It looks like Peru no longer has a lock on the title of South America’s hot spot for elongated skull (not yet recognized by the Guinness folks). Archeologists have discovered 500-year-old tombs in a Bolivian quarry that contain the remains of individuals whose civilization was conquered by the Incas … remains which include the elongated skulls of people believed to have been high on the local social ladder – the only ladder safe enough to climb with those big heads.
“(An) unprecedented discovery.”
Bolivian Minister of Culture Wilma Alanoca announced last week the discovery of a cemetery three months near the town of Viacha in Bolivia’s Altiplano (the high plains of the Andes) 20 km (12.4 miles) from La Paz. Reuters reports that it had been kept secret until the site was secured since it showed signs of previous looting. The find was made by a mining company digging just three meters down into limestone. Upon opening the tombs carved into the rocks, the workers immediately stopped and notified the government, which sent in archeologists to determine what they had uncovered. And what they uncovered had never before been seen in Bolivia. (Pictures here.)
“There are objects that are clearly attributed to the Inca culture, and others that are not Inca, but rather Aymara.”
Referring to the 30-plus funerary vessels found in the tomb, archaeologist Wanderson Esquerdo was not surprised to find artifacts of the Incas, who conquered the area in the 15th century. However, the cemetery itself belonged to the Pacajes culture, which was part of the Aymara, the indigenous people of the Andes and Altiplano regions whose descendants are still found in Bolivia. The four tombs appeared to have contained the remains of over 100 individuals, along with the vessels, jewelry and funereal bundles. The jewelry -- necklaces, bracelets, hair combs and headbands – indicated the tomb was used by families of mixed levels of social status.
And then there’s the elongated skulls. The presence of the skulls means the Incas used the tomb after conquering the Aymaras and that they were at the highest social level – the one that thought elongated skulls were a sign of superiority. Believe it or not, the archeologists are less interested in the skulls than in the remains and artifacts of the Amaras, a culture little is known about.
"(It’s a period when) many of the cultural patterns that today deeply mark the customs of the ethnic groups of present-day Bolivia were shaped. Although they have been the subject of some research, they are not known in depth, so the new findings will help fill the gaps of that era."
Roberto Lleras , professor at the Externado de Colombia University, will be studying the remains and artifacts after they’re analyzed at an archeological center, and then returned to a museum in Viacha. Per Bolivian law, the town is responsible for preserving both the artifacts and the historical site.
Are elongated skulls becoming so common in South America that they generate little interest and no shouts of “Aliens!”? That’s probably a good thing … although it certainly wasn’t for the poor little rich kids whose parents wanted bumper stickers on their carts that read “My child is an honor student at Big Skull Academy.”