World news: Peruvian rituals, ancient African trade, and terracotta warrriors

A round-up of the some of the latest archaeological discoveries from across the globe.

Rebuilding bodies in Peru

Nearly 200 examples of human vertebrae threaded on to reed posts have been identified by archaeologists working in the Chincha Valley on the southern coast of Peru, whose research has recently been published in Antiquity ( The area was home from c.AD 1,000 to c.AD 1400 to the Chincha Kingdom, which was eventually incorporated into the Inca empire, and nearly all of the ‘vertebrae-on-posts’ were found within or close to chullpas – indigenous graves, hundreds of which are scattered around the valley.

Image: C O’Shea.

The remains are thought to be associated with a period of instability in the region, when famines and epidemics reduced the local population from 30,000 heads of households in 1533 to just 979 in 1583, and the majority of the vertebrae-on-posts have been radiocarbon dated to between 1545 and 1650. The same period saw indigenous graves looted and destroyed by European colonists seeking gold, silver, and the suppression of local customs, and the researchers have suggested that the vertebrae-on-posts – most of which feature the remains of single individuals – could have been assembled by local people attempting to restore the bodily integrity of their ancestors following looting.

Ancient African social networks

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute have compiled the largest-ever database of ostrich eggshell beads – the oldest fully manufactured ornaments in the world – using more than 1,500 ancient beads from the last 50,000 years.

Ostrich eggshell beads were produced in a variety of styles by different cultures, but the researchers found that the technology is likely to have originated in eastern Africa, before spreading south between 50,000 and 33,000 years ago. Indeed, comparing the objects gathered in their database, the researchers found that ancient populations in eastern and southern Africa were using nearly identical beads, suggesting they were connected by a long-distance social network.

Analysis of the data also shed light on the breakdown of regional networks across Africa, and possible connections between this phenomenon and global climate change.

The results of the decade-long research project were published in Nature (

Terracotta warriors found in China

Twenty new terracotta warriors belonging to the famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang have been uncovered by archaeologists in Xi’an, China. The c.8,000-strong sculpture army, found in 1974 in several pits forming part of a large mortuary complex, was created 2,200 years ago to accompany the emperor into the afterlife. The new discoveries, found as well-preserved fragments in Pit 1 (which contains the main part of the army), include at least one general-like figure and another depicting a middle-ranking officer. Excavations are ongoing, and the newly unearthed figures are being restored and conserved at the Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum.