Footless Children Found in Ancient Peru Graves

The disturbing ancient burials are likely child sacrifices made at a temple.

Archaeologists have found the remains of footless children around the ruins of an ancient temple on Peru's northern coast -- likely evidence of child sacrifices at the ceremonial complex.

A team led by archaeologist Carlos Wester La Torre, of the Culture Ministry's Unidad Ejecutora 005 Naylamp, discovered more than 13 burials dating to the 15th and 16th centuries at the Chotuna-Chornancap site in the region of Lambayeque.

The temple and pyramid complex covering over 1500 years of history, the site has yielded the tomb of a 13th century "Chornancap priestess," one of the most powerful people in the Lambayeque culture.

Accompanied by eight other people, the priestess was buried with a copper mask, elaborate jewelry, ceramic offerings and a gold scepter with the image of a Lambayeque god.

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According to a statement by the culture ministry unit, the newly discovered graves belong to the later Chimú culture, which had been conquered by the Inca.

Six children were buried in pairs in shallow graves on the east, west and north of the temple's ruins.

Most importantly, the two children interred on the west were footless.

"It appears the feet had been removed intentionally, suggesting they had been sacrificed as an offering and used as 'guardians' of the graves," the Unidad Ejecutora 005 Naylamp said.

Evidence of ritualistic activities and possibly human sacrifices could be also found in the remains of the other adult individuals, men and women, who were buried face-up in narrow and long pits.

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At the center of the grave site, the archaeologists found the most prominent person, a male individual who was buried with two clay pots on one side and a sculpted vessel on the other. The vessel appeared to depict the head of a "coquero," a coca leaf-chewer. Another sculpted vessel represented a man standing up and smiling.

"Such offerings appear to be related to some of the characters in a polychrome painting that was discovered earlier in the temple," the archaeologists said.

The painting shows some individuals carrying staffs and some others holding the heads of decapitated people.

"The archaeological excavations in this season have begun to yield results that allow us to reconstruct the function of places such as Chornancap," Wester La Torre said.

"Since the discovery of the priestess' s grave, the site has continued to reveal the complexity of ceremonies and rituals that took place at the temple," he added.

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Egypt will likely offer promising finds in 2016. King Tutankhamun's tomb will be under the spotlight as a recent investigation suggests the western and northern walls of the 3,300-year-old burial may hide two secret chambers. According to Egypt's Minister of Antiquity Mamdouh al-Damaty there is a 90 percent chance the tomb of King Tut contains such chambers.

Damaty made the announcement last November at the end of a radar-based investigation. The non-invasive search followed a claim by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist at the University of Arizona, who first speculated the existence of the chambers, arguing that one contains the remains, and possibly the intact grave goods, from queen Nefertiti.

She was the wife of the "heretic" monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten, Tutankhamun's father. Will archaeologists try to access the hidden chambers? Their attempt may lead to what Damaty called "one of the most important finds of the century."

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The noninvasive technologies applied to King Tut's tomb will be widely used this year in another ambitious project. Called Scan Pyramid, the investigation is carried out by a team from Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering and the Paris-based organization Heritage, Innovation and Preservation under the authority of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The project aims to scan the largest pyramids of Egypt in order to detect the presence of any unknown internal structures and cavities.

The technique could lead to a better understanding of the pyramids' structure and how they were built. The project uses a mix of technologies such as infrared thermography, muon radiography, and 3D reconstruction to look at the inside of four pyramids, which are more than 4,500 years old. They include Khufu, or Cheops, Khafre or Chephren at Giza, the Bent pyramid and the Red pyramid at Dahshur. One particularly remarkable anomaly has been already detected on the eastern side of the Great Pyramid, also known as Khufu or Cheops, at the ground level. Much more is to come -- the first results are expected in the first months of the year.

RELATED: Striking Anomaly Found in Great Pyramid

Last year a study made an extraordinary and controversial claim: Stonehenge was basically a second-hand monument from Wales. It would have stood there hundreds of years before it was dismantled and transported to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. The research indicates that two quarries in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, in southwest Wales, are the source of Stonehenge's bluestones.

Carbon dating revealed such stones were dug out at least 500 years before Stonehenge was built -- suggesting they were first used in a local monument that was later dismantled and dragged off to England.

"Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery," Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project and professor of British later prehistory at University College London said. Researchers have been using geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis to identify the ruins of a lost, dismantled monument. The results of such research promise to make the headlines this year.

"We think we have the most likely spot. We may find something big in 2016," Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said.

In early December, the Colombian government announced they had found the holy grail of treasure shipwrecks -- an 18th-century Spanish galleon that went down off the country's coast with a treasure of gold, coins and precious stones now valued between $4 billion and $17 billion. The multibillion-dollar ship, called the San Jose, was found off the island of Baru, near Cartagena. The vessel was part of Spain's only royal convoy to bring colonial coins and bullion home to King Philip V during the War of Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714.

The San Jose was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off the island of Baru on June 8, 1708, when an explosion sent it to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. She was reportedly carrying 600 people, chests of emeralds and tons of silver, gold and platinum.

The shipwreck has been at a center of a decades-long search that also involved a legal battle with the Seattle-based Sea Search Armada, or SSA, a commercial salvage company that claims it first discovered the wreck's location in 1981. Moreover, Peru has argued that any treasure recovered from the San Jose should be considered a Peruvian national patrimony. As more legal fights will likely occur, new expeditions to the wreck in 2016 are expected to recover the much disputed treasure of gold and emeralds.

One of the most promising discoveries last year was an oval-shaped structure unearthed in the Tuscan town of Volterra. Archaeologists believe it represents the most important Roman amphitheater finding over the last century. The foundations of the colosseum, which is oval-shaped like the much larger arena in the heart of Rome, might date back to the 1st century A.D.

Amphitheaters like these were used during Roman times to feature events including gladiator combats and wild animal fights. The archaeologists estimate the structure, which mostly lies at a depth of 20 to 32 feet, measured some 262 by 196 feet. Only a small part of it has been unearthed during a small dig survey. New finds are expected this year as a full-scale dig is launched.