As we've demonstrated before, Hollywood has instilled in each of us a monumental misunderstanding of the practice of archaeology. The tools of the trade aren't so much fedoras, bullwhips, and smartass smirks as they are trowels, hand brooms, and tape measures.
Oh, and crucifixes. And holy water. Maybe a proton pack and some jumbo adult diapers. Why would you need any of that? Because you'll be wishing like hell you had them when you stumbled across ...
6Pits Full of Nothing but Severed Hands
While excavating a 3,600-year-old palace in the once-great city of Avaris, Egypt, a team of archaeologists (after, presumably, fending off no fewer than three vengeful mummies and losing half their team to flesh-hungry scarabs) unearthed four pits. Now, we've already established in previous articles that ancient pits are often wells of unspeakable stuff best left to fade into history with their abominations unmined, but luckily (for the purposes of this article), the researchers decided to keep right on a-diggin' anyway.
"What's in the pits?" you're probably saying right now, in your best angsty Brad Pitt impression. And that's somewhat appropriate, because it's hands. No bodies -- just a bunch of dismembered hands.
Axel Krause/Austrian Archaeological Institute
Possibly giant spiders.
These ancient hand recycling bins were found in the palace of King Khayan of the Hyksos, a West Asian people who once ruled over part of Northern Egypt. While two of the pits were located in an outer portion of the palace, the other two were right smack dab outside the throne room, indicating some ceremonial importance. According to Manfred Bietak, the leader of the excavations, "Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large," further signifying that they were all taken from adult males, and possibly that ancient Egypt was plagued by giants. Also, they're all righties, because even way back then no one wanted anything to do with the freak devil-hand.
So, like, what the hell? Are we unearthing the remnants of history's very first anti-masturbation campaign? The aftermath of some high-stakes forebear to odds and evens?
Actually, these hands are the very first physical evidence archaeologists have found of a practice that's widely represented in ancient Egyptian art, in which soldiers would lop off the right hands of their enemies and present them to their leaders, who would ceremoniously toss the hands into a pit and then unceremoniously toss each soldier a wealth of gold in exchange. By taking the right hand, you were symbolically stealing the source of your enemy's power and literally stealing 50 percent of his ability to flip you off.
"Now, all our enemies: throw your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just d- oh wait."
That's interesting and appropriately brutal and all, but we prefer our theory that the ancient Egyptians once attempted to build an unstoppable army of chainsaw-handed warriors, before embarrassingly realizing that chainsaws were still a good three-and-a-half millennia from being invented. Oopsy!
5Frozen Child Sacrifice Mummies
If there's one lesson we truly took to heart from our time in comedy school, it's that you should never, ever, ever ever, lead off a comedy article with an entry about child sacrifice.
So anyway, Capacocha was an Incan child sacrifice ritual in which only the utmost beautiful of children were chosen to trek to the top of an Andean mountain and freeze to death in order to please the gods. The ritual was often carried out to mark important events, to fend off natural disasters, or because the emperor damn well felt like it. By succumbing to the sacrifice, it was believed that the child would be elevated to the status of deity and achieve immortality. And in a way that's true, since archaeologists are now discovering these eerily well-preserved "ice mummies" and granting them brand new lives (in the mystical land behind your eyelids, while you futilely attempt to sleep tonight).
Probably the most notable of these sacrificial sites was discovered in 1999 on Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina. When Johan Reinhard and his team of high-altitude archaeologists busted into the stacked stone burial chamber near the summit, they found a scene literally frozen in time, complete with untouched ceremonial items and three children who, without closer examination, could easily be mistaken for nappers. These perfectly preserved mummies were dubbed Llullaillaco Maiden, Llullaillaco Boy, and Lightning Girl.
"No fair, why does she get the superhero name?"
While it would be nice to think that these kids willingly sacrificed their lives for what they believed to be the greater good, researchers have uncovered a much more disturbing story. The last year of the children's lives was an incredible whirlwind of lavish ceremonies, pilgrimages to the capital city of Cuzco, extravagant foods ... and an Incan shit-ton of maize beer and coca leaves. Because it's easier to get a kid to accept her fate when she's buzzed out of her goddamn mind, especially when said fate is freezing to death on top of a mountain.
If you're wondering how researchers were able to figure this out in such detail, they did it by testing the Llullaillaco Maiden's hair, which is like a braided history of the final years of her life. And while that's certainly amazing and "fuck yeah, science!" and all that jazz, the part we find most impressive is that they were able to do this ...
Wow, white people really can't resist touching the hair.
... without shitting their cleanroom suit when one of their colleagues belted out her best impression of that ghost girl from The Grudge (come on, you know someone did it). As if we needed any more proof that scientists are stone-cold badasses, that photo is it.