History

Creepy Remains of Macaw, Baby Found in Mexico Cave

The odd collection of remains found in a Mexican cave date back some 3,000 years.

Archaeologists digging in a Mexican cave have made a creepy discovery. In the back of the cave they found two bone legs tied with a rope, the remains of a baby who was originally put to rest on a rabbit skin, two skulls and the naturally mummified head of a juvenile macaw.

The eerie finding was made in a cave near San Francisco de Borja, a town in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Locals who owned the cave were leveling its floor when they stumbled upon the mummified bird and other archaeological material.

The villagers alerted the archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History who collected two human skulls and bones, parts of mummified human bodies, deer leather remains -- possibly from clothing or bags -- textile, baskets and one big sea shell.

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"The locals told us the macaw was complete, unfortunately the rest of the body was taken away by the earth-moving machine and we could not find it," archaeologist Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta, director of the School of Anthropology and History Northern Mexico, told Discovery News.

"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," he added.

Since no ceramic from the Middle period of Paquimé (1.060 to 1.340 AD) was found, Gallaga believes the cave is a transition site between the obscure archaic and the early agriculture period, some 3,000 years ago.

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Given the importance of the material collected, the archaeologists decided to further excavate the cave floor.

In a strip less than 3 feet wide and 150 feet long, they found the remains of bahareque house structures which were burnt and destroyed, several arrow points from the middle archaic period (about 1000 B.C.), fossilized human feces, ropes and remains of burnt beans, corn cobs, a complete pumpkin and some brown ceramic shards.

Most intriguingly, they found other two human burials.

"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," Gallaga said.

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Small pieces of human bones on a rabbit skin indicated that a small baby had also been buried there.

"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," Gallaga said.

He speculates these remains date to 1,000 BC., about 3,000 years ago.

"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," Gallaga said.

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As for the bird, it is the first time that a scarlet macaw complete with feathers is found buried in a funerary context.

"This was an important bird in the collective imaginations of the prehispanic communities," Gallaga said.

He noted the bird either represented the sun or a link between the gods and the humans.

"The feathers were precious to these people. We found them preserved in bags, shields and adornments," Gallaga said.

The remains collected in the cave are now been analyzed and restored.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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