1,000 Ancient Tombs, Unique Remains Found in Colombia

José Orozco in Caracas, Venezuela
for National Geographic News
May 9, 2008

Builders clearing land for a housing project in Colombia have uncovered an ancient burial site containing nearly a thousand tombs linked to two little-known civilizations. (See photos.)

The site covers some 12 acres (5 hectares) in the impoverished Usme district in southeast Bogotá (see map) and includes one set of remains that some researchers believe could be a victim of human sacrifice.

The possible victim is a young woman who seems to have been buried alive, said Ana Maria Groot, one of the lead anthropologists from the National University of Colombia working at the site.

"Her mouth is open as if in terror, and her hands seem contracted as if she had tried grabbing hold of something," Groot said.

Another tomb contains the remains of a man with a curved tibia, or shinbone, possible evidence that the man was a shaman, she added.

Spanish observers in the 1500s wrote of indigenous shamans spending long periods in caves with no exposure to sunlight. A lack of sunlight would produce a shortage of vitamin D, causing curving of the bones, explained Groot's colleague, Virgilio Becerra.

Two Mysterious Cultures

Aside from such unusual finds, the site is unique for its age and length of occupation, the anthropologists say.

The tombs range in date from around the first century to the 16th century A.D., based on analysis of pottery found with the remains.

The first 500 years of the site's use date to the so-called Herrera period, when several small, obscure groups thrived in this region of the Andean highlands during the development of agriculture.

"The agriculture became more intensive, more systematic at this time," Groot said.

"We have high expectations about finding what kinds of plants they cultivated."

Continued on Next Page >>


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