Saving the Moai on Easter Island

THE GIANT STONE HEADS on the island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile, have captured the imagination of countless explorers, dreamers and scientists. Hundreds of monoliths of solid volcanic rock provide indestructible evidence of man’s mastery over his environment. They hint at great feats of engineering and the ingenuity of men. Up close, the statues show…

Unraveling an Inca Mystery

AT LAGUNA de Los Condores near Chachapoyas in Peru, laborers cut down trees to gather lumber for a hacienda under construction. As they watch a tree fall, one of the men glances across the lake and spies a painting on a cliff face. Motivated by the possibility of discovering gold, the group treks around the…

Trophy Heads: Understanding the Nasca

AN EXPANSIVE collection of skulls from defeated enemies symbolized power in many early societies. The Jivaro tribe in the Amazon would remove skulls and shrink soft tissue to make “shrunken heads.” The Munduruchu of Brazil decapitated fallen enemies and elaborately prepared the heads for display. But the skulls collected 2,000 to 1,500 years ago by…

The Staff God: An Ancient Mystery

IN 2003 RESEARCHERS in Peru’s Patavilca River Valley uncovered a 4,000 year-old-gourd fragment that appears to be the oldest identifiable religious icon in the Americas. The fragment bears the image of the Staff God, which was the main religious figure in South America until the Europeans arrived in 1532. Radiocarbon dating of the gourd to…

Scientists find 4,500-year-old Dental Patient

A MAN FOUND under 12 feet of volcanic ash in Michoacán, Mexico, appears to be the earliest dental patient in the Americas. Scientists estimate that approximately 4,500 years ago, he suffered through multiple painful procedures to have his upper front teeth filed down to make way for a denture, most likely the palate of a jaguar or…

Women Power in the Maya World

IN GUATEMALA’S Laguna del Tigre national park, the dense forest hides many treasures: endangered scarlet macaws flit among the treetops while rare jaguars hunt on the forest floor. Only recently has the world learned about one of the greatest treasures of Laguna del Tigre, a 2,500-year-old city that once stood at the crossroads of the ancient…

Queen of Maya Stelae

AN INTERNATIONAL team of archaeologists has uncovered the earliest known portrait of a Maya woman at the remote city of Naachtun in Northern Guatemala. The image was carved on a stela — a 6-foot high, 3-feet wide stone monument — and dates back to the 4th century A.D., making it 100 years older than any…