In the spring of 2007, archaeologists discovered a rare cache of gold artifacts inside of a Bolivian pyramid – not to mention a 1,300-year-old skeleton alongside it. Strangely untouched by looters, the skeleton and the gold were fully intact, and have revealed more information about the ancient Tiwanaku people who lived in the area between 400 and 1200 AD.
The skeleton is believed to have been an elite member of the Tiwanaku, possibly a priest or governmental figure, primarily because the bones at this burial – unlike some bones found elsewhere in the pyramid in past years – had no physical markings on them that would indicate the person was a victim of ritual sacrifice. In addition, the body was buried near the top of the pyramid instead of near the bottom, which was where other bones from sacrificial victims were previously found.
The pyramid in which the bones and gold were found was the Akapana pyramid, which was one of the largest pre-Columbian structures in South America. It was heavily looted long ago, which was why finding a burial with an inordinate amount of gold was such an unexpected discovery. The Bolivian archaeologists working here also found evidence of the individual having been buried with a llama by his side – apparently llamas were believed to assist someone in their transition to the afterlife.
A gold headband, a fist-sized gold pendant, and several gold figurines were part of the gold trove that was buried with the body. The figurines were very carefully crafted and had defined faces with correctly proportioned features – evidently, the culture was doing well enough at the time to bury their important people with an array of riches… however, a study done on the bones seems to indicate that he had suffered from malnutrition at some point during his life, and was approximately 25 years old at the time of death.
This was highly unusual – after all, if someone was of high status within the society, he should have been well cared for throughout his life, which means that he would have eaten well, regardless of whether or not it caused a common citizen to starve. This seems to point to a period of cultural stress wherein there was a resource shortage.
Why does that matter? Since the history of the Tiwanaku is still a bit unclear, knowing that they went through a period of decline and then potential resurgence helps to piece together their history – after all, if their decline was because of food shortages or war with other people, it should show up in the records of the surrounding cultures during the same time. This small bit of information then helps to piece together a full history of the whole of South America during pre-Columbian times.
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Tomorrow: Book covers… made of human skin! oooooh scary!