.

For now, the remains are being preserved in a refrigerated chamber at the National Archaeology Museum in downtown La Paz.

Ancient Whale Bones Found in Burica Peninsula of Panama

Fossil Hunters Found Bones From An Ancient Whale… And Then They Saw The Bite Marks

The whale fin fossils. (Photo: Photos courtesy Carlos Jaramillo)

At the top of the water surface, there was tremendous turmoil. An island of flesh, once comfortably living and swimming through the ancient seas, bobbed silently, at times yanked violently to the side or jolted upward by forces below it.

A huge prehistoric seabird called Pelagornis miocaenus, which circles lazily above the scene, may have noticed that the whale carcass in its entirety, partially exposed to the air, but much of it underwater.

He had seen the many sharks that surrounded him. Some take breaths, shaking the flesh off the body and go away. Others may have attacked the whale from below, propelling themselves teeth first into the dead mammal.

The head and snout of a lone great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) may have appeared amongst the waves, biting off chunks from the dead whale’s side.

A whale this size isn’t devoured in a day, no matter how hungry the sharks encircling it was. With the tastier options—the tongue and most of the fatty flesh—eaten away, the carcass was beginning to come apart. The head had long since detached, its skull drifting down to the seafloor. Other parts were carried off to be eaten, the bones discarded elsewhere. Eventually, whatever gases or fat content kept the carcass afloat would dissipate, and it would sink.

One of the whale’s fins, in shreds, had already sunk to the sand. Ancient fish may have snacked on the threads of flesh still clinging to the exposed bones. Marine invertebrates such as worms and bryozoans attached themselves onto what remained.

In time, the remnants of this fin were covered by the seafloor. Those same remnants saw daylight again over 2 million years later, in September 2016. Professor Joaquín Atencio, two of his students, Joel Orocú and Patricio Pimentel, and Joel’s father, Félix Orocú, discovered the exposed fossil whale bones when the tide was out in the Burica Peninsula of Panama.

The fossil hunters: Félix Orocú (red shirt); his son, Joel Orocú (holding shovel); and students from Colegio Punta Burica and Escuela Primaria Caña Blanca. (Photo: Photos courtesy of Carlos Jaramillo)

After spotting the fossils in the coastal outcrop, Atencio called Carlos Jaramillo, a geologist, and paleontologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who in turn put together a team of scientists to excavate them. They uncovered several disarticulated fossil whale bones and a fossil shark tooth nearby.

The research into these bones culminated in a paper published recently in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica: “Shark-cetacean trophic interactions during the late Pliocene in the Central Eastern Pacific (Panama).”

The authors determined that these bones belonged to a type of Balaenopterid, a genus of filter-feeding whales that includes today’s humpback and blue whales. Fin bones alone are not enough to determine the exact species or the size of the marine mammal, but these particular bones did offer tantalizing clues into the last moments of this animal.

Graphic: Cortés et al.

“When we collected the whale fossils,” explained lead author Dirley Cortés, a paleobiologist at Redpath Museum, McGill University, “from the beginning we were really surprised about the giant size of the appendicular bones. After a while of inspection, we realized some of the bones had strange serrated marks across the surface, we came up with the exciting hypothesis of shark bite marks, but it took us more time to actually confirm it.”

One such bone, they reported, has 26 separate bite traces upon it. Studying such traces is the hallmark of ichnology, a field that specializes in the grooves, marks, edges, and prints left behind by living species. What might look like just a bunch of cracks on the ancient bone to the average person reads like an entire language to ichnologists, one that provides remarkable insight?

“Some of the bite traces show these very finely spaced parallel lines,” said Anthony Martin, ichnologist at Emory University, “which is typical of the kind of damage you would get from a serrated tooth. That damage is generally associated with sharks.”

Image: Cortés et al.

Absent conclusive proof one way or the other, the authors conservatively propose that at least two different sharks may have scavenged upon this whale, perhaps great white sharks. Jorge Velez-Juarbe, the marine mammal curator for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, explained that this assumption is due to the size difference between the bite traces.

The scenario described at the start of this article may or may not have actually occurred. While fossils tell us a great deal, they don’t reveal every detail. We don’t know whether the whale was already dead at the time of the shark bites; we don’t know whether it was scavenged while floating on the surface or whether it had already sunk and was eaten on the seafloor. We also don’t know with certainty which species of shark gnawed on its flesh.

“From what we know, at the end of the Pliocene, there is an interesting mix of more modern fauna with other more ‘archaic’ or extinct groups,” Velez-Juarbe said. “This, of course, changed a bit at the end of the Neogene, when there seems to have been a marine megafauna extinction event.”

In other words, some of the creatures living in oceans 3.6 million to 2.58 million years ago are very much a part of our world today. We have filter-feeding whales and great white sharks off of our coasts. The story these fossils tell is one we can instantly imagine and understand. Today’s sharks are not known to attack full-grown whales. If their ancestors behaved in similar ways, then it is reasonable to assume ancient sharks scavenged—rather than killed then ate—this ancient whale. The bite traces support this.

“The vast majority of bite traces on bone are scavenging,” Martin said. “In many instances, and I think in this instance, too, there might not be enough flesh to prevent the teeth from contacting the bone. Once the teeth are contacting the bone, that means either that bone is exposed or the flesh is thin enough that the teeth can contact bone.”

“This finding is of scientific importance not only because we were able to tell much about sharks feeding on whales [in prehistoric times], but because of its temporal context. As we pointed out in the paper, the genetic diversity of cetaceans, and especially mysticetes, declined around the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary, an example of a global turnover event in the marine megafauna,” wrote Cortés in an email. “Fossil marine mammals, like the one preserved here, will be useful for understanding the dynamics of the marine fauna in one of the most critical periods of Earth history, the Plio-Pleistocene transition.”

Cortés emphasized the importance of further exploring the Burica Peninsula in Panama and other nearby sites. While whale fossils are common throughout the world, discoveries have been relatively few in Central and South America. The whale specimen described here is actually the first marine mammal recorded from the Neogene (a period that spanned from 23 million years ago to 2.58 million years ago) in the Burica Peninsula.

“One of the reasons,” Cortés offered, “maybe the lack of fully exposed Cenozoic outcrops in particular in the Pacific side of Central America, which makes it difficult to prospect this succession and get data. Another important reason is the number of researchers per capita.”

She described how paleontology is still an emerging science in countries such as Panama and Colombia. To illustrate this further, she explained that out of “1 million citizens, Colombia has less than 90 scientists, of which a minimum amount is involved in paleontology. Without enough paleontologists, research becomes challenged although the privileged way of life. And the panorama for women scientists does not look so encouraging either.”

“Something paleontologists always highlight is that no matter how complete, what matters most is the amazing story that fossil has to tell us,” wrote Cortés. The stories yet to be told—the fossils hidden for millions of years—are just waiting to be found.

Archaeologists Sign Petition Protesting the Construction of a Machu Picchu Airport

Archaeologists Say New Airport Near Machu Picchu “Would Destroy It”

The Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru is one of the world’s most stunning pieces of engineering, and a hypnotizing, historical remnant of a mystical past.

Nestled in the Andes at around 8,000 feet, the government is now planning to boost the lucrative tourism it draws annually even more — by building a multibillion-dollar international airport nearby, which critics are adamant “would destroy it.”

The Unesco World Heritage Site is traditionally reached by taking a flight to the Cusco airport 46 miles away, which only has one runway. From there, visitors usually continue by train or by hiking through the Sacred Valley.

With more than 1.5 million visitors to the sacred site in 2017 — nearly twice what Unesco recommends to protect it — transportation to the ancient ruins is getting more crowded every year. Construction on the profitable corporate venture is already underway. Bulldozers are clearing millions of tons of earth in Chinchero, which is 12,500 feet above sea level and the gateway for the Sacred Valley.

Cusco airport has sufficed to facilitate Machu Picchu’s annual tourism, but some feel a multibillion-dollar airport could boost the economy. Critics argue it would merely lead to more risk of destruction of the site.

Archaeologists, historians, locals, and activists are in utter disbelief, however, as the airport would bring push the region even further beyond its visitor capacity and put a huge strain on the regional ecology.

“This is a built landscape; there are terraces and routes which were designed by the Incas,” Natalia Majluf, a Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University, told The Guardian. “Putting an airport here would destroy it.”

Machu Picchu in 1912, after the site, was cleared and before major reconstruction work began. Hiram Bingham III, who rediscovered the site in 1911, took this photo

South Korean and Canadian companies are preparing to bid on the construction project, which would provide direct flight access from major American and South American cities. The tiny town of Chinchero is reportedly hurrying to build new houses and hotels in anticipation of the incoming flood of tourists.

But for critics — who seem to have nothing but the sanctity and protection of this 15th-century site in mind — there are far more important matters at hand. This area was once home to the world’s largest empire, and jeopardizing its integrity for profit is simply unacceptable to countless academics.

“It seems ironic and in a way contradictory that here, just 20 minutes from the Sacred Valley, the nucleus of the Inca culture, they want to build an airport — right on top of exactly what the tourists have come here to see,” said Pablo Del Valle, a Cusco-based anthropologist. Should the airport be completed and function as intended, planes would make low flyovers over Ollantaytambo — a 134 square-mile archaeological park — and likely cause priceless damage to the Incan ruins.

The 134-square-mile town and archaeological park of Ollantaytambo. The new airport would result in low flyovers, potentially causing priceless damage.

Other critics are more focused on the Lake Piuray watershed being depleted during the airport’s construction, costing the city of Cusco half its water supply. The petition, which Majluf took upon herself to start, asks Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra to re-assess this project — or choose a different spot.

“I don’t think there’s any significant archaeologist or historian working in the Cusco area that hasn’t signed the petition,” said Majluf. Chinchero was built as a royal estate for Incan ruler Túpac Inca Yupanqui, about 600 years ago. The area is extremely well-preserved and offers an unquantifiable wealth of direct contact with a time long gone. Many of the structures in Machu Picchu befuddle archaeologists to this day.

The Incas built storehouses at high altitudes in order to preserve their grain better. It’s theorized that grain was tipped in the uphill window, and retrieved from the downhill window. These were called Pinkuyllunas.

The economy here is largely dependent on tourism and farming. As such, it’d be surprising if those desperate for more customers would oppose a big modern airport next door — but they do. Alejandrina Contreras a blanket-weaver who lives in Chincero, said, “We live peacefully here, there are no thieves, there are no criminals. There will be progress with the airport but a lot of things will change.”

“Think of the noise, the air pollution, the illnesses it will bring,” said 20-year-old Karen Auccapuma.

This project has actually already been delayed, as the private company who had the winning bid became entangled in price-hike and corruption allegations. Unfortunately, arbitration on the current business model has been settled — and the government is eager to complete construction by 2023.

“This airport will be built as soon as possible because it’s very necessary for the city of Cusco,” Carlos Oliva, Peru’s finance minister, suggested. “There’s a series of technical studies which support this airport’s construction.”

Naturally, there is local appeal for the project. Citizens have been regaled with the promise of 2,500 construction jobs, while the local land has increased in value so much that some have begun selling their properties for a pretty penny. Peasant families have changed their lives by selling farmland. Cusco Mayor Luis Cusicuna claimed local leaders have been desperate for a second, larger airport for decades.

The Incan site is “so singularly dominant for the Peruvian tourism offering,” said Mark Rice, author of Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru. “The best way I can describe it is if people going to Britain only went to Stonehenge.”

Rice explained that there’s “legitimate concern that Cusco’s travel infrastructure is at its limit,” however. So while the proposal has a rational backbone — in terms of business, at least — it most definitely will cause a “lot of damage to one of the key tourism offerings of Cusco, which is its scenic beauty.”

The world-famous terrace steps at Machu Picchu were used for farming. They also ensured effective drainage, soil fertility, and protected the mountain from landslides and erosion. They appear simple, but are a stunning feat of Inca engineering.

Unesco recently threatened the Peruvian government that it was prepared to remove Machu Picchu from its list, and place it on the list of world heritage sites in danger, instead. In response, Peru narrowed entry requirements, such as limiting visits to certain times of the day.

At this very moment, however, the nascent airport project is causing new houses, hotels, and buildings to be constructed in the area. Everyone is preparing to make this a lucrative endeavor while throwing caution to the Incan wind.

Meet The Megatherium: The Adorable 13-Foot Sloth That Ruled The Prehistoric Amazon

Meet The Megatherium: The Adorable 13-Foot Sloth That Ruled The Prehistoric Amazon

An artist’s rendering of a now-extinct Megatherium.

The year is 9,000 B.C. Humongous cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, and massive-antlered Irish elk roam the grasslands and forests of South America, but the biggest of all is the Megatherium, an elephant-sized ground sloth.

The Megatherium was one of the largest ground mammals ever to have existed. The Megatherium dominated the continent’s southern grasslands and lightly forested areas and was something of a king of the mammals for thousands of years before a mass extinction event wiped it from the planet.

Or did it?

Rediscovering The Megatherium

It would not be until 1788 that the Megatherium would be seen again after the mass extinction event that wiped out pre-historic animals like the wooly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger, too.

It was then that an archaeologist named Manuel Torres discovered a rare fossil specimen on the banks of the Luján River in eastern Argentina. Though he did not immediately recognize it, he deemed it worth further study and sent it back to his base of study at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (The Spanish National Museum of Natural History) in Madrid, Spain. There, it was assembled into its most likely arrangement and mounted for display. A museum employee also created a thorough sketch of the animal to further study it.

The original specimen found by Manuel Torres on display in Madrid.

Before long, the fossil caught the eye of esteemed French paleontologist Georges Cuvier. Cuvier was intrigued by the sketch of the creature and used it to further explore its anatomy and taxonomy, and over time, he managed to create a more complete picture of the Megatherium’s history. In 1796, just eight years after the Megatherium had been discovered, Cuvier published the first paper on it.

In this paper, Cuvier theorized that the Megatherium was a giant sloth, perhaps an early ancestor of the modern equivalent. Initially, he believed that the Megatherium used its claws to climb trees as modern-day sloths did. However, he later amended his theory and hypothesized instead that the sloth was much too large to climb trees and likely used its claws to dig subterranean holes and tunnels.

With this explanation, a picture of the Megatherium as it existed began to form; a sloth the size of an elephant, with giant, powerful claws, that lived mostly on and under the ground. With further study, scientists began to discover its habitat, diet, and reproductive cycle, and the picture became ever clearer.

The Megatherium likely lived across the continent of South America, from southern Argentina all the way to Colombia. Full grown, individual creatures likely weighed upwards of four tons — the weight of the average male elephant — making it the largest land mammal second only to the wooly mammoth. It probably walked most of its life on four legs, though it is believed that it could stand on its hind legs in order to reach treetops and high foliage to feed its herbivorous diet. When it stood, the Megatherium would have been upwards of 13 feet tall.

Due to its immense size, it’s likely that Megatherium moved slowly like the sloths of today. It was likely one of the slowest creatures in its environment. In looks, it was quite similar to the modern sloth, though with facial characteristics of another one of its descendants, the anteater. In fact, it was in part Megatherium’s resemblance to more modern creatures that got Darwin thinking about his theory of evolution.

The Megatherium lived in large groups, though individual fossils have been found in isolated locations such as caves. It gave birth to live young, as most other mammals do, and likely continued living in familial groups while their young matured. Due to the lack of predators – they outweighed (and could likely kill) saber-toothed cats and other small carnivores – they lived a quiet and probably diurnal lifestyle.

Further, the Megatherium wasn’t much of a picky eater. The gigantic herbivores didn’t have to compete with smaller mammals for food as they had the advantage of height and procuring food from distances that smaller mammals simply couldn’t. They could tolerate and adapt to various types of plants as well as allegedly nibble on the occasional carcass, which allowed the Megatherium to migrate and thrive all over the continent — for 5.3 million years.

So what, or perhaps who, led to this resilient mammalian force’s extinction?

Another artist rendering of two Megatherium.

Extinction And Possible Survival

In roughly 8,500 B.C., the earth experienced a “Quaternary extinction event” during which most of the earth’s large mammals disappeared.

The Irish elk and saber-toothed tiger went extinct during this time as well as mammoths within the confines of continents, as some survived for several thousand more years in remote island areas. And, of course, the Megatherium went extinct during this time as well. These giant ground sloths were thought to have survived in more remote areas for at least another 5,000 years following this extinction, though.

Scientists are still not entirely sure what accounts for this mass extinctionas it does occur simultaneously with glacial-interglacial climate change. Instead, the extinction of the Megatherium seems more to have been the work of the emergence of mankind. Indeed, Megatherium fossils have been found with cut marks on them, suggesting that they were hunted by humans. Whatever the reasons for their disappearance, scientists have long believed that the elephant-sized sloths have been out of commission for at least 4,000 years.

However, rumors of giant sloths living deep in the jungles of South America have emerged. Those who live in and around the Amazon rainforest have long passed down stories of a dangerous beast they call the “mapinguari,” a giant sloth-like creature who is over seven feet tall, with matted fur and large, sharp claws. They claim it tramples foliage and brush and roars out of a giant, second mouth on its stomach.

Stomach-mouth aside, the description of the mapinguari is actually quite similar to descriptions of the Megatherium, and indeed several drawings of the mapinguari are hard to discern from those of the Megatherium. Some experts have theorized that the initial mapinguari sightings many years ago may, in fact, have been Megatherium that survived extinction by sequestering themselves within the shelter of the rainforest.

Artist’s rendering of what the giant sloth-like mapinguari could have looked like.

As many theorize that the mass extinction event was, in part, caused by a human invasion of their habitat, it would make sense that some could survive by avoiding populated areas. If the Megatherium truly did evade extinction, then the modern-day interpretation of the mapinguari is most likely an exaggerated report blown out of proportion through a generations-long game of telephone.

However, it could always be the case that the Megatherium truly did go extinct all those years ago and that the mapinguari, with its fetid breath and giant stomach-mouth, is truly roaming the Amazon and we are all in terrible danger.

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.
Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.

The largest child sacrifice on record took place after a torrential rainfall, when about 140 children and 200 young llamas likely had their hearts ripped out by the ancient Chimú culture in A.D. 1450, in what is now Peru.

The reason for the sacrifice, however, remains a mystery, according to a new study. Even so, the scientists of the study have several ideas. For instance, heavy rainfall and flooding from that year’s El Niño weather pattern may have prompted Chimú leaders to order the sacrifice, but without more evidence, we’ll likely never know the real reason, said study co-researcher John Verano, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Study lead researcher Gabriel Prieto, an assistant professor in archaeology at the National University of Trujillo, Peru, learned about the sacrificial site in 2011 after a father approached him while he was doing fieldwork on another project.

The father described a nearby dune with bones poking out of it. The father said, “Look, my kids are bringing bones back every day, and I’m tired of it,” said Verano, who later joined the project in 2014. Once at the dune, Prieto immediately realized that the site had archaeological significance, and he and his colleagues have been working on it since, excavating and studying the human and llama (Lama glama) remains at the site, known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas.

“It’s the largest child sacrifice event in the archaeological record anywhere in the world,” Verano said. “And it’s the largest sacrifice with llamas in South America. There’s nothing like this anywhere else.

“Who were the victims?

The site holds the remains of at least 137 boys and girls and 200 llamas. Many of the children and the llamas had cut marks on their sterna, or breastbones, as well as displaced ribs, suggesting that their chests had been cut open, perhaps to extract the heart, the researchers wrote in the study.

The children ranged in age from 5 to 14 and were generally in good health, according to an analysis of their bones and teeth. These youngsters were wrapped in cotton shrouds and buried either on their backs with extended legs, on their backs with flexed legs or and resting on one side with flexed legs.

Many were buried in groups of three and placed from youngest to oldest. Some had red cinnabar paint (a natural form of mercury) on their faces, and others, especially the older children, wore cotton headdresses.

The llamas were either laid next to or on top of the children’s bodies. In many cases, llamas of different colors (brown and beige) were buried together, but facing different directions. Also buried at the site, near the children’s remains, were the bodies of two women and a man.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
These adults do not have cut marks on their sterna, suggesting their hearts weren’t removed. Rather, one woman likely died from a blow to the back of the head and another suffered from blunt force trauma to her face. The man had rib fractures, but it wasn’t clear whether these injuries happened before or after death, possibly due to the weight of the rocks that were placed over his body, the researchers said.

The children weren’t buried with any discernible offerings, but the researchers did find a pair of ceramic jars and wooden paddles on the edge of the site, next to a single llama.

What happened?

The Chimú culture dominated a large part of the Peruvian coast from the 11th to 15th century. It thrived, in part, because of its intensive agriculture; the Chimú watered their crops and livestock with a sophisticated web of hydraulic canals, the researchers wrote in the study.

This area is typically dry, drizzling only a few times a year. But it’s possible an extreme El Niño event, when warm water evaporates from the southern Pacific and falls as torrential rain on Peru’s coast, caused havoc in the society, not only flooding the Chimú’s lands but also driving away or killing marine life off the coast, Verano said.

Evidence shows that when the children and llamas were sacrificed, the area was sodden with water, even capturing human and animal footprints in the muck that still exist today. It’s unclear why this particular site, located almost 1,150 feet (350 meters) from the coast about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) north of the city of Chan Chan, was chosen for the sacrifice, but researchers have some idea for why the children were chosen.

Children are often seen as innocent beings who aren’t yet full members of society, and thus might be viewed as appropriate gifts or messengers to the gods, Verano said. Moreover, these children were not all locals. Some of the children had experienced head shaping, and an analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes (an isotope is a variation of an element) in their remains showed that these kids came from different regions and ethnic groups within the Chimú state, the researchers found.

It’s unclear why their hearts were removed, but “worldwide, everyone is aware that the heart is a very dynamic organ,” Verano said. “You can feel and hear it beating. It’s very vital. If you take the heart out, a lot of blood comes out and the person dies.”Today, some people in the Peruvian highlands and Bolivia still remove the hearts from sacrificed llamas, Verano noted.

Sometimes the removed heart is burned and the animal’s blood gets splashed on places like mines, a measure thought to protect the workers within. However, it’s unknown how the Chimú viewed and treated hearts in antiquity, Verano said. The children’s remains are now safely stored by Peru’s Ministry of Culture, and the researchers have submitted permits so they can continue to study them, Verano said.

The discovery shows “the importance of preserving cultural patrimony and archaeological material,” Verano said. “If we had had not dug this, it would probably be destroyed now by a housing and urban expansion. So we’ve saved a little chapter of prehistory.”The study is “an incredible insight into the ritual and sacrificial practices of the Chimú kingdom,” said Ryan Williams, a curator, professor and head of anthropology at The Field Museum in Chicago, who has worked as a South American archaeologist for more than 25 years.

He added that while human sacrifice is reviled in our modern society, “we have to remember that the Chimú had a very different world view than Westerners today. They also had very different concepts about death and the role each person plays in the cosmos,” Williams, who was not involved with the study. Given that the sacrifice may have been in response to devastating floods, “perhaps the victims went willingly as messengers to their gods, or perhaps Chimú society believed this was the only way to save more people from destruction,” Williams said.

Earliest Ever Human Footprint in the Americas Discovered, Dating Back 15,600 Years

Earliest Ever Human Footprint in the Americas Discovered, Dating Back 15,600 Years

This illustration shows how the ancient footprint may have been made about 15,600 years ago in what is now Chile.
This illustration shows how the ancient footprint may have been made about 15,600 years ago in what is now Chile.

The earliest recorded human footprint in the Americas was not found in Canada, the United States, or even Mexico; it was found much further south, in Chile, and a new study finds it dates back to an amazing 15,600 years ago.

The finding sheds light on when humans first reached the Americas, probably by traveling in the midst of the last ice age across the Bering Strait Land Bridge.

This 10.2-inch-long (26 centimeters) print might even be evidence of pre-Clovis people in South America, the group that came before the Clovis, which are known for their distinctive spearheads, the researchers said.

The find suggests that pre-Clovis people were in northern Patagonia (a region of South America) for some time, as the footprint is older than archaeological evidence from Chile’s Monte Verde, a site about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south containing artifacts that are at least 14,500 years old. 

Vertebrate paleontologist Leonora Salvadores discovered the footprint in December 2010, when she was an undergraduate student at the Austral University of Chile.

At the time, Salvadores and her fellow students were investigating a well-known archaeological site known as Pilauco, which is about 500 miles (820 km) south of Santiago, Chile.

Earliest Ever Human Footprint in the Americas Discovered, Dating Back 15,600 Years
This footprint is about 15,600 years old.

However, it took years for study lead researcher and paleontologist Karen Moreno and study lead investigator and geologist Mario Pino, both at the Austral University of Chile, to verify that the print was human, radiocarbon date it (they tested six different organic remnants found at that layer to be sure) and determine how it was made by a barefoot adult.

Part of these tests involved walking through similar sediment to see what kinds of tracks got left behind. These experiments revealed that the ancient human likely weighed about 155 lbs. (70 kilograms) and that the soil was quite wet and sticky when the print was made.

It appears that a clump of this sticky dirt clung to the person’s toes and then fell into the print when the foot was lifted, as the image below suggests.

This sequence shows how the footprint may have been made.

This sequence shows how the footprint may have been made.

The footprint is classified as a type called Hominipes modernus, a footprint usually made by Homo sapiens, the researchers said. (Just like species, trace fossils, such as footprints, receive scientific names.)

Previous excavations at the site revealed other late Pleistocene fossils, including the bones of elephant relatives, llama relatives and ancient horses, as well as rocks that humans may have used as tools, the researchers said.

The study “adds to a growing body of fossil and archaeological evidence suggesting that humans dispersed throughout the Americas earlier than many people have previously thought,” said Kevin Hatala, an assistant professor of biology at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was not involved with the study.

This find comes a mere year after the discovery of the oldest known human footprints in North America, which date to 13,000 years ago, Hatala noted.

It would be nice to have more data from the Chile site — “more footprints, more artifacts, more skeletal material and so on,”  But unfortunately, the fossil and archaeological records are never as generous as we’d like! With just a single human footprint to work with, the authors extracted as much information as they could.

When we look at this evidence in the context of other data, it makes a strong case for the antiquity of [the] human presence in Patagonia.”The footprint is now preserved in a glass box and is housed at the recently established Pleistocene Museum in the city of Osorno, Chile.