Ancient spines threaded onto sticks found in Peru
The strange burial practice was discovered in the Chincha Valley on the Pacific Coast of Peru.
Researchers working in Peru have unearthed 192 human spines that were ceremonially threaded onto posts made of reeds 500 years ago. The discovery, published in the journal Antiquity, highlights an Andean burial tradition that has only been found in this specific area of Western Peru, which is known as the Chincha Valley.
Teams of archeologists excavated 20 sites around the region, and found the spines in elaborate graves known as chullpas. The fact that these ‘vertebrae-on-posts’ were discovered at multiple sites may suggest this was a common and well-known practice, they say.
It is thought that the spines were reconstructed and held-together with reeds many years after death, possibly due to the graves being looted and damaged by European settlers. The dead being buried intact was an important part of the culture of the Chincha people, so their reconstruction and reinterment would have been highly significant.
This coastal region was once the heartland of the Chincha Kingdom, but between 1533 and 1583 its population declined massively due to epidemics, famines and the arrival of foreign invaders.
Unearthing the posts
Craniums at the dig site
Graves filled with bones
Cranium and spine
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The Chincha Valley, Peru
James Cutmore is the picture editor of BBC Science Focus Magazine, researching striking images for the magazine and on the website. He is also has a passion for taking his own photographs