Sacrificed Kids Had Their Hearts Ripped Out 550 Years Ago

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Sacrificed Kids Had Their Hearts Ripped Out 550 Years Ago

Sacrificed Kids Had Their Hearts Ripped Out 550 Years Ago

The remains of a sacrificed child (left) and llama (right) that were found at the Peruvian site called Las Llamas.

Credit: Gabriel Prieto/National Geographic

More than 550 years ago, in one of history’s largest human sacrifices, about 140 children and 200 llamas were killed at a site in Peru that’s now called Las Llamas, archaeologists have discovered. The reason for the sacrifice? That remains a mystery.

The chests of the buried children, who were between 5 and 14 years old when they were sacrificed, had been cut open. The hearts of at least some of the children were removed, said John Verano, an anthropology professor at Tulane University in New Orleans who co-directs excavations at Las Llamas. Verano told Live Science that some people in Peru and Bolivia still remove the hearts of sacrificed llamas.

Many of the children were also found with red pigment smeared on their faces. As far as the scientists can tell, the children died when their chests were cut open. However, it is possible that they were killed first using some other method that hasn’t left any traces on their remains, Verano said. [25 Cultures That Practiced Human Sacrifice]

At the time of the sacrifice, much of Peru was ruled by a people that archaeologists now call the Chimú. These people created sophisticated works of art and built a large city at a site called Chan Chan. As far as archaeologists know, the Chimú did not practice slavery, Verano said.

About 140 child sacrifices have been discovered at the site of Las Llamas in Peru. Their chests were found cut open, with the hearts of at least some of the children removed.

About 140 child sacrifices have been discovered at the site of Las Llamas in Peru. Their chests were found cut open, with the hearts of at least some of the children removed.

Credit: Gabriel Prieto/National Geographic

This mass child sacrifice appears to predate the conquest of the Chimú by the Inca, which took place around A.D. 1470. If the sacrifice wasn’t related to that takeover, perhaps the Chimú suffered from environmental problems caused by El Niño — a climate cycle that causes warm water to pool offshore of northwestern South America, causing changes in global weather patterns — and carried out the sacrifice in the hope that, somehow, it would alleviate the conditions, Verano said.

The children appear to have been healthy and well nourished at the time of their death, and there are no signs that they tried to escape the sacrifice, Verano said. Some of the llamas, however, tried to flee. “The llama footprints sometimes suggest this, and they [the llamas] had ropes around their necks to lead/control them,” Verano said.

The children were buried facing the sea, while the llamas were buried facing east, toward the Andes mountains. Why this was done is unclear. “One possibility is that llamas originally came from the highlands, and the Chimú had deities and art that focused on marine themes, like fish and sea birds, so they had the children face the sea,” Verano said.

In addition to the sacrifices recently discovered at Las Llamas, another case of Chimú child sacrifice was found recently at a different Peruvian site: Pampa La Cruz, archaeologists reported recently at the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Archaeologists are not yet certain how many kids were sacrificed at that site.

The research at Las Llamas is funded by the National Geographic Society and was reported exclusively in National Geographic. The research is being prepared for scientific publication. Gabriel Prieto, a researcher at the National University of Trujillo in Peru, is the other co-director of the Las Llamas excavations.

Originally published on Live Science.


Photos: 1,500-Year-Old Massacre Site Unearthed

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Photos: 1,500-Year-Old Massacre Site Unearthed

Odd circumstances

Credit: Kalmar County Museum

Teenager Finds King Bluetooth’s Lost Treasures, Including a Thor’s Hammer

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Teenager Finds King Bluetooth’s Lost Treasures, Including a Thor’s Hammer

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Teenager Finds King Bluetooth's Lost Treasures, Including a Thor's Hammer

Pieces of the silver treasure that belonged to the legendary Danish King Harald Bluetooth, who brought Christianity to Denmark and whose name inspired modern Bluetooth technology.

Credit: Stefan Sauer/AFP/Getty

A medieval treasure trove that belonged to the legendary King Harald Bluetooth — the Danish ruler who inspired the name for Bluetooth technology — was recently unearthed on a German island by a 13-year-old and an amateur archaeologist, according to news sources.

The duo made the unexpected discovery while hunting for riches with metal detectors on Rügen, Germany’s largest island, in the Baltic Sea. When a silvery glint caught their eye, they thought it was a piece of tin foil, but a closer look revealed that it was a piece of silver, The Guardian reported.

After more digging, with help from professional archaeologists, the team uncovered remarkable artifacts, including braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer (a representation of a mythical weapon forged by dwarves), rings and up to 600 chipped coins, including more than 100 that date to Bluetooth’s era. [Photos: Viking-Age Fortress Unearthed in Denmark]

“This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,” the lead archaeologist, Michael Schirren, told the German news outlet DPA, according to The Guardian.

Amateur archaeologist Rene Schön and 13-year-old treasurer hunter Luca Malaschnitschenko first unearthed the hoard in January, and recently joined a regional archaeology group to excavate about 4,300 square feet (400 square meters) to see what other treasures lay buried in the soil. Archaeologists believe the riches belonged to the Danish king Harald Gormsson, more commonly known as “Bluetooth,” who ruled from about A.D. 958 to 986, and likely earned his nickname because of a discolored tooth, according to The Guardian.

Bluetooth is known for bringing Christianity to Demark in the 10th century. He’s also credited with uniting swathes of modern-day Norway, Germany, Sweden and Denmark under his rule. This feat inspired Intel’s Jim Kardach to name the tech service in honor of Bluetooth in 1997, given that “the new technology that would unify communications protocols like King Harald had united Scandinavia,” according to Tom’s Hardware, a Live Science sister site.

The oldest coin uncovered at Rügen dates to A.D. 714, while the youngest is a penny from A.D. 983. These dates indicate that the treasure was likely buried in the late 980s, when Bluetooth lost a battle against his rebellious son, Sweyn Forkbeard. After losing power, Bluetooth fled to Pomerania, a region that includes parts of modern northeast Germany and western Poland, according to USA Today. He died a year later in A.D. 987.

This is hardly the only archaeological treasure discovered by amateurs wielding metal detectors. In 2015, a man in England stumbled across a Roman-era grave that contained mosaic glassware, coins and hobnails from a pair of shoes, Live Science previously reported. And just last year, two amateurs with metal detectors discovered four gold torques dating to more than 2,000 years ago in central England, Live Science reported.

Original article on Live Science.

Sprawling, 2,000-Year-Old Desert Carvings Show Up in Drone Photos

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Sprawling, 2,000-Year-Old Desert Carvings Show Up in Drone Photos

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Sprawling, 2,000-Year-Old Desert Carvings Show Up in Drone Photos

Some of the new Nazca Lines discovered on a hillside in Peru. These particular lines have already been restored by archaeologists. “Prior to that it was almost unnoticeable,” said archaeologist Charles Stanish, who visited the newfound lines last week.

Credit: Charles Stanish

Drones hovering and darting over the mountainous landscape of Peru have spied some amazing ancient “artwork”: previously unknown and sprawling geoglyphs called Nazca Lines that were likely made by the Nazca people and their predecessors, some as long as 2,500 years ago.

The approximately 50 newfound geoglyphs (Greek for “Earth carvings”) give more evidence that the giant designs have a long history in the region and weren’t just the brainchild of the Nazca culture, which flourished from A.D. 200 to 700.

“[This discovery] is really quite exciting,” said Charles Stanish, executive director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Culture and the Environment at the University of South Florida. “I’ve been working there for 30-some years, so it was fun to see something new,” said Stanish, who visited the newly discovered lines last week but isn’t involved in the new research. [Amazing Photos of the Mysterious Nazca Lines]

The newly identified ground markings are long and skinny — merely inches across and as long as a football field — and they were likely made by theParacas and Topará cultures, which prospered from about 500 B.C. to A.D. 200, according to National Geographic, which broke the story. (The National Geographic Society funded the research.)

Modern researchers have known about Peru’s Nazca (also spelled Nasca) Lines since 1927, when Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejía Xesspe came across them on foot. Soon after, the area became a tourist hotspot as airplane pilots began to purposefully fly over the etchings, giving their passengers a bird’s-eye view of the geometric shapes and ancient figures, including those of a spider, a hummingbird, a monkey, a lizard and even a pelican, Live Science previously reported.

One of the previously discovered Nazca Lines, which forms the outline of a hummingbird. The newfound Nazca Lines mostly depict people, including warriors.

One of the previously discovered Nazca Lines, which forms the outline of a hummingbird. The newfound Nazca Lines mostly depict people, including warriors.

Credit: Shutterstock

It’s unclear why the Nazca made these lines, but some theories put forth by archaeologists suggest that the lines may represent constellations in the night sky, that perhaps they played a role in pilgrimage or that the lines were part of water-based rituals for the Nazca, who had figured out how to irrigate the dry desert, Live Science has reported.

Archaeologists found the “new” lines in Peru’s Palpa province. The seeds to the discovery were planted in December 2014, when the environmental organization Greenpeace placed a huge sign calling for renewable energy next to the Nazca hummingbird design, National Geographic reported. Greenpeace didn’t have permission to enter the World Heritage Site and ended up damaging it.

Following the incident (for which Greenpeace later apologized), Peru received a grant from the United States to help restore its archaeology by hiring Peruvian archaeologist Johny Isla, the Nasca Lines’ chief restorer and protector, National Geographic said. Given that not all of Peru’s archaeological sites have been mapped from the air, Isla and Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, who co-discovered the new glyphs, partnered with Sarah Parcak, a space archaeologist and founder of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, to do so.

Parcak uses aerial photography from drones and satellites to discover and examine archaeological sites. For instance, satellite imagery helped Parcak and her colleagues find potential Viking sites in Newfoundland, Canada, in 2016, Live Science previously reported.

In Peru, Parcak’s team used drones, which took images in 2017 that helped the archaeologists discover the new lines.

Many of the newly found markings portray human figures, including warriors, and are a bit smaller than other Nazca lines, Stanish told Live Science. [Gallery: Aerial Photos Reveal Mysterious Stone Structures]

Moreover, “the Nazca Lines are all on the flats, and most of the Paracas ones seem to be up in the hilly parts,” Stanish said. Perhaps, people in towns below these hills could see them, he said.

The Paracas culture, which emerged about 800 B.C., was ruled by priests, Johny Isla, who is also the head of Peru’s Ministry of Culture in Ica province, previously told Live Science. The Paracas also constructed pyramids and made key advances in the production of ceramics and textiles.

In 2015, Isla rediscovered a Paracas geoglyph of a killer whale that had originally been found in the 1960s but couldn’t be found again until Isla began researching it.

Archaeologists hope to preserve all of the Peruvian geoglyphs, including the newfound ones, as more people move to the area.

“The lines are being destroyed,” Stanish said. “Peru has a booming economy.”

Original article on Live Science.

In Photos: Egypt’s Oldest Mummy Wrappings

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In Photos: Egypt’s Oldest Mummy Wrappings

A New Date for Mummy Making

Credit: © Ron Oldfield and Jana Jones

Oldest Tattooed Woman Is an Egyptian Mummy

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Oldest Tattooed Woman Is an Egyptian Mummy

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Oldest Tattooed Woman Is an Egyptian Mummy

An infrared image of the male mummy known as Gebelein Man A. Notice the tattoos on his right arm.

Credit: Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

An archaeologist who followed a hunch has discovered the oldest figural tattoos in the world on the bodies of two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt.

Infrared images of the mummies revealed tattoos of a wild bull (Bos primigenius) and a Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) on the upper arm of a mummy nicknamed “Gebelein Man A.” The other mummy, a female known as “Gebelein Woman,” has linear and S-shaped tattoos on her upper arm and shoulder — markings that are the oldest tattoos ever found on a woman, the archaeologists said.

“Although we tend to think that prehistory (the time before writing) was primitive and rather plain, it is clear this was a sophisticated time and the people must have looked amazing,” lead study researcher Renée Friedman, the director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, led by the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, in the United Kingdom, told Live Science in an email. [25 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

Friedman’s hunch came about after she and her colleagues discovered a Nubian cemetery at Hierakopolis in Upper Egypt dating to the early Middle Kingdom, or about 2000 B.C. The archaeologists found that three ancient women buried in the cemetery had extensive tattoos, especially on their abdomens. One woman’s tattoos were visible to the naked eye, and the tattoos of the other two were revealed with infrared photography.

Infrared images of the Gebelein Woman (left), including her S-shaped tattoos (top right) and linear tattoo (bottom right).

Infrared images of the Gebelein Woman (left), including her S-shaped tattoos (top right) and linear tattoo (bottom right).

Credit: Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

“This was a revelation because we really couldn’t see the tattoos on these other two women without the [infrared] camera,” Friedman said. “This gave me the idea that many more tattoos might be undetected and the tradition may go much further back than the Middle Kingdom.”

At the time, Friedman was a research curator in the predynastic collection at the British Museum, so she “decided to try [her] camera on the well-preserved Predynastic mummies there” that had good skin preservation and weren’t hidden in mummy wrappings, she said. She analyzed seven mummies and found tattoos on two of them — the naturally mummified Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman, which date to about 3351 B.C. to 3017 B.C.

“The discovery pushes back tattooing in Africa by over 1,000 years,” Friedman said.

Both mummies are from Egypt’s predynastic period, before the country was unified under the first pharaoh in about 3100 B.C. Archaeologists unearthed Gebelein Man A about 100 years ago, and he has been on display almost continuously since then, the researchers said. When Gebelein Man A was young, between 18 and 21 years old, he died from a stab wound in his back, according to previous computed tomography (CT) scans, the researchers said.

The new infrared image analysis shows that black smudges on his arms are actually the tattoos of two overlapped horned animals — likely a wild bull with elaborate horns and a long tail, and a Barbary sheep with curving horns and humped shoulders, the researchers said. The tattoos aren’t superficial, either — whoever made them applied a carbon-based pigment (likely soot) to the deep, dermis layer of the skin.

It’s not clear what these tattoos meant, but perhaps they were symbols of strength or even marks of successful hunts, Friedman said. Or, maybe they were protective images, she said.

In contrast, Gebelein Woman’s tattoos didn’t show animals, but rather a series of four small S-shapes running over her right shoulder. Below these markings is a linear motif similar to ceremonial objects that are held by figures painted on ceramics from that period, Friedman said. Perhaps this line represents a crooked staff, a symbol of power and status, or a throw-stick or baton used in a ritual dance, the researchers said.

A ritual scene painted on a Predynastic pottery jar. Notice the S-shaped lines (that looks like Zs) and the curved, linear object held by the man.
A ritual scene painted on a Predynastic pottery jar. Notice the S-shaped lines (that looks like Zs) and the curved, linear object held by the man.

Credit: Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

It would have been easy to see the woman’s tattoos when she was still alive, and they might have conveyed her status, bravery or perhaps magical knowledge, the researchers said.

Both mummies are roughly contemporaries of the 5,300-year-old Ötzi, the iceman mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991. Ötzi has 61 geometric tattoos on his body, Live Science reported in 2015. Some researchers have hypothesized that Ötzi’s tattoos had medicinal purposes, as they were placed by known acupuncture points. However, “Unlike Ötzi, there is no indication that [the Egyptian tattoos] had a medical reason,” Friedman said.

Researchers have also discovered an ancient tool kit dating to the same period as Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman. The kit, discovered in a Predynastic grave, was buried with an older woman between the ages of 40 and 50 years old, Friedman said.

The kit included a bird-shaped palette likely used for grinding cosmetic ores, such as ochre, with rounded pebbles, all of which were found in a basket, Friedman wrote in “Ancient Ink: The Archaeology of Tattooing” (University of Washington Press, 2017). The basket also contained bone awls, which could have been used for tattooing, she said.

This toolkit, found buried with a woman from ancient Egypt, contains instruments that may have been used for tattooing people.
This toolkit, found buried with a woman from ancient Egypt, contains instruments that may have been used for tattooing people.

Credit: Copyright Renée Friedman, Courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition

“The presence of such awls as part of a kit including pigments, resins, amulets and incense in the grave of an older woman at Hierakonpolis suggests that tattooing was in the hands of specialists and accompanied various rituals and ceremonies,” the researchers wrote in the new study.

The findings were published online March 1 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Originally published on Live Science.

Photos: Mummies and Figurines Discovered in Ancient Cemetery at Luxor

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Photos: Mummies and Figurines Discovered in Ancient Cemetery at Luxor

Artifacts from tomb

Credit: Photo courtesy Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities


Credit: Photo courtesy Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities