Archaeologists in the ancient city of Nakum in northeastern Guatemala recently made a big discovery. Beneath a vast ritual platform dating from around 100 BCE to 300 CE they discovered a foot-long, barrel-shaped ceramic tube with covers at each end.
It is nearly identical to wooden beehives still made from hollow logs by Maya living in the region today. Their discovery is the only known Maya beehive. Since most beehives would probably have been wooden, they probably would not have survived.
Gold was probably the first metal to be exploited in the Andes, by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. From there, the archaeological record suggests goldworking then traveled north, reaching Central America in the first centuries CE, and Mexico by about 1000 CE.
This particular necklace is from the Chavin Civilization, which developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from about 900 BCE to about 200 BCE. That sounds old, but relatively speaking, that is not old at all. Gold had already been mined and worked in the Andes for a thousand years when the Chavin arrived on the scene.
From the Ica-Chincha people of the central coast of Peru, this grave marker would have been placed next to or inside a tomb. It may even have helped support the tomb’s roof. Crowned with a two-pronged headdress the post was treated just like real human remains. Ica-Chincha painted their dead with a red cinnabar pigment, and you can just see traces of red on this grave marker’s face too.
Circa 1000 to 1470 CE, during the Ica-Chincha’s Late Intermediate period.
Found in southern Mexico City, it is a burial unlike any other we know of. Ten interlocking skeletons of various ages and genders were laid to rest, arranged in a spiral shape. Some hold ceramic spheres and stones in their hands and the grave also contains various sizes of ceramic vessels, that presumably once contained grave goods. It is the largest single burial from the Valley of Mexico.
Laid to rest in a pit about 6 feet (2 meters) wide, they were most likely interred at the same time, sometimes between 500 and 400 BCE. Archaeologists think they were buried at the same time because the arms of one person were placed under the spine of another, suggesting they were deliberately arranged. Plus, that spiral.
So far, three of the ten remains have been sexed: two women, one man. There also appears to be a range of ages. While most on first analysis are young adults, there is at least one more mature adult, a child between 3 and 5 years old, and an infant just a few months old. Some of the skeletons, though not all, also show cranial deformations and dental mutilations, which are known to have been practiced in other Mesoamerican cultures including the Maya and Inca.
In the Inca Empire, an emperor was expected to marry a family member. There were two rival legends that were supposed to be the origin of the Inca Empire: that Manco Capac (semi-mythical potential founder #1) married his mother, or that four sisters married four brothers and they started the empire (semi-mythical potential founders #2). As a result, nobility and royalty were encouraged and expected to marry within the family. Note this was only true for the ruling class. A commoner who tried marrying a family member could expect to have their eyes gouged out, or even be executed.
We know that Atahualpa, the last undisputed Incan Emperor, was married to his sister. It was listed as one of the reasons the Spanish executed him. Along with resisting their rule and refusing to convert, of course.
One of Arizona’s most famous landmarks is a pair of 900-year-old limestone cliff dwellings, whose sudden abandonment centuries ago has proven to be an enduring mystery. Incorrectly called “Montezuma’s Castle” and “Castle A,” they were abandoned about 600 years ago, after 300 years of occupation. It was long thought that the castles were burned as part of some sort of closing ritual, then voluntarily abandoned. Recent research disagrees. Instead, new analyses suggest the castles’ last days were violent ones.
The buildings were charred, and carbon dating of both the char and design analysis of pottery remains, reveal the buildings were occupied right up until they burned between the years 1375 and 1395. Perhaps more persuasively, the remains of four people had been excavated from Castle A in the 1930s. Previously, it was thought they had been dead and buried long before the buildings burned. But a closer examination of previous research done on those remains revealed that the dead had sustained trauma before their deaths, as evidenced by cut marks on their bones, burn marks, and fractures in three of the four skulls. And one of the skulls showed evidence of having been burned at the same time, or shortly after, it was violently attacked.
All in all, the new analyses suggest the castles were attacked and burned, and subsequently abandoned. This new viewpoint is corroborated by Native American oral histories of the site’s collapse, which were incorporated into the new research.
The Maya city of Tulum, once a major trading port on the Yucatan Pensinsula, was still occupied in the 1500s. While the Maya civilization precipitously declined in the 800s CE, a handful of cities survived and even grew when their neighbors shrank and vanished. Tulum was one such city. A Spanish expedition in 1518 sailed past and the crew was said to be astonished by the city’s grandeur, apparently describing it as “a village so large that Seville would not have appeared larger or better.”
Unfortunately, Tulum could survive 600 years after their wider civilization collapsed, but Tulum could not survive 100 years of European contact. It was abandoned by the end of the century after diseases carried from Europe decimated the population.
Thanks in part to historically low water levels, researchers have been able to document a large corpus of rock art located along a section of Venezuela’s Orinoco River known as the Atures Rapids. Drone photography recorded most of the engravings for the first time, which include scenes of humans, animals, and cultural traditions. One massive panel contains 93 individual characters across 3,200 square feet of rock.
Although still unsure of the engravings’ dates, experts believe they were created in both the pre-Columbian and colonial periods
Everyone recycles! Even pre-Columbian Mixtec. The Codex Selden, also known as the Codex Añute, dates from the mid-1500s and is a five-meter-long strip of deer hide covered in glyphs and human figures. It is one of fewer than 20 known Mexican codices to have survived from pre-colonial and early colonial Mexico. And it is the first known pre-Columbian palimpsest!
What’s that you ask? It means the deer hide once had a different document on it, which was scraped off, so the parchment could be reused for what we know today as the Codex Añute. Thankfully the scrapping was imperfect, allowing modern-day scientists to uncover the traces of imagery that remain. That’s all we know right now. Tests are currently being conducted to reconstruct what was written or drawn, and to try and figure out what it meant.
Archaeologists, studying the skeletal remains of a teenager in western Panama, have discovered the earliest evidence of cancer in Central America. The adolescent was between 14 and 16 years old when she died, in about 1300 CE. Although her skeleton was first found in the 1970s, it was not until recent re-analyses were done that signs of a tumor were identified on their upper right arm.
Unfortunately, it was not a painless cancer. She would have experienced intermittent pain, as the sarcoma grew and expanded through her bone, until she died. Interestingly, a pediatric oncologist who examined the remains thought that the cancer was unlikely the ultimate cause of her death – though there is no way to know for certain now.