Fossil of giant owl that lived 40,000 years ago in Ecuador found
Argentinian and Ecuadorian researchers have found the fossilized remains of an owl that preyed on its smaller relatives.
An owl unlike anything seen today, which roamed on the continent of South America 40,000 years ago, has been described as a “biological rarity” due to its taste for ‘cannibalism’.
Speaking to a scientific agency at the Universidad Nacional de La Matanza in Argentina, researchers said the fossilized remains of the creature were found in the Ecuadorian Andes, 2,800 meters above sea level.
The first of its kind discovered in South America, the owl was more than 80cm high and had a wingspan of more than 1.5 meters.
According to Argentinian researcher Gastón Lo Coco, the creature’s legs were “long and thin, effective in capturing prey that is difficult to subdue”.
Fossilized bones of birds, and in particular smaller owls, were found around the owl’s remains.
“By finding the remains of the animals that had been the last meals of the Asio ecuadoriensis, we were able to know that, among mammals and birds, it consumed especially other types of owls, which shows us that this giant owl was practically what could be called a cannibal owl,” said Dr. Federico Agnolin, co-author of a study published to the Journal of Ornithology.
A rare find
A total of four species of the owl were found in the cave, including three species that exist today and the so-called cannibal owl.
Fossilized remains in the same area were hardened by volcanic ash between 20,000 and 42,000 years ago, corresponding to the late Pleistocene era.
The researchers said that the discovery of fossilized birds is a rarity as their bones are hollow and brittle. When this recently discovered owl was alive, the area would have been a wasteland.
Until about 10,000 years ago, huge mammals such as glyptodonts, giant sloths, mastodons and saber-toothed tigers lived throughout South America.
Researchers said that the changing climate in this era possibly played a part in the owl’s extinction.
“We think that the climate change that occurred about 10,000 years ago, when the Ice Age ended, was partly responsible for the extinction of these large predatory birds of which they remain in currently very few species, such as the great eagles of the forests and the Andean condors,” Agnolin said.
Archaeologists reported on the unique culture of the Chachapoyan people, a society of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region of present-day Peru, otherwise known as the ‘Warriors of the Clouds’.
The Chachapoyas are known for their incredible sarcophagi, known as purunmachu.
The sarcophagi were made of clay and carefully decorated and painted with faces and bodies before being lined up precariously on cliff edges, like sentinels guarding the dead.
Now archaeologists have made a rare discovery of 35 more sarcophagi belonging to the Warriors of the Clouds. However, uniquely, these sarcophagi are only about 70 centimeters tall which leads researchers to believe that they hold the remains of children and that this collection of purunmachu was a cemetery that was exclusively for those who died young.
The purunmachu were first discovered in 1928 when a powerful earthquake shook the hills surrounding the Utcubamba valley in Peru, revealing a seven-foot-tall clay statue, which came crashing down from the cliffside.
Researchers were stunned to find that the figure was in fact a sarcophagus, and inside it were the remains of an individual carefully wrapped in cloth.
Since then, hundreds more have been found, however, it was not thought that any more sarcophagi remained, especially untouched and intact.
But in July of this year, archaeologists working in the Amazonas region spotted the collection of purunmachu with a long zoom lens camera.
Researchers have now been able to reach the site to confirm the finding, however, the sarcophagi have not yet been opened or analyzed.
In addition to the small size of the sarcophagi, another unique feature is that they were found facing west, which is not typical for the Chachapoyas cemeteries.
“Because of the magnitude of the find, we’re dealing with a discovery that is unique in the world,” said Manuel Cabañas López of the regional Ministry of Exterior Commerce and Tourism.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the Warriors of the Clouds began settling the region at least as early as 200 AD, but the Incas conquered their civilization shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.
Their incorporation into the Inca Empire led to the complete decimation of their culture and traditions, and less than a century after the arrival of the Spanish, they had been effectively wiped out.
The purunmachu sarcophagi remain as memory and legacy of this once flourishing culture of the Andes.
Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered in Peru May Be World’s Largest
In Peru ‘s coastal plain, archeologists who excavated what is believed to be the world’s largest children’s sacrifice site have extracted the skeletons of 227 young victims.
Ever since last year teams have been digging at the sacrificial site of Huanchaco, a tourist town on the beach near Trujillo, the third-largest city in Peru.
The children aged four and 14 years of age have been sacrificed by experts to the Chimú culture in order to displace the gods as the rains and floods caused by the weather pattern of El Niño have reached the coast of Peru.
“This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found,” chief archaeologist Feren Castillo told to AFP. “There isn’t another like it anywhere else in the world.”
He said the children had been sacrificed to appease the El Niño phenomenon and showed signs of being killed during wet weather.
Castillo, an archaeologist at the National University of Trujillo, said that there may still be more to be found. “It’s uncontrollable, this thing with the children. Wherever you dig, there’s another one,” he added.
The children’s remains were found in a position facing the sea. Some still had skin and hair and had been found with silver earrings.
Huanchaco was a site where many child sacrifices took place during the time of the Chimú culture, whose apogee was between 1200 and 1400.
Archaeologists first found children’s bodies at the dig site in the town’s Pampa la Cruz neighborhood in June 2019, unearthing 56 skeletons.
Pampa la Cruz is a short distance from Huanchaquito, where the remains of 140 sacrificed children and 200 llamas were found in April 2019.
Excavation work at Huanchaquito started in 2011, but the findings were first published last year by National Geographic, which helped finance the investigation.
Researchers there found footprints that had survived rain and erosion. The small footprints indicate the children were marched to their deaths from Chan Chan, a huge, ancient adobe city a mile from the burial site.
The children’s skeletons contained lesions on their breastbones, which were probably made by a ceremonial knife. Dislocated ribcages suggest whoever was performing the sacrifices may have been trying to extract the children’s hearts.
The Chimú civilization extended along the Peruvian coast to Ecuador but disappeared in 1475 after it was conquered by the Inca empire, which in turn fell to the Spanish conquistadors.
The region still suffers the devastating effects of El Niño. In March 2017, 67 people were killed and thousands more forced to evacuate by intense rains which damaged 115,000 homes and destroyed more than 100 bridges in Peru.
In 1998, a “super” El Niño hit Peru, killing more than 300 people and causing billions of dollars of damage.
Researchers in Bolivia find two skeletons with abnormally elongated skulls
According to researchers one of the skeletons had an elongated head that exceeds the proportions of an artificial cranial deformation, raising the question: what could have caused such a typical feature?
Finnish archaeologists working near the village of Patapatani in Bolivia, recently found the remains of at least six individuals buried under an Aymara funerary tower which was built, thousands of years ago for people of royal status in the ancestral culture.
Interestingly two of the skeletons were of particular interest. One of the skeletons belonged to a woman and the other one of her baby, nothing out of the ordinary other than the fact that both of them had freakishly large elongated heads that were not the result of cranial deformation.
One of the aptest researchers to look into this strange phenomenon is without a doubt Brien Foerster, best known for his extensive research on the (in)famous Paracas skulls.
Brien Foerster recently took a trip to the Patapatani museum where researchers transferred the skeletons that were unearthed.
In his journey, Brien Foerster was accompanied by an American radiologist and expert in human anatomy and Bolivian researcher and author Antonio Portugal.
According to experts, based on the shape of the pelvis, the skeleton we see in the images belongs to a young woman who died in her preadolescence.
The young girl had an elongated head that exceeds the proportions of an artificial cranial deformation, raising the question of what could have caused such typical features?
In addition to the skeleton of the young girl, the fetus found in the tomb is believed to have died between nine and seven months into development. It is likely that the fetus died with the mother during birth.
In his website Brien Foerster points out that if this proves to be the case, it is very likely that the baby would have been born with an elongated skull as well, meaning that both the mother and the fetus had similar conditions.
Brien Foerster points out that the ramifications are enormous since it means that we are possibly looking at a subspecies of ancient humans that died out thousands of years ago.
Elongated skulls have been found all around the globe and are not an isolated phenomenon of the Americas.
Among the most fascinating examples of elongated skulls are to so-called Paracas skulls discovered in the Pisco Province in the Inca Region on the Southern coast of Peru.
Interestingly, the cranium of the Paracas skulls is are at least 25 % larger and up to 60% heavier than the skulls of regular human beings. But not only are they different in weight, but the Paracas skulls are also structurally different and only have one parietal plate while ordinary humans have two.
Rancher finds the strange rock on his farm, it was not what he had in mind at all
A rancher came across an old bone sticking out of his desert property near La Flecha in the Patagonia region of Argentina four years ago. With the recent news of exciting dinosaur finds in that country in mind, he scratched around some more. Then he went to a local museum to ask paleontologists to come to look for more fossils.
Many important dinosaur discoveries are made by non-experts in just this casual way. The rancher’s find soon led to the exposure of skeletal remains of six of the biggest titanosaurs. These herbivores lived about 100 million years ago, in the Late Cretaceous Period, on all continents, including Antarctica. They seemed especially plentiful in southern lands.
Now, the most imposing one of these dinosaurs from the far south of South America, assembled from 84 fossil pieces excavated from the rancher’s land, is the newest eyeful of ancient life on display at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. The hulking skeleton cast made its debut as a permanent attraction. Museum officials and scientists called it a must-see addition to the ranks of such popular icons as the institution’s great blue whale and the fierce Tyrannosaurus rex.
“There’s nothing like finding a great new fossil, especially such a huge one,” said Michael J. Novacek, the museum’s senior vice president, provost of science and a curator of paleontology.
The new research is expected to yield insights into the physiology of dinosaurs and how they were able to grow and function as such large creatures.
“Paleontology has become less geological and more biological in the last 20 years or so,” said Mark A. Norell, chairman of the paleontology division at the museum and a leading dinosaur researcher. He cited the field’s new “geochemical tools” for determining diet, growth patterns, and locomotion. “All of us are simply biologists who work on fossils,” he added.
The exhibit is not only a centerpiece for the museum’s fossil collections but also the start of a wide range of dinosaur programs for the year, including symposiums and another exhibition, “Dinosaurs Among Us,”
The Patagonian skeleton was not an easy fit in its New York home. At 122 feet in length, it was a bit too long for the gallery. Part of its 39-foot-long neck extends through an opening in a wall toward the elevator banks as if to welcome visitors to the fossil floors.
This titanosaur was a young adult, gender undetermined. Its appetite for all kinds of vegetation must have been prodigious. Based on bone sizes, researchers estimated that this individual weighed 70 tons — as much as 10 African elephants, the heaviest land animals today. Think of its possible heft if it were fully grown. Think of it satisfying its huge appetite by stretching its long neck to graze far and wide. With only a few shifts in position, it might have mowed the equivalent of all the grass in Yankee Stadium in a morning.
Weight was also a factor in preparing the skeleton cast for display, a task undertaken by Research Casting International in Canada. The actual mineralized fossils were too heavy to mount. Instead, all “bones” are made from lightweight fiberglass based on digital copies of the original fossils.
Much of the grueling excavation leading to the discovery was done by teams led by José Luis Carballido and Diego Pol, paleontologists at Paleontological Museum Egidio Feruglio in Argentina. They began excavating for months at a time after the rancher’s visit. Sometimes it took a week of digging to isolate a single femur or a forelimb. Thighs and upper arms are critical to judging the size and weight of a dinosaur.
Dr. Pol said the excavations revealed that at least six of these giant individuals, all young adults, had died at the site of what had been a flood plain near a river. Their deaths had happened at three distinct times, anywhere from a few years to centuries apart. Like many herding animals, they may have become isolated from the group and died of stress and hunger near their watering hole.
“That’s when we realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Dr. Pol said. Dinosaurs are the big game to fossil hunters, and these were some of the biggest plant-eating dinosaurs ever found.
The size and distinctive shape of an eight-foot femur of one specimen astonished scientists. This appeared to be a previously unknown titanosaur species, yet unnamed. Dr. Pol said a report that is being prepared may soon propose a formal species name.
In a bravura moment, Dr. Pol had his picture taken stretched out on the ground beside the femur, about the size of a living room couch. The photograph caught the attention of paleontologists at the natural history museum in New York, where Dr. Pol had done his Ph.D. research. “Maybe we can get that thing,” one said. “That would look great for a renovated dinosaur gallery,” another said.
Early last year, Dr. Novacek signed the deal with the Argentine museum to build the full-size skeleton cast for permanent display in New York. On a visit a few days before the titanosaur’s unveiling, workers were applying finishing touches as Dr. Norell paused at the entrance, under the watchful eye and toothy jaw of the star attraction.
“I guarantee you are going to remember this first impression,” Dr. Norell said. “Seeing something like this, you don’t quite have anything to compare its size and aspect with.”
He was right. The dinosaur was inexpressibly strange and big. Once again, we are reminded of what we know: Dinosaurs mostly were big, an engaging mystery and a challenge. The titanosaur’s arrival at the museum may inspire a new understanding of these incredible creatures. It is exciting enough to walk a corridor to the fossil galleries in anticipation of meeting it and spending some time with old friends of fond memory.
Dr. Novacek is not bothered by some skepticism that the specimens are from the biggest dinosaur discovered so far and that these may soon be eclipsed in size by new excavations.
“Every time we find the biggest dinosaur,” he said, “we soon find a bigger one in the next dig.”
Gigantic 2,000-Year-Old Geoglyph of an Orca Is One of the Earliest in Peru
A giant geoglyph of the killer whale, carved to a desert hillside in the remote Palpa region of southern Peru after being lost to science for over 50 years, has now been rediscovered by archeologists.
According to the researchers, the 230-foot-long (70 meters) orca figure – considered a powerful, semimythical creature in ancient Peruvian lore — may be more than 2,000 years old, according to the researchers.
It is said to be one of the oldest geoglyphs in the Palpa region, older than those in the Nazca region known for its vast collection of ancient ground markings– the Nazca lines – which include animal figures, straight lines, and geometric shapes.
Archaeologist Johny Isla, the head of Peru’s Ministry of Culture in Ica province, which includes the Palpa and Nazca valleys, explained that he saw a single photograph of the orca pattern for the first time about four years ago. He’d seen it while researching studies of geoglyphs at the German Archaeological Institute in Bonn.
The photograph appeared in an archaeological catalog of geoglyphs printed in the 1970s, which was based on research carried out in Palpa and Nazca by German archaeologists in the 1960s, Isla said.
But the location and size of the orca geoglyph were not well-described in the catalog, Isla told Ancient Origins in an email.
As a result, he said, the glyph’s whereabouts in the desert hills of the Palpa Valley, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Lima, were by then unknown to local people or to scientists.
After returning to Peru, Isla looked for the orca geoglyph on Google Earth and then on foot. “It was not easy to find it, because the [location and description] data were not correct, and I almost lost hope,” he said. “However, I expanded the search area and finally found it a few months later,”
After documenting the rediscovery, Isla led a team of six specialists from Peru’s Ministry of Culture in an effort to clean and restore the orca geoglyph in March and April this year.
Before the restoration, the geoglyph was disappearing due to erosion and the passage of time. “Being drawn on a slope, it is easier [for it] to suffer damage than [for] those figures that are in flat areas, such as those of the Nazca Pampa,” he said.
The creators of the orca drew it on the hillside in negative relief by removing a thin layer of stones to form the outline of the figure. This is similar to the technique used by the people of the Nazca culture to create geoglyphs from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 800.
But some contrasting parts of the rediscovered pattern, such as the eyes, were created out of piles of stones, the researchers said. This technique was used by people of the older Paracas culture, who occupied the region from around 800 B.C. to 200 B.C.
Soil tests have indicated that the orca geoglyph dates from around 200 B.C. The style of the pattern and its location on a hillside, rather than on a plain, suggest that it may be one of the oldest geoglyphs in the region, said one of Isla’s colleagues, Markus Reindel of the German Archaeological Institute, in an interview in a German newspaper.
Isla said that before the restoration earlier this year, it would have been hard for a layperson to see the orca. “With the eyes of an archaeologist, and after having seen the photo in the catalog and later in Google Earth, it was not very difficult,” he said. “However, [for] the eyes of a person without these advantages, it was a bit difficult.”
Over half a century ago, deep in the jungles of Guatemala, a gigantic stone head was uncovered
The face had fine features, thin lips, and a large nose, and its face was directed up at the sky. Unusually, the face demonstrated Caucasian features that were not consistent with any of the pre-Hispanic races of America. The discovery rapidly attracted attention, but just as quickly it slipped away into the pages of forgotten history.
News of the discovery first emerged when Dr. Oscar Rafael Padilla Lara, a doctor of philosophy, lawyer and notary, received a photograph of the head in 1987 along with a description that the photograph was taken in the 1950s by the owner of the land where the head was found and that it was located “somewhere in the jungles of Guatemala”.
The photograph and story were printed in a small article in the newsletter ‘Ancient Skies’, which was picked up and read by well-known explorer and author David Hatcher Childress, one of our guest authors at BBC, who sought out to discover more about the mysterious stone head.
He tracked down Dr. Padilla who reported that he found the owners of the property, the Biener family, on which the monolith was found. The site was 10 kilometers from a small village in La Democracia in the south of Guatemala.
However, Dr. Padilla said that he was in despair when he reached the site and found that the site had been obliterated: “It was destroyed by revolutionaries about ten years ago. We had located the statue too late. It was used as target practice by anti-government rebels. This totally disfigured it, sort of like the way the Sphinx in Egypt had its nose shot off by the Turks, only worse,” he said.
The eyes, nose, and mouth had completely gone. Padilla was able to measure its height as between 4 and 6 meters, with the head resting on a neck. Padilla did not return again to the site due to armed attacks between government forces and rebel forces in the area.
The destruction of the head meant the story died a rapid death until it was picked up again a few years ago by filmmakers behind “ Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond ” who used the photograph to claim that extra-terrestrials have had contact with past civilizations.
The producer published a document written by Guatemalan archaeologist Hector E Majia who wrote: “I certify that this monument presents no characteristics of Maya, Nahuatl, Olmec or any other pre-Hispanic civilization.
It was created by an extraordinary and superior civilization with awesome knowledge of which there is no record of existence on this planet.”
However, far from helping the cause and the investigation into the monolith, this publication only served to have the opposite effect, throwing the whole story into the hands of a justifiably skeptical audience who thought that it was all just a publicity stunt. Even the letter itself has been drawn into question with some saying that it is not genuine.
Nevertheless, it appears the giant head did exist and there is no evidence to suggest the original photograph is not authentic or that Dr. Padilla’s account was false. So assuming it was real, the questions remain: Where did it come from? Who made it? And why?
The region where the stone head was reported to have been found, La Democracia, is actually already famous for stone heads which, like the stone head found in the jungle, also face skyward.
These are known to have been created by the Olmec civilization, which flourished between 1400 and 400 BC. The Olmec heartland was the area in the Gulf of Mexico lowlands, however, Olmec-style artifacts, designs, monuments, and iconography have been found in sites hundreds of kilometers outside the Olmec heartland, including La Democracia.
Nevertheless, the stone head depicted in the 1950s photograph does not share the same features or style as the Olmec heads. The late Phillip Coppens, Belgian author, radio host and TV commentator on matters of alternative history raised the question of whether the head “is an anomaly of the Olmec period, or whether it is part of another – unknown – a culture that predated or post-dated the Olmecs, and whose only artifact identified so far is the Padilla head”.
Other questions that have been posed include whether the structure was just a head, or whether there was a body underneath, like the Easter Island statues, and whether the stone head is linked to any other structures in the region.
It would be nice to know the answers to these questions but sadly it appears the publicity surrounding the film “Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond” only served to bury the story deeper into the pages of history. Hopefully an ambitious explorer will pick up the story once again and investigate further to find the truth regarding this enigmatic monument.
A trove of 5,000-year-old artifacts returns to Ecuador
Almost 40 years after the objects were moved to Canada for research, a series of artifacts from one of the most ancient settled civilizations in America was returned to Ecuador.
Although historical artifacts and art treasures have become fairly common in their places of origin, the current case is special because the objects were accompanied by media containing everything the scholars in Canada learned about them over the course of four decades.
The documents, pottery, gems and sculptures belonged to Valdivia Culture, which flourished between 3800 and 1500 BC in present-day Ecuador.
Besides the artifacts, the 166 crates that arrived on June 5 at San Francisco de Quito University in the Ecuadorian capital held five human skeletons.
The project began during an era when “there was not much in the way of technical-legal norms” regarding the shipment abroad of archaeological goods, Joaquin Moscoso, director of Ecuador’s National Institute of Cultural Patrimony, told EFE.
In 1982, he said, thousands of Valdivia items were taken to Canada from a dig in the southwestern coastal province of Santa Elena.
Their return to Ecuador came at the initiative of James Scott Raymond, professor of archaeology at the University of Calgary.
“They didn’t just return objects and fragments, but all of the scientific information,” Moscoso said, crediting Raymond and his team for carrying out one of the most “solid and interesting” studies of the Valdivia Culture, which was uncovered in the mid-1950s.
The work done in Canada on the Santa Elena artifacts led scholars to change some of their views on the development of settled cultures in the Americas, according to Florencio Delgado, head of the Quito’s university’s Archaeology Institute.
“Until this study, it was thought that the first populations in the New World who made ceramics were on the seacoast,” he said. “Now we know that the first ceramicists were farmers and they lived inland.”
The more than 10,000 items and fragments in the shipment from Canada include examples “of the oldest ceramics that have been found so far” on the western side of the Pacific Ocean, Delgado said.
While the abundance of feminine ceramic figures, known collectively as the “Venus of Valdivia,” has led some researchers to speculate that the Valdivia Culture was a matriarchal society.
“There are also human remains and now that it’s easier to do DNA (tests), the collection is ready for those scholars who are seeking to understand processes of settlement,” Delgado said.
Looking forward, he expressed the hope that the repatriation of the Valdivia collection from Canada will spur an effort to compile an inventory of Ecuadorian artifacts taken abroad for study.
Ideally, such an inventory would include information on the condition of the items, whether they are under active study, and if it makes sense to request their repatriation.
“There are times it’s better that they stay where they are because they are being investigated and they are being protected. And frequently, we can’t do that,” Delgado said.