Ancient shark fishermen found buried with extra limbs
By GABRIEL PRIETO
Source: National Geographic
Archaeologists are stumped why these 1,900-year-old Peruvians were buried with bonus body parts—in one case, with two extra left legs. Dozens of "very unique" ancient burials have been discovered on the northern Peruvian coast, many of which appear to contain valuable metal objects, whimsical ceramic pots, and—in some cases—additional human limbs. According to Victor Campaña, current director of the Las Lomas Rescue Project, more than 50 burials belonging to the Virú culture have been discovered in the town of Huanchaco, seven miles north of the regional capital of Trujillo. The burials were uncovered during recent salvage excavations performed ahead of water and sewage infrastructure work in the small seaside town. The little-known Virú culture, named for the Virú Valley which runs from the Andes mountains to the Pacific, thrived in the area between A.D. 100 and 750, before the Moche took control of the region. Campaña's excavations have revealed a small coastal settlement along with the burials. “It’s a complex little fishing village," he says. There's particular complexity in many of the burials, Campaña adds, noting that around 30 of the 54 mostly adult burials appear to include not only complete skeletons, but also additional body parts. Most of the bonus limbs appear to be arms and legs. In one case, an adult was buried intact, along with two additional left legs interred right beside the body. While more scientific analysis is needed to determine the age and sex of the burials, a preliminary study indicates that many sets of remains show evidence of trauma, including cut marks and blunt-force injury. The individuals who had suffered trauma were also most likely to have been buried with additional limbs, says Campaña. Later Moche burials often feature individuals buried with missing limbs, or with additional complete sacrificial victims, notes Gabriel Prieto, scientific director of the current rescue project in Huanchaco. However, the practice of burying the dead with extra body parts is "very unique to Virú," he says. A similar practice was discovered in the early 2000s with a much smaller set of Virú burials excavated at El Castillo Santa, south of Trujillo, Prieto adds. At this time, the archaeologists can only speculate about the motivation behind the unusual Virú burials. One suggestion is that the extra limbs may have served as a sacrificial offering to accompany the dead to the afterlife. Additional lab work will determine if there was any sort of relation between the individuals buried and the owners of the additional body parts.