Archaeologists are accustomed to finding evidence of funeral practices around the world, but every once in a while, something they find surprises them. This was the case with a recent discovery in Mexico, in which experts were confronted with a Pre-Hispanic burial of a mummified macaw and a baby, amongst other interesting artifacts.
A press release by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) details how the discovery was made. It says that when Manuel Rodríguez and his son, residents of San Francisco de Borja, Chihuahua, Mexico were leveling the floor of a cave on their property they made a startling discovery.
The father and son first came across the remains of the naturally mummified macaw and some other archaeological materials. After discovering the artifacts, they notified members of the School of Anthropology and History Northern Mexico (EAHNM). Aarchaeologists were soon sent out to investigate the findings – the first of their kind in the area.
Upon arrival at the cave, Seeker reports that the experts unearthed a large amount of artifacts including two human skulls, a textile, deerskin, baskets, a large sea shell, and the naturally mummified head of a macaw.
The local residents told the archaeologists that there was more to the macaw’s remains when they first unearthed the bird, but they only had the head to give the authorities.
Unfortunately, the rest of the bird’s remains were swept away by the earth-moving machinery and thus it’s out of context, making it difficult to say for certain if the macaw was really buried at the same time as the human remains.
“We assume the villagers hit upon a funerary context. It is possible that the macaw was part of the burial offering and is probable that was a pet of at least one of the two individuals,” Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta, director of the EAHNM, told Discovery News .
Referring to some information provided by the INAH, The History Blog explains part of the significance of the macaw for Pre-Hispanic cultures in Mexico.:
“Macaws were prized in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. They had to be imported as they are not native to the north, so were extremely expensive.
Their large size and soaring flight connected them symbolically to the sun, and their brilliant green-blue plumage was associated with lifegiving rain and water. By the Middle Period of Paquimé, macaws were being bred there for use in rituals and in commercial goods.”
All of the remains are believed to pre-date the Paquimé period (700 – 1450 AD). The INAH report adds that human hair and cotton string were found amongst the first set of artifacts. These discoveries intrigued the experts and led them to excavate more of the cave floor and they dug another section 25 meters (82 ft.) long and one meter (3 ft.) wide.
According to the INAH press release, the list of the second set of finds includes: walls of a reed and mud wattle housing structure including a hand print from when they were made (early-mid archaic period), a charred corn cob, coal, burnt beans, 30 arrow points from the middle archaic period or early agricultural period (2500/1000 BC- 700 AD), coprolites (fossilized human feces), a complete gourd, and ropes.
Then, the archaeologists also found two more strange burials. Seeker reports that one of the sets of remains included “Small pieces of human bones on a rabbit skin [indicating] that a small baby had also been buried there.”
The second set of remains was even more intriguing and archaeologists believe it may be evidence of a re-burial. As Gallaga said :
“Placed against the cave all the way to the rock, there were two bone legs tied with a rope. We believe they belonged to a rather tall adult […] The pelvis of the adult was very fragmented, so we need to wait until it is restored to establish whether the individual was a male or a female.
It is also too early to tell whether the adult and baby were related […] It is possible the human remains were originally interred somewhere else and re-buried in the cave sometime later. However, we do not know why only half of the body was buried.”
Altogether, the discoveries have strengthened the belief that there was a connection between the coastal region and Chihuahua since ancient times. In particular, the discovery of the mummified macaw and shell from the Gulf of California support this idea. The rest of the artifacts are said to be local.
The remains are still being analyzed and restored, so further information should come to light on the cave and its interesting collection of artifacts in the future.