Archive for the ‘Ancient South America’ Category

The Surprising History of Guinea Pigs

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

These creatures are kept as pets by many peopleWhen most people look at a guinea pig running around in its cage they may not realize that these cute, furry creatures are actually an important part of traditional South American culture. Today, these small rodents are kept as pets by people around the world but they have actually played an important role in the lives of many of the people living in and around the Andes Mountains.

This small, friendly rodent was domesticated as early as 5000 BCE. Its earliest use was as a food source and they are still kept for this purpose in many areas of South America today. Guinea pigs are easy to care for and feed because they do well on a variety of different foods. A family can use its own food scraps to feed the creatures which are an important source of protein. Tourists who travel to Peru and other countries in the region are often surprised when they are offered these small creatures as a meal.

The guinea pig has also had great religious significance as well. Some civilizations, such as the Moche civilization worshipped the animals and often included them in their artwork. The Moche lived in northern Peru from about100 CE to 800 CE. Statues of guinea pigs that date from 500 BCE to 500 CE have been unearthed in various archaeological digs in Ecuador and Peru.

In many areas of the Andes, Western medicine is still not readily available. They still use the guinea pig in the same traditional healing rituals that have been performed for Guinea pigs are still used as a food source in Peruthousands of years. Folk doctors, known as curanderos use the rodents as a diagnostic tool. They rub the rodents against the body of the individual that is sick and it is then believed that the rodent can diagnose what the patient’s medical problem is. Black guinea pigs are considered to be particularly useful in obtaining a diagnosis. If the folk doctor wants to know whether the cure has been effective, the guinea pig may be cut open so that the folk doctor can study its entrails. Guinea pigs are also exchanged as gifts and are a part of many different traditions. They are often used in some religious ceremonies and social cultures.

In Western civilizations, the guinea pig has had a much easier life. In many countries they are kept as pets. They first appeared in Europe and quickly became a hit with the upper classes. Some members of the royalty also kept these creatures as pets. Queen Elizabeth I was known to have had guinea pigs as pets. These creatures are friendly and curious and their personalities have made them popular as pets even up to the present day.

There are many modern varieties of domestic guinea pigs. Many of these were actually established between 1200 CE and 1532 CE, when the Spanish conquest took place. Modern varieties include the Abyssinian, which looks like it has cowlicks all over its body, the Peruvian, which has long, straight hair, the Sheltie, which also has long straight hair, and the Texel. The Texel also has long hair but it is curly instead of straight.

Remains of Massive Prehistoric Snake Discovered in Columbia

By: The Scribe on May, 2011

Some modern snakes can reach lengths of over 30 feet which may seem massive when compared to other animals. The remains of a prehistoric constrictor, which has been named Titanoboa cerrejonensis is more massive by far than any snake that is now living. The name comes from the fact that the remains were found at the Cerrejon Coal Mine which is located in northern Columbia. The discovery was made in 2008.

This massive snake lived approximately 65 million years agoThe snake lived approximately 60 million years ago. Remains indicate that when full grown, these creatures could achieve lengths of 42 feet (13 meters) or more and could weigh up to 2,500 pounds (1,135 kilograms) making it approximately twice the size of any modern snake and similar in weight to a small car. It had a diameter of approximately three feet. To put the size in more perspective, this meant that the snake was roughly as long as a T-Rex. Modern-day anacondas have been measured at lengths of up to 28 feet and girths of up to 44 inches.

The snake’s remains were found in Columbia. They were discovered by an international team of scientists. The remains are being studied at the University of Florida. It was a bit of a miracle that scientists were able to discover the snake due to the area where it lived. The tropics are a difficult place to find fossils. This is due to the fact that much of the area is covered by a forest and this makes it difficult to find the usual kinds of exposed rocks where fossils are usually located.

The snake killed its prey in the same way that modern constrictors do. It would wrap around any animal that it caught and would squeeze it until the creature suffocated. This would have been a slow death and not a particularly comfortable one.

Titanoboa lived in the time immediately after the dinosaurs became extinct. Other fossils that were found in the area surrounding Titanoboa’s remains showed that the snake likely ate animals such as giant turtles and prehistoric crocodiles. This image shows how much larger Titanoboa was compared to modern anacondas

The discovery of Titanoboa is important because it gives scientists an idea of what the world was like after the dinosaurs became extinct. Scientists have made educated guesses but the fact that there are few vertebrate fossils available that are known to be from this time period. The fact that the snake was able to reach such a large size is also important because it shows what the climate would have been like during this time period. A snake or other cold blooded creature can only grow to a certain point under certain environmental conditions. A larger snake or other reptile would have meant that the environment was warmer than it is today.

It also shows that the current ecosystem that was in place in the area is very similar to the one that is present today. Remains of the ancestors of modern day reptiles such as snakes, turtles and crocodiles were discovered showing that the current ecosystem was around for at least 65 million years. Because of this, scientists feel that the discovery of Columbian fossils may have been one of the most exciting and valuable discoveries to date.

Why Some Ancient South American Skulls Have Such Strange Shapes

By: The Scribe on December, 2010

imageArchaeologists who worked at unearthing skeletons from some Central and South American archaeological sites noticed that some skulls were strangely shaped. While some individuals believe that this is proof that extraterrestrials visited Central and South America, the truth is that many cultures practiced head binding. The discovery of the Starchild skull is one case where modified skulls were believed, by some, to be proof of extraterrestrial life.

The process of changing the shape of a person’s head is done for cosmetic reasons. Some of the changes that can be made to a skull include making it flatter, elongating the skull or even creating a conical shaped head. The process begins early, usually in infancy. A new baby’s skull is soft and has not completely fused as it has in an adult. Therefore it does not take as much effort to reshape a child’s head into a more socially acceptable shape.

The process varies from culture to culture and usually uses materials that are plentiful and easy to come by. Boards, baskets and cords woven from native fibers are often used to change the shape of the skull. For example, an elongated skull may have been bound between two boards in order to cause it to lengthen. The process can be a lengthy one as it may take several months or even years for the head to achieve the desired shape. Once the process has been completed, the skull cannot change back and has been permanently altered.image

Altered skull shape was often believed to be connected with desirable attributes. Some cultures believed that if a head was elongated, for example, it would mean that the individual was more intelligent than other individuals who had shorter heads. Other cultures believed that if a person’s skull shape had been altered it would make it easier for them to communicate with the spirit world.

The act of changing the shape of an individual’s skull is not limited to Central and South America. It has also been found in other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians. Some of the pharaohs had altered head shapes. One of the most famous is Tutankhamun. His head had been elongated using head molding. Egyptian skulls dating from the third millennium BCE are believed to be some of the most ancient examples of modified skulls but archaeologists have also unearthed altered skulls that are as old as 45,000 BCE.

Many cultures have used some sort of permanent body modification as a rite of passage or to show that a person belongs to their ethnic or tribal group. It was also often performed as a way of showing what social class an individual belonged to as it was often the offspring of wealthy or important individuals who were cared for enough that they were able to survive the modification process. Scarification, tattooing and permanent body modification techniques are used to do this and, while less common now than they were in the past, many of these modification techniques are still being practiced even now.

The Women of Machu Picchu

By: The Scribe on December, 2010

Many people have heard of Machu Picchu, the mysterious lost Inca city in the mountains. This stunning marvel of ancient construction was likely built to serve as both a royal estate and a religious retreat and many of the skeletons that were found in and around the site seem to support the theory that many of the individuals living there served a religious purpose. What is surprising is that a large number of the skeletons are female.

The site itself was discovered in 1911 and has been successfully dated back to the time between 1460 and 1470. It is located in Peru, about 43 miles northwest of the city of Cuzco. The name means “Old Peak” and this is accurate, since the city is built about 8,000 feet above sea level.image

Although some theories have suggested that it may have been an administrative center its remote location makes this seem unlikely. It was originally constructed by the Incan ruler Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. The site is a collection of 200 or so buildings and archaeologists have been able to discover that the majority of these were residences. At its heyday, the site housed approximately 1,200 people.

Many of the women who lived at Mach Picchu actually belonged to an order known as the Chosen Women or Quechua Aclla Cuna (“Virgins of the Sun”). Although they were originally believed to have lived at the site to act as servants for the Emperor it is now believed that their role was mainly a religious one. They took vows of chastity and were responsible for the preparation of any ritual food that was served during rites, weaving ritual garments, and tending and maintaining a sacred fire that was located at Machu Picchu. Other garments woven by the women were worn by the Emperor but were not specifically linked to any religious ceremonies.image

The women lived and worked under the supervision of a number of matrons. These women were known as Mama Cuna. In turn, they were overseen by a single high priestess. This woman was known as the Coya Pasca and she was believed to be a human, earthly consort of the Incan sun god.

Virgins were chosen by priests and came from many different Incan villages. They were young. It was not uncommon for a girl as young as eight years of age to be taken from a village and brought to Machu Picchu. These girls were commoners and were selected for a variety of reasons. Physical attractiveness was a factor in whether a woman would be chosen to become one of the Chosen Women.

The women were often required to serve for a period of six or seven years after which they may have found it possible to be released from their duties. Life for a Virgin of the Sun could be a good one, and might end as the wife or concubine of a rich or powerful individual. Some also ultimately ended up as sacrificial victims.

The city’s downfall was mainly due to smallpox. Half of the population was dead from the disease by 1527 and the city was completely abandoned and forgotten by 1532.

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