Pit of Amputated arms in France from 6,000 years ago suggest war and trophy taking

Pit of Amputated arms in France from 6,000 years ago suggest war and trophy taking

6,000 years ago, a circular pit with the bodies of seven people on a bed with seven arms sheds fresh light on violent disputes. Experts claim the gruesome discovery tells the tale of a devastating raid on a settlement in eastern France that may have wiped out an entire family.

Bloodthirsty attackers will also take arms as war trophies and tortured the victims before burying their bodies.

The 6.5ft (two metres) deep circular pit was found in Bergheim by archaeologists from Antea Archéologie in Habsheim and the universities of Strasbourg and Bordeaux. 

A circular pit, bearing the skeletons of seven people placed on a bed of severed arms (pictured), is shedding new light on violent conflicts of 6,000 years ago. The 6.5ft (two metres) deep circular pit was found in Bergheim by archaeologists from Antea Archéologie in Habsheim and the universities of Strasbourg and Bordeaux
A circular pit, bearing the skeletons of seven people placed on a bed of severed arms (pictured), is shedding new light on violent conflicts of 6,000 years ago. The 6.5ft (two metres) deep circular pit was found in Bergheim by archaeologists from Antea Archéologie in Habsheim and the universities of Strasbourg and Bordeaux

It contains seven human skeletons and part of a child’s skull on top of the remains of seven amputated human arms. The find, dubbed Pit 157, measures almost 5ft (1.5 metres) in diameter at the base and 6.2ft (1.9 metres) in diameter at its top.

The experts believe two men, one woman and four children were killed in a raid or some sort of violent encounter.  Their bodies were thrown in the pit on top of a pile of left arms, thought to have been fractured then hacked off using hand axes.

Scattered hand bones on the bottom layer suggest hands from severed limbs were chopped into pieces. Study author Fanny Chenal of Inrap told Gizmodo: ‘For a long time, Neolithic societies were considered relatively egalitarian and peaceful. 

‘But for several years a lot of research has shown that it was not the case.’

In fact, she thinks the war was common in Neolithic times and while there is no clear evidence of this in France, there is evidence in Germany from the same time. It is not clear to whom the arms belong, since the skeletons on top of them have both their arms, apart from the remains of one male.

As well as missing his arm, which may or may not be in the pit, his skull shows signs of violence that likely resulted in his death. The researchers are unsure whether the burial suggests some sort of macabre post-battle ritual. 

A Neolithic axe from France
The gruesome find seemingly tells the tale of a devastating raid that may have wiped out an entire family. This graphic shows the jumble of skeletons, shown in different colours to differentiate them. Carbon dating shows the bones are between 5,500 and 6,000 years old

They are also unsure why the attackers targeted people’s left arms, however, they hypothesise the limbs may have been hacked off as war trophies. Dr Chanal said the arms were buried with the remains but think they are from the same social group.

‘Pit 157 represents clear evidence of what was probably an act of inter-group armed violence, that is to say, “war,” although the true nature of these practices remains difficult to understand,’ explained the study. 

Carbon dating shows the bones are between 5,500 and 6,000 years old. At this time, it was common for bodies to be buried in circular pits among farming communities across central and Western Europe.

But the unusual Bergheim grave is the first evidence that those butchered in raids were buried in the same way. Dr Chenal added: ‘It’s a very important result, but it raises more questions than it answers.’

There is already debate about whether such circular pits were remnants of storage pits and repurposed for people not deemed worthy of a grander burial, or were used for high-ranking people.

The bodies were thrown in the pit on top of a pile of left arms thought to have been fractured then hacked off using hand axes. This image from the journal Antiquity shows notches from an attack on the arm bones
Pit of Amputated arms in France from 6,000 years ago suggest war and trophy taking
Scattered hand bones on the bottom layer suggest hands from severed limbs were chopped into pieces. These images shown the severed arm bones at the bottom of the pit, with the other skeletons removed

Some pits containing the remains of several people suggest slaves or relatives were killed to be buried with an important person, and there are even theories saying circular pits were used for human sacrifices.

But the study explained: ‘The evidence from pit 157 undoubtedly testifies to armed violence, and the amputated arms, most probably trophies, are suggestive of an act of war. 

‘The presence of women and children in the pit does not go against this hypothesis: They may have been victims of raids, killed on the scene of the confrontation or captured and executed afterwards – although women and children were often enslaved, they were also sometimes tortured and killed.

‘Whether they were victims of warfare or the recipients of judicial punishment, the case supports the idea that the haphazardly deposited individuals were either dependants or excluded individuals.’

Of the 60 pits uncovered in Bergheim, 14 contained human bones and only one, described in the study published in the journal Antiquity, showed signs of violence or limb loss. It is possible the victims were either tortured, or their limbs were amputated after death to intimidate the living or offend the dead – a practice documented in Florida in the 16th century, which seems to echo that of the Bergheim burial. 

‘The evidence from this site challenges the simplicity of existing interpretations, and demands a more critical focus on the archaeological evidence for acts of systematic violence during this period,’ the study concluded.

It is not clear to whom the arms belong, since the skeletons on top of them have both their arms, apart from one man whose skull also shows signs of violence (shown above) that likely resulted in his death. A child’s skullcap was also found on top of the pile of bones, plus the remains of a separate female
The researchers said it is possible the victims were either tortured, or their limbs were amputated after death to intimidate the living, or offend the dead. This practice, documented in Florida in the 16th century (illustrated), which seems to echo that of the Bergheim burial

Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Sacrificial Horses found by Archaeologists

Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Sacrificial Horses found by Archaeologists

A surprising find was made in China in 1964: a tomb holding the bodies of hundreds of horses, perfectly organised in rows. Such a complex burial and large sacrifice clearly indicated that the tomb belonged to a person who held a high place in society.

It was soon found that the tomb belonged to Duke Jing of Qi and that the horse remains were, sadly, a sacrifice made in his honour.

Now excavations have resumed at the ancient sacrificial pit and archaeologists are hoping to learn more secrets about the burial, history, and scale of the army in the pre-Qin period.

Duke Jing, Son of a Concubine

From 547 to 490 BC the State of Qi was ruled by Duke Jing of Qi. Duke Jing was given the name Lü Chujiu at birth, and his ancestral name was Jiang. Duke Jing was a title he earned after his death.

The Duke was born to a concubine of Duke Ling of Qi and had an older half-brother named Duke Zhuang. Their father died in 554 BC and was succeeded by Duke Zhuang.

Cui Zhu, a powerful minister, supported Duke Zhuang until Duke Zhuang had an affair with Cui Zhu’s wife. As a result, Chi Zhu killed Duke Zhuang in 548 BC. Upon his brother’s death, Duke Jing took to the throne. With Duke Jing on the throne, Cui Zhu and nobleman Qing Feng took control of the state as co-prime ministers.

After much turmoil in the State of Qi caused by unrest between Cui Zhi and Qing Feng, Duke Jing appointed Yan Ying as prime minister, and thus began a period of peace and prosperity for the State of Qi.

Artist’s depiction of Duke Jing of Qi with Confucius

Duke’s Death Leads to Coup

Duke Jing was married to Princess Yan Ji from the State of Yan. Their son became the crown prince of Qi, although he died during Duke Jing’s reign. Duke Jing had at least five other grown sons – possibly more – but he chose his youngest son, Prince Tu, as the new crown prince.

Prince Tu was born to a mother of low status, and he was still a young boy when named crown prince. To ensure his support, Duke Jing ordered the ministers of the Guo and Gao clans to support Prince Tu.

The Duke’s other sons were exiled to the remote city of Lai. Soon thereafter, Duke Jing died, in 490 BC. Although Prince Tu was installed on the throne, several clans staged a coup d’etat, and Duke Jing’s son Prince Yangsheng was brought back to take over the throne. He killed Prince Tu and became known as  Duke Dao of Qi.

The Sacrificial Horse Pit of Jing’s Tomb

Duke Jing of Qi was buried at Yatou in Linzi District of Zibo, Shandong Province. On the northern side of the tomb, archaeologists discovered the sacrificial burial of 145 horses in a pit measuring 215 meters long and surrounding three sides of the tomb.

Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Sacrificial Horses found by Archaeologists
The Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi and his 600 Horses

Several years later, another 106 horse skeletons were found at the tomb, raising the total to 251. The horses are believed to have been young, between 5 – 7 years old when sacrificed.

The horses are believed to have been given alcohol until they became unconscious, and then struck upon the head.

Excavations were halted in 2003 due to inadequate preparations, but archaeologists at the time estimated that there may be up to 600 more horses buried in Duke Jing’s honour, along with 30 dogs, two pigs, and six other domesticated animals. While other sacrificial horse remains have been discovered in China, this is by far the largest.

The perimeter of horses indicates the horses found in the area excavated. However, archaeologists estimated there are many more to be found, totalling around 600

New Excavations Launched

After a 16-year pause, excavations at the tomb of Duke Jing have now resumed and experts will finally be able to confirm the number of horses buried there. 

Xinhua News Agency revealed that over 3,000 cultural relics were unearthed during the initial excavations, and more are expected to be found over the next 8 months as archaeologists resume explorations. 

The site of the Tomb of Duke Jing of Qi now houses a museum and is a National Historical and Cultural Site. It is under consideration to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The horse remains are an incredible find, as it is difficult to imagine the complexities of a sacrifice of such a large magnitude. According to historical records, Duke Jing was infatuated with horses, which shows that this sacrifice was made as a gesture of great honour towards the fallen king.

Egypt finds 59 ancient coffins buried more than 2,600 years ago

Egypt finds 59 ancient coffins buried more than 2,600 years ago

The Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities said on Saturday, dozens of ancient coffins were discovered by archaeologists in a large Necropolis south of Cairo.

Khalid el-Anany, Egypt’s tourism and antiquities minister, right, and Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, left, stand over a sarcophagus at the Saqqara archaeological site, 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. El-Anany says at least 59 sealed sarcophagi with mummies inside were found in three wells at the vast necropolis, believed to have been buried there more than 2,600 years ago.

Khalid el-Anany said that 59 sealed sarcophagi, most of them mummies, have been discovered to have buried more than 2,600 years ago in three wells.

“I consider this is the beginning of a big discovery,” el-Anany said, adding that there is an unknown number of coffins that have yet to be unearthed in the same area.

He spoke at a news conference at the famed Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara where the coffins were found.

The sarcophagi have been displayed and one of them was opened before reporters to show the mummy inside. Several foreign diplomats attended the announcement ceremony.

A sarcophagus that is around 2500 years old is shown at the Saqqara archaeological site, 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

The Saqqara plateau hosts at least 11 pyramids, including the Step Pyramid, along with hundreds of tombs of ancient officials and other sites that range from the 1st Dynasty (2920 B.C.-2770 B.C.) to the Coptic period (395-642).

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said initial studies show that the decorated coffins were made for priests, top officials and elites from the Pharaonic Late Period (664-525 B.C.).

He said archaeologists also found a total of 28 statuettes of Ptah-Soker the main god of the Saqqara necropolis, and a beautifully carved 35 cm tall bronze statuette of god Nefertum, inlaid with precious stones. The name of its owner, Priest Badi-Amun, is written on its base, he said.

Egyptian antiquities officials had announced the discovery of the first batch coffins last month when archaeologists found 13 of the containers in a newly discovered 11 meter-deep (36 feet) well.

One of the discovered tombs at the Saqqara archaeological site is shown, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.

The Saqqara site is part of the necropolis of Egypt’s ancient capital of Memphis that includes the famed Giza Pyramids, as well as smaller pyramids at Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis have designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970s.

El-Anany said the Saqqara coffins would join 30 ancient wooden coffins that were discovered in October in the southern city of Luxor and will be showcased at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, which Egypt is building near the Giza Pyramids.

The Saqqara discovery is the latest in a series of archaeological finds that Egypt has sought to publicize in an effort to revive its key tourism sector, which was badly hit by the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising. The sector was also dealt a further blow this year by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Code is hidden in Stone Age Art Maybe the Root of Human Writing

Code hidden in Stone Age art may be the root of human writing

A Recent Scientist article by Alison George – Code hidden in Stone Age art may be the root of human writing – reports on the painstaking investigation of Europe’s cave art which has revealed 32 shapes and lines that crop up again and again and could be the world’s oldest code.

‘When she first saw the necklace, Genevieve von Petzinger feared the trip halfway around the globe to the French village of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac had been in vain.

The dozens of ancient deer teeth laid out before her, each one pierced like a bead, looked roughly the same. It was only when she flipped one over that the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. On the reverse were three etched symbols: a line, an X and another line.

Von Petzinger, a palaeoanthropologist from the University of Victoria in Canada is spearheading an unusual study of cave art. Her interest lies not in the breathtaking paintings of bulls, horses and bison that usually spring to mind, but in the smaller, geometric symbols frequently found alongside them.

Her work has convinced her that far from being random doodles, the simple shapes represent a fundamental shift in our ancestors’ mental skills.

Black tectiforms at Las Chimeneas, Spain

The claviform symbol appears in the Magdalenian caves of France & Spain. There are 15 claviform symbols in Niaux alone. 

The first formal writing system that we know of is the 5000-year-old cuneiform script of the ancient city of Uruk in what is now Iraq. But it and other systems like it – such as Egyptian hieroglyphs – are complex and didn’t emerge from a vacuum.

There must have been an earlier time when people first started playing with simple abstract signs. For years, von Petzinger has wondered if the circles, triangles and squiggles that humans began leaving on cave walls 40,000 years ago represent that special time in our history – the creation of the first human code.’

Between 2013 and 2016, von Petzinger visited 52 caves in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The symbols she found ranged from dots, lines, triangles, squares and zigzags to more complex forms like ladder shapes, hand stencils, tectiforms and penniforms. Her most startling finding was how few signs there were – just 32 in all of Europe. There was consistency in the use of symbols.

At El Castillo in Spain, a black penniform and bell-shapes

With von Petzinger’s database, she can now see trends – signs in regions, new signs appearing, other signs disappearing. In other words, cultural changes can be discerned, pointing at migration and trade routes.

Further research: some of the most stunning cave art in Europe was only discovered in 1985 when divers found the mouth of the Cosquer cave 37 metres below the Mediterranean coastline near Marseilles in southern France.

Its entrance had been submerged as sea levels rose after the last ice age. What other similar caves are waiting to be discovered? With this in mind, von Petzinger has teamed up with David Lang of OpenROV in Berkeley, California, which makes low-cost underwater robots.

Next year, they plan to use them to hunt for submerged cave entrances off Spain’s north coast. The region is rich in painted caves, many close to the shoreline, so it seems likely that others could be hiding below the waves. If they find any, the pair will send in the remote-controlled mini-submarines, armed with cameras, to safely explore the new sites.

Moreover, as well as the symbols painted, drawn and engraved onto the cave walls, von Petzinger plans to expand her ‘Stone Age dictionary’ by analysing the wealth of signs on portable objects, such as the etched deer teeth from Saint-Germain-de-la-Rivière in France.

Etched deer teeth from Saint-Germain-de-la-Rivière, France

The article describes how the research has allowed her to consider the meanings of the symbols, and possibly the origins of writing systems.

Von Petzinger believes the invention of the first code represents a complete shift in how our ancestors shared information. For the first time, they no longer had to be in the same place at the same time to communicate with each other, and information could survive its owners.

Found: The Oldest and Largest Maya Structure in Mexico

Found: The Oldest and Largest Maya Structure in Mexico

The oldest and largest Maya monumental structure on record has just been discovered after scientists shot millions of lasers from a plane to map an area in southern Mexico.

Seen via lidar, however, the Aguada Fénix platform stands out prominently on the Mexican landscape.

At the newfound site, called Aguada Fénix, researchers found an artificial plateau measuring about 0.9 miles (1.4 kilometers) long, 0.2 miles (399 meters) wide, and between 33 and 50 feet (10 and 15 m) high. And it likely served as a communal gathering place for the Maya. 

The discovery pushes back when archaeologists thought this civilization built large structures, especially because there weren’t yet any dynasties to organize such an endeavor.

“It forced us to change our understanding of the development of Maya civilization and the development of human society in general,” said Takeshi Inomata, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, who led a new study on the finding.

Archaeologists have traditionally thought that the Maya civilization developed gradually. From 1200 B.C. to 1000 B.C., the people in the Maya lowlands were thought to have moved about, with a combination of hunting, gathering, and some farming, including growing maize.

It wasn’t until the Middle Preclassic period (1000-350 B.C.), the thinking went, that small village began to emerge, along with the creation of ceramics and a transition to sedentism — staying in one place for a long time.

According to this theory, the Maya didn’t begin building ceremonial centers with large pyramids until much later, sometime between 350 B.C. and 250 B.C. However, this idea is now under fire. Radiocarbon dating of 69 samples from Aguada Fénix shows that it was used between 1000 B.C. and 800 B.C. After it was largely abandoned by 750 B.C., small groups returned to use the structure.

Aguada Fénix isn’t the only site overturning the traditional interpretation. For instance, a ceremonial complex and artificial plateau built at Ceibal in 950 B.C. (until now, considered the oldest Maya ceremonial center), indicates that the early Maya built large structures even before the civilization became organized under dynasties with centralized government, the researchers said.

To the naked eye, the ancient site of Aguada Fénix is invisible among the rural ranches of Tabasco.
The adorable “Choco,” a peccary-esque sculpture found at the site.

Not ‘deep in the jungle’

Aguada Fénix wasn’t hidden deep in the jungle, but rather on a cattle ranch in Tabasco, Mexico, near the northwestern Guatemalan border. Nobody knew about this site because it’s so big, that if you walk on the site it just looks like a natural landscape, Inomata told Live Science. 

After finding the site in 2017, Inomata and his colleagues did a lidar (light detection and ranging) survey at Tabasco. With lidar, a plane flies over an area while equipment on board shoots millions of lasers that can pass through vegetation and generate 3D maps depicting the shape of the Earth and the structures on it.

The lidar survey revealed the artificial plateau and nine causeways radiating from it. The main plateau is up to 151 million cubic feet (4.3 million cubic meters) in volume. The next largest Maya structure, the La Danta complex at El Mirador in Guatemala, is 98 million cubic feet (2.8 million cubic meters).

“In other words, the main plateau of Aguada Fénix is the largest construction in the pre-Hispanic Maya area,” the researchers wrote in the study. After the lidar survey, the researchers excavated the plateau to learn more about its construction. During that time, the team found jade and stone artifacts that were likely used in rituals at Aguada Fénix. 

Power to the people

Aguada Fénix bears some similarities to San Lorenzo, an even larger artificial plateau built by the Olmec, who thrived there from 1400 B.C. to 1150 B.C. in what is now the Mexican state of Veracruz. San Lorenzo also has colossal sculptures of stone heads and thrones, a clue that the Olmec society already had a hierarchy because it was honoring certain elites. 

There is a debate on whether the Olmec civilization led to the Maya, or whether the Maya developed independently, Inomata noted. 

That said, unlike San Lorenzo, Aguada Fénix had far less evidence of social inequality, the researchers found. “Unlike those Olmec centers, Aguada Fénix does not exhibit clear indicators of marked social inequality, such as sculptures representing high-status individuals,” the researchers wrote in the study. “The only stone sculpture found so far at Aguada Fénix depicts an animal” — a peccary, or wild pig.

Aguada Fénix differs in other ways from San Lorenzo; it incorporates distinctly Maya features, including raised causeways and reservoir systems, said Lisa Lucero, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved with the study.

While later Maya pyramids were built for the elite, Aguada Fénix was built by the people, for the people. “This big plateau is basically for everybody,” Inomata said. “It’s a place where people [could] gather.”

It’s no surprise that the Maya built a place to congregate, Lucero said. Other monumental structures, including Stonehenge in Great Britain and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, show “when people lived dispersed and/or a more nomadic lifestyle, that they created a community to build such places,” and they didn’t need elite political leaders to organize it, she said. 

At Aguada Fénix, Maya who was dispersed due to agricultural demands could come together to work, celebrate, share knowledge, exchange goods, meet potential mates, worship, and so on, Lucero told Live Science. 

“Based on the different soils, it is likely that people from many different communities built Aguada Fénix, even bringing soils from their homes,” she added. The study was published online June 3 in the journal Nature. 

World’s oldest pyramid is hidden in an Indonesian mountain, claimed scientists

World’s oldest pyramid is hidden in an Indonesian mountain, claimed scientists

An immense structure like a pyramid in Indonesia, which could be remains of an ancient temple that hid for thousands of years underground. At the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), scientists provided proof of the extraordinary structure.

Located atop Mount Padang in West Java, the structure is topped by an archaeological site that holds rows of ancient stone pillars.

Situated at top of Mount Padang in western Java, the building is surrounded by an archaeological site, discovered at the beginning of the 19th century, with rows of ancient stone pillars. But the sloping “hill” underneath isn’t part of the natural, rocky landscape; it was crafted by human hands, scientists discovered.

“What is previously seen as just surface building, it’s going down—and it’s a huge structure,” said Andang Bachtiar, an independent geologist from Indonesia who supervised core drilling and soil analysis for the project.

Though the buried structure may superficially resemble a pyramid, it differs from similar pyramids built by the Mayans, Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, lead project researcher and a senior scientist with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, told Live Science.

While Mayan pyramids tend to be symmetrical, this structure is elongated, with what appears to be a half-circle in the front.

“It’s a unique temple,” Natawidjaja said.

He and his colleagues suspected that the exposed megalith might be more than it appeared because some partly exposed features in the existing archaeological site didn’t quite match the standing stones. The “peculiar” shape of the hill also stood out from the landscape, he said.

“It’s not like the surrounding topography, which is very much eroded. This looks very young. It looked artificial to us,” Natawidjaja explained.

Using an array of techniques to peer underground—including ground-penetrating radar surveys, X-ray tomography, 2D and 3D imaging, core drilling, and excavations—the researchers gradually uncovered several layers of a sizable structure.

It spread over an area of around 15 hectares (150,000 square meters) and had been built up over millennia, with layers representing different periods.

At the very top were pillars of basalt rocks framing step terraces, with other arrangements of rock columns “forming walls, paths, and spaces,” the scientists reported at AGU. They estimated this layer to be about 3,000 to 3,500 years old.

Underneath the surface, to a depth of about 10 feet (3 m), was the second layer of similar rock columns, thought to be 7,500 to 8,300 years old.

And a third layer, extending 49 feet (15 m) below the surface, is more than 9,000 years old; it could even date to 28,000 years ago, according to the researchers. Their surveys also detected multiple chambers underground, Natawidjaja added.

Today, local people still use the exposed site at the top of the structure as a sacred destination for prayer and meditation, and this could also be how it was used thousands of years ago, Natawidjaja said.

Sacrificial llamas found buried in Peru shed light on Incan rituals

Sacrificial llamas found buried in Peru shed light on Incan rituals

Archaeologists have long known about the common practice in ancient Incan culture to use human sacrifices as offerings to the gods. But it wasn’t until recently that they’d ever found a mummified llama sacrifice — let alone four of them.

According to the Guardian, a team of researchers led by archaeologist Lidio Valdez from the University of Calgary unearthed the mummified remains of four llamas during the excavation of Tambo Viejo, once an important administrative hub for the Incas.

The fur on the llama remains had matted together but still appeared relatively fluffy, highlighting how well-preserved the naturally mummified animals were. Their bodies were decorated in colorful strings and bracelets and are estimated to have been interred between 1432 and 1459.

The study noted that researchers could not identify any cuts or wounds on the llama bodies, suggesting that the animals may have been buried alive.

“Historical records indicate animal sacrifices were important to the Inca, who used them as special offerings to supernatural deities,” said Valdez, who uncovered the llama sacrifices with a team of archaeologists from San Cristóbal of Huamanga University. “This was especially the case of llamas, regarded second only to humans in sacrificial value.”

Sacrificial llamas found buried in Peru shed light on Incan rituals
The Incas dressed the llamas in ritual adornments, including necklaces and long, colourful strings of red, green, yellow, and purple, which hang from their ears as tassels
The llamas were likely sacrificed 500 years ago during a celebratory feast.

In addition to the four sacrificial llamas that were found, another decayed llama corpse was discovered separately, indicating there may have been an attempt to loot the burial, which was decorated with feathers from tropical birds. Archaeologists also found the carcasses of decorated guinea pigs at the site.

Further excavations of Tambo Viejo found traces of what seemed to be a massive feast. Researchers uncovered large ovens and other findings which pointed to some sort of celebration.

The new study — published in the journal Antiquity in late October 2020 — suggests that the estimated date of the llama sacrifice about five centuries ago happened during the period after the territory was peacefully annexed by the Incas.

The llamas were decorated with bracelets and colorful string, as shown here.

The finding supports the idea that the celebratory feast that took place was likely meant to appease the new resident subjects.

Besides being made as offerings to the gods to bring good health and a bountiful harvest, it seems that animal sacrifices were also used to stake a territorial claim for political purposes.

“The offerings likely were part of much larger feasts and gatherings, sponsored by the state,” said Valdez.

“The state befriended the local people with food and drink, cementing political alliances, whilst placing offerings allowed the Inca to claim the land as theirs.”

Excavation at Tambo Viejo first began in 2018. Since then, in addition to the llama burial discovery, researchers have found the remains of a large plaza and a distinct religious Inca structure called ushnu. They also unearthed a connecting road to the Nazca Valley, where the famous Nazca Lines geoglyphs are located.

Past studies have determined that llamas were significant to Inca culture. While the four-legged animals were hunted for their meat as food, they were also most frequently used as sacrificial offerings, more so than human sacrifices.

The Inca rituals were performed at specific times of the year. A hundred llamas were sacrificed in October to promote a healthy rainy season, and in February another 100 llamas were sacrificed to bring the rainstorms to a stop.

Bernabé Cobo, a colonial-period Spanish chronicler, wrote that the animals were used for different sacrifices based on their colouring. Brown-furred llamas were sacrificed to the creator god, Viracocha, while white llamas were presented as offerings to the sun. Llamas with mixed-coloured coats were sacrificed to the thunder.

It’s clear that each offering made by the Incas had its own significance and purpose.

As the researchers wrote in their study, “Through these ceremonies, the Inca created new orders, new understandings and meanings that helped to legitimise and justify their actions to both the conquerors and the conquered.”

The Lovers of Valdaro: for 6,000 years, a pair of skeletons had been locked in an eternal embrace

The Lovers of Valdaro: for 6,000 years, a pair of skeletons had been locked in an eternal embrace

For 6,000 years, two young lovers have been locked in an eternal embrace, hidden from the eyes of the world.

A pair of human skeletons found at a construction site outside Mantua, Italy, is believed by archaeologists to be a man and a woman from the Neolithic period, buried around 6,000 years ago

This past weekend, the Lovers of Valdaro — named for the little village near Mantua, in northern Italy, where they were first discovered — were seen by the public for the first time.

The lovers are in fact two human skeletons, dating back to the Neolithic era; they were found in a necropolis in the nearby village of Valdaro in 2007, huddled close together, face to face, their arms and legs entwined.

They were displayed this past weekend at the entrance of Mantua’s Archaeological Museum, thanks to the effort of the association Lovers in Mantua, which is seeking a permanent home for the ancient couple.

After the discovery, many thought that the couple had been killed. It would fit in well with the history of an Italian region famous for many tragic love stories.

Mantua is the city where Romeo was exiled and was told that his Juliet was dead. The composer Giuseppe Verdi chose it as the location for his opera Rigoletto, another story of star-crossed love and death.

But subsequent research revealed that the skeletons did not have any signs of violent death. They were a woman and a man, ages between 18 and 20 years old. Some have wondered if they died together, holding each other in a freezing night.

Professor Silvia Bagnoli, the president of the association Lovers in Mantua, doesn’t exclude this possibility, but she says that more likely the skeletons were laid out in that position after their deaths.

The mystery might never be solved. Still, many want to see the couple. The association Lovers in Mantua is campaigning for their right to have a room of their own.

According to Bagnoli, €250,000 will be enough for an exhibition centre and another €200,000 could pay for a multimedia space to tell the world the mysterious story of these prehistoric lovers.

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