Ancient Peruvian skulls unearthed in Florida

Recent research has hinted at an ancient Peruvian presence in the southeastern U.S. including Peruvian DNA showing up in Native Americans in north Georgia. Now two ancient Peruvian skulls have been unearthed in Florida. The skulls were found with  a newspaper that dated to 1978 which led archaeologists to hypothesize that these skulls were recent burials of ancient skulls looted from Peru. That’s certainly one possibility but it is also possible that someone discovered these skulls on their property and then simply reburied them elsewhere in order to avoid the hassle of dealing with authorities. Other possibilities exist as well. Read the story below:

In January, a plumber installing pump pipes for an in-ground pool in the backyard of a one-year-old house in Winter Garden, Florida found a piece of bone in the sand. He reported it to the police who brought the fragment to Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia. She determined that the bone had come from the face of a child of around 10 years. There was some mummified tissue still attached to the bone, which concerned her because most archaeological remains are devoid of any tissue. She informed police that there might be a recently dead child illegally buried on the work site.

University of Central Florida archaeologist Dr. John Schultz worked with the forensic specialists to ensure the site was handled as an archaeological dig instead of just as a pure crime scene. They didn’t find the remains of a murdered child, but they did find two crania, a dozen shards of pottery, bits of newspaper from 1978, textiles including an embroidered purse still carrying woven slings and a netted bag with a strap made out of non-human hair. When Dr. Garavaglia X-rayed the skulls, she and Dr. Schultz were able to confirm that they were at least hundreds of years old.

Read the full story here: “Ancient Peruvian skulls found under Florida pool

Ancient popcorn discovered in Peru

Some of the oldest known corn cobs, husks, stalks and tassels, dating from 6,700 to 3,000 years ago were discovered at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two mound sites on Peru’s arid northern coast. (Credit: Tom D. Dillehay)

People living along the coast of Peru were eating popcorn 1,000 years earlier than previously reported and before ceramic pottery was used there, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences co-authored by Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and emeritus staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Some of the oldest known corncobs, husks, stalks and tassels, dating from 6,700 to 3,000 years ago were found at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two mound sites on Peru’s arid northern coast. The research group, led by Tom Dillehay from Vanderbilt University and Duccio Bonavia from Peru’s Academia Nacional de la Historia, also found corn microfossils: starch grains and phytoliths. Characteristics of the cobs—the earliest ever discovered in South America—indicate that the sites’ ancient inhabitants ate corn several ways, including popcorn and flour corn. However, corn was still not an important part of their diet.

Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago and arrived in South America several thousand years later. (Credit: Pamela Belding. STRI)

“Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte,” said Piperno. “Our results show that only a few thousand years later corn arrived in South America where its evolution into different varieties that are now common in the Andean region began. This evidence further indicates that in many areas corn arrived before pots did and that early experimentation with corn as a food was not dependent on the presence of pottery.”

Understanding the subtle transformations in the characteristics of cobs and kernels that led to the hundreds of maize races known today, as well as where and when each of them developed, is a challenge. Corncobs and kernels were not well preserved in the humid tropical forests between Central and South America, including Panama—the primary dispersal routes for the crop after it first left Mexico about 8,000 years ago.

“These new and unique races of corn may have developed quickly in South America, where there was no chance that they would continue to be pollinated by wild teosinte,” said Piperno. “Because there is so little data available from other places for this time period, the wealth of morphological information about the cobs and other corn remains at this early date is very important for understanding how corn became the crop we know today.”

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The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website: www.stri.si.edu

Caral, oldest new world city, in new video

Recent research shows that the earliest phase of Andean Civilization took place simultaneously with earliest stages of civilization on the Old World.  This remarkable phenomenon and its manifestation at the ancient city of Caral in Peru are described in Caral Supe: The Oldest Civilization in the Americas. (Watch both parts below.)

Recent research shows that cities in the New World arose nearly a millennium earlier than previously believed.  Radiocarbon dates from the ancient city of Caral, Peru, show that monumental architecture was under construction as early as 2627 B.C., even before ceramics and maize appeared.  The site is enormous, with platform mounds (or “pyramids”), sunken circular plazas, and residences.  Caral is by far the largest pre-2000 B.C. recorded site in the Andean region and seems to be the model for the urban design followed over four millennia.

Peru: Tomb believed to be older than “Señor de Sipan” found in northern Peru

A team of archaeologists, led by Walter Alva, have discovered the wooden tomb of another member of the Mochica culture’s elite – older than the “Señor de Sipan” (Lord of Sipan).

These findings belong to the Moche civilization, which ruled the northern coast of Peru from the time of Christ to 800 AD, centuries prior to the Incas.

Alva has stated that he and his team are investigating and within the next few days will know the role of this noble in the Mochica society.

“We have found the tomb of a person that belonged to Mochica nobility. Inside the coffin, discoveries of copper and copper-plated decorations – covered in rust, demonstrate that this person was not a Lord but was among the Mochica elite,” Alva explained.The archaeologist, who discovered the “Señor de Sipan” (Lord of Sipan) in 1987, has said that this discovery will provide valuable information about the Mochica culture.

The mummy is estimated to be 1,800 years old, whereas it is estimated that the “Señor de Sipan” was buried 1,700 years ago.”The tomb is of a person that appears on Mochica artwork, which shows he participated in important rituals. His headdress, which is V-shaped, identifies him as such,” explained Alva.

The archaeologist explained the value of this discovery, “This is the tomb of a person we hadn’t found, now we have the Mochica elite complete.”40 workers and 6 archaeologists are taking part in this work funded by the Ítalo Peruvian Fund and the government. This years budget is 600 thousand soles.

Earliest-known Evidence of Peanut, Cotton and Squash Farming Found

Anthropologists working on the slopes of the Andes in northern Peru have discovered the earliest-known evidence of peanut, cotton and squash farming dating back 5,000 to 9,000 years. Their findings provide long-sought-after evidence that some of the early development of agriculture in the New World took place at farming settlements in the Andes.

The discovery was published in the June 29 issue of Science.

The research team made their discovery in the Ñanchoc Valley, which is approximately 500 meters above sea level on the lower western slopes of the Andes in northern Peru.

“We believe the development of agriculture by the Ñanchoc people served as a catalyst for cultural and social changes that eventually led to intensified agriculture, institutionalized political power and new towns in the Andean highlands and along the coast 4,000 to 5,500 years ago,” Tom D. Dillehay, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University and lead author on the publication, said. “Our new findings indicate that agriculture played a broader role in these sweeping developments than was previously understood.”

Dillehay and his colleagues found wild-type peanuts, squash and cotton as well as a quinoa-like grain, manioc and other tubers and fruits in the floors and hearths of buried preceramic sites, garden plots, irrigation canals, storage structures and on hoes. The researchers used a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry to determine the radiocarbon dates of the materials. Data gleaned from botanists, other archaeological findings and a review of the current plant community in the area suggest the specific strains of the discovered plant remains did not naturally grow in the immediate area.

“The plants we found in northern Peru did not typically grow in the wild in that area,” Dillehay said. “We believe they must have therefore been domesticated elsewhere first and then brought to this valley by traders or mobile horticulturists.

“The use of these domesticated plants goes along with broader cultural changes we believe existed at that time in this area, such as people staying in one place, developing irrigation and other water management techniques, creating public ceremonials, building mounds and obtaining and saving exotic artifacts.”

The researchers dated the squash from approximately 9,200 years ago, the peanut from 7,600 years ago and the cotton from 5,500 years ago.

Source: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/531067/

Decapitated Man Found in Peru Tomb With Ceramic “Replacement” Head

A headless skeleton found in a Peruvian tomb is adding new wrinkles to the debate over human sacrifice in the ancient Andes. The decapitated body was found in the Nasca region, named for the ancient civilization that thrived in southern Peru from A.D. 1 to 750.

Known for producing “Nasca lines” in the earth that depict giant figures, the culture is also noted among archaeologists for practicing human sacrifice and displaying modified human heads called trophy heads.

But experts have been divided over whether the heads were taken from enemies in war or from locals offered up for ritual sacrifice.

In 2004 Christina Conlee, an archaeologist at Texas State University, found a rare headless skeleton in a tomb sitting cross-legged with a ceramic “head jar” placed to the left of the body (see enlarged photo).

The age and condition of both the body and the jar, which is painted with two inverted human faces, suggests that the victim was killed in a rite of ancestral worship, Conlee said.

“This research is important because it provides new information on human sacrifice in the ancient Andes and in particular on decapitation and trophy heads,” she said.

The skeleton appears to belong to a 20- to 25-year-old male and bears gruesome evidence of the decapitation, including cut marks indicating that the bone was fresh when damaged, she added.

“Someone spent quite a bit of effort cutting off the head,” mostly likely with a sharp obsidian knife, Conlee noted.

Read the whole story here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/06/070606-head-jar.html

Recently Excavated Headless Skeleton Expands Understanding Of Ancient Andean Rituals

Nasca Decapitation VesselImages of disembodied heads are widespread in the art of Nasca, a culture based on the southern coast of Peru from AD 1 to AD 750. But despite this evidence and large numbers of trophy heads in the region’s archaeological record, only eight headless bodies have been recovered with evidence of decapitation, explains Christina A. Conlee (Texas State University). Conlee’s analysis of a newly excavated headless body from the site of La Tiza provides important new data on decapitation and its relationship to ancient ideas of death and regeneration.

As Conlee outlines in the June issue of Current Anthropology, the third vertebrae of the La Tiza skeleton has dark cut marks, rounded edges, and no evidence of flaking or breakage, indicating decapitation occurred at or very soon after the time of death. A ceramic jar decorated with an image of a head was placed next to the body. The head has a tree with eyes growing out of it, the branches encircling the vessel.

“Ritual battles often take place just before plowing for potato planting, and trees and unripened fruit figure in these rituals, in which the shedding of blood is necessary to nourish the earth to produce a good harvest,” Conlee writes. “The presence of scalp cuts on Nasca trophy heads suggests the letting of blood was an important part of the ritual that resulted in decapitation.”

Read the full story here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070529101025.htm

The New World’s Oldest Calendar

They were excavating at Buena Vista, an ancient settlement in the foothills of the Andes an hour’s drive north of Lima, Peru. A dozen archaeology students hauled rocks out of a sunken temple and lobbed them to each other in a human chain. Suddenly, Bernardino Ojeda, a Peruvian archaeologist, called for the students to stop. He had spotted bits of tan rope poking out of the rubble in the temple’s central room. Ojeda handed his protégés small paintbrushes and showed them how to whisk away centuries of dirt. From the sickeningly sweet odor, he suspected that the rope wasn’t the only thing buried beneath the rocks: most likely, it was wrapped around a corpse.

“Burials here have a distinctive smell,” says Neil Duncan, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri, “even after 4,000 years.”

The crew spent the rest of the day uncovering the remains, those of a woman in her late 40s, her body mummified by the dry desert climate. Two intertwined ropes, one of braided llama wool and the other of twisted cotton, bound her straw shroud, bundling the skeleton in the fetal position typical of ancient Peruvian burials. Nearby, the researchers found a metal pendant that they believe she wore.

The mummy—the only complete set of human remains yet recovered from Buena Vista—may play a role in a crucial debate about the origin of civilization in Peru. The excavation’s leader, Robert Benfer, also of the University of Missouri, is analyzing bones from the site for signs of what people ate or the sort of work they did. He hopes the analyses will shed light on a controversial theory: that these ancient Peruvians established a complex, sedentary society relying not just on agriculture—long viewed as the catalyst for the first permanent settlements worldwide—but also on fishing. If so, Benfer says, “Peru is the only exception to how civilizations developed 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.”

As it happens, one of his liveliest foils in this debate is Neil Duncan, his collaborator and Missouri colleague. Both agree that some farming and some fishing took place here. But the two disagree about how important each was to the ancient Peruvians’ diet and way of life. Duncan says these people must have grown many plants for food, given evidence that they also grew cotton (for fishing nets) and gourds (for floats). Benfer counters that a few useful plants do not an agriculturalist make: “Only when plants become a prominent part of your diet do you become a farmer.”

Benfer and his team began excavating at Buena Vista in 2002. Two years later they uncovered the site’s most notable feature, a ceremonial temple complex about 55 feet long. At the heart of the temple was an offering chamber about six feet deep and six feet wide. It was brimming with layers of partially burned grass; pieces of squash, guava and another native fruit called lucuma; guinea pig; a few mussel shells; and scraps of cotton fabric—all capped by river rocks. Carbon-dated burned twigs from the pit suggest the temple was completed more than 4,200 years ago. It was used until about 3,500 years ago, when these occupants apparently abandoned the settlement.

A few weeks before the end of the excavation season, the archaeologists cleared away rocks from an entrance to the temple and found themselves staring at a mural. It was staring back. A catlike eye was the first thing they saw, and when they exposed the rest of the mural they found that the eye belonged to a fox nestled inside the womb of a llama.

Within days, Duncan spied a prominent rock on a ridge to the east. It lined up with the center of the offering chamber, midway between its front and back openings. The rock appeared to have been shaped into the profile of a face and placed on the ridge. It occurred to Benfer that the temple may have been built to track the movements of the sun and stars.

Read the whole story here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/10024281.html

In Peru, scientists discover the oldest solar observatory in the Americas

As archaeologists evaluate whether an ancient temple in Buena Vista, Peru, functioned as a calendar, a different research team is preserving the remains of an unusually elaborate astronomical complex just north, in Chankillo. This solar observatory is considered the oldest in the Americas, dating back to the 4th century B.C., and it offers unique physical evidence that a sun cult inhabited Peru at least 1,500 years before the Incas.

“We have references that Incas practiced solar observation, but none of those sites have been preserved,” says the site’s lead archaeologist Ivan Ghezzi of Yale University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “We don’t have a single one of this complexity.”

Though Spanish chroniclers described “sun pillars” used by the Incas to mark specific solar events, the physical remains of these pillars—likely destroyed during 16th-century anti-idolatry campaigns—have not been found. Archaeologists have uncovered the base of two pillars on an island in nearby Lake Titicaca, but the observatories in Chankillo appear more sophisticated than any of these Incan structures, says Ghezzi, who published his findings along with coauthor Clive Ruggles of the University of Leicester, in Science last month.

The Chankillo observatory consists of a row of 13 towers that precisely tracked solar movement throughout the year. When viewed from two main observation points, the sun would have reached one end of the tower line at the winter solstice and the other end at the summer solstice. The regularly spaced gaps between each tower could have been used to divide the year into even shorter intervals of 10 to 12 days.

Read the full story here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/10024296.html

Pre-Incan Metallurgy Discovered

Metals found in lake mud in the central Peruvian Andes have revealed the first evidence for pre-Colonial metalsmithing there.

These findings illustrate a way that archaeologists can recreate the past even when looters have destroyed the valuable artifacts that would ordinarily be relied upon to reveal historical secrets. For instance, the new research hints at a tax imposed on local villages by ancient Inca rulers to force a switch from production of copper to silver.

Pre-Colonial bronze artifacts have previously been found in the central Peruvian Andes dating back to about 1000 AD, after the fall of the Wari or Huari civilization , the largest empire in the Andes before the Incas . However, it has been unclear how metallurgy had developed there, or whether or not these artifacts even came from the Andes, instead perhaps coming from trading with coastal villages.

“There’s a lot you can’t tell about history from the metal artifacts here because there’s been a lot of looting, during both modern times and when the Spanish first arrived to melt down what silver and other metals were there to send back to the Spanish crown,” said researcher Colin Cooke, an environmental scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Read the entire story here: http://www.livescience.com/history/070419_metal_andes.html

Ancient “Lost City” Discovered in Peru, Official Claims

Ruins recently discovered in southern Peru could be the ancient “lost city” of Paititi, according to claims that are drawing serious but cautious response from experts. The presumptive lost city, described in written records as a stone settlement adorned with gold statues, has long been a grail for explorers—as well as a lure for local tourism businesses.

A commonly cited legend claims that Paititi was built by the Inca hero Inkarri, who founded the city of Cusco before retreating into the jungle after Spanish conquerors arrived.

On January 10 Peru’s state news agency reported that “an archaeological fortress” had been discovered in the district of Kimbiri and that the district’s mayor suggested it was the lost city.

Mayor Guillermo Torres described the ruins as a 430,000-square-foot (40,000-square-meter) fortification near an area known as Lobo Tahuantinsuyo.

Few other details about the site were offered, but initial reports described elaborately carved stone structures forming the base of a set of walls.

Read the entire story here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080116-lost-city.html

Oldest Gold Artifact in Americas Found

A necklace of gold and turquoise-colored beads at an ancient hunter-gatherer burial site in the Andes Mountains is the oldest crafted gold artifact known in the Americas and challenges the idea that only complex societies could produce such displays of wealth and prestige.

The nine-bead necklace was found at the base of an adult skull in a grave at Jiskairumoko, a primitive hamlet once occupied by a group of hunter-gatherers near Peru’s Lake Titicaca. The burial site dates to between 2155 to 1936 B.C., before more advanced societies, such as the Chavin, Moche and Inca, flourished in the region.

Gold and other finery were symbols of wealth and status in these societies (as they still are in ours). “Gold certainly is one of those things in human history that has attracted the eye,” said Mark Aldenderfer of the University of Arizona, the leader of the team that found the necklace. “People see it as something unique and different.”

But such rich adornments hadn’t been documented by archaeologists in more primitive societies. The discovery of the necklace, detailed in the March 31 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that these primitive people were in the middle of the transition to a more structured, agrarian society and that their metal-working abilities may have been underestimated.

“This is, for us, signaling this interesting social process that’s really part of a dramatic transformation towards some kind of [social] inequality,” Aldenderfer said.

Read the whole story here: http://www.livescience.com/history/080331-old-gold.html