6 Archaeological Discoveries Scarier Than Any Horror Movie
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 ...
Pits 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.
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?
Thing T. Thing's long lost ancestors?
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!
Frozen 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.
Of all the careers in which stumbling across human remains constitutes a kick-ass day at the office, archaeology is the only one. So you can imagine the excitement when, back in the early 2000s, researchers discovered not one, but two curiously well-preserved skeletons beneath the ruins of a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age settlement in the Scottish Highlands.
Even the skeleton has assumed the fetal position for what's coming next.
The skeletons were soon identified as a male and a female. However, after more than 10 years of studying them, professor of biomedical archaeology at the University of Manchester Terry Brown finally realized what had been bugging him about them for so long: certain pieces didn't seem to fit quite right. So Brown decided to pull DNA samples from various bones of the female skeleton, presumably while an undergrad stood right behind him whispering "Chi, chi, chi! Ha, ha, ha!"
What he discovered was that they hadn't found two skeletons at all -- they'd found two nightmare Voltrons painstakingly pieced together from six different corpses.
Need a hug?
Further study showed that, prior to being assembled, the bodies were first submerged in a peat bog (as we've mentioned before, bogs have the amazing dual ability to both mummify human remains and utterly destroy the pants you're wearing when you see the results). Now, here's where the whole thing reaches Clive-Barker-esque levels of fuckedupness: whoever tinkered up these Franken-skeletons knew that, while bogs are great at preventing decomposition, they aren't so great for bones (the acidic environment eventually breaks down calcium). So in order to get the bones just right, they must have plopped all those bodies into the bog, let them simmer in there for around a year, then fished them back out of the muck before assembling their Ravensburger puzzle for young cenobites.
Why would they go through all that trouble? Hell if researchers know. But given the fact that the composite bodies weren't buried until 300 to 600 years after they died, and the Scottish Highlands' known preponderance of immortals, we've got our suspicions (someone should question Sean Connery about this, is what we're saying).
The Scene of a Mass Cannibal Attack
In 1994, deep within the murky depths of El Sidron, a cave system in Northwest Spain, researchers discovered the desiccated remains of 12 Neanderthals. If that sounds like the spooky lead-in voiceover of a horror movie trailer, that's because this particular archaeological scene is one that could convince Hollywood that they've been casting cavemen all wrong as the slapstick stars of insurance commercials and children's cartoons, when their true calling is that of villains that could make Leatherface pee his suede panties.
You see, this wasn't some random collection of individuals; it was an entire family (three kids, three teenagers, and six adults). And the researchers hadn't stumbled across some kind of prehistoric caveman graveyard, either -- all 12 individuals had died suddenly, at the very same time.
One light bulb seems entirely inadequate for exploring a cave that is haunted by 12 cavemen.
But what could possibly cause an entire family of 12 to die at once? Flash cave flood? Venomous dino cave worms? No, nothing like that. The cause of these Neanderthals' deaths was, in fact, another band of Neanderthals. But this wasn't some long-forgotten battle of an ancient caveman war, or the aftermath of an overzealous game of cave football -- the solution to this prehistoric murder case was, unfortunately, much more gastronomic. This family, it turns out, was straight-up hunted for food.
"They appear to have been killed and eaten, with their bones and skulls split open to extract the marrow, tongue and brains," said Dr. Carles Lalueza-Fox, one of the researchers who have been studying the remains at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona for the past 13 years. And if his exceedingly detailed description didn't flip your gross-out switch yet, consider the fact that this was a full-on zombie-style buffet; there was no evidence of a fire, so the victims were devoured raw and with a vigor approaching that of the Sunday crowd at the local Sizzler.
There was considerably less hair in the entrees, though.
Dr. Lalueza-Fox went on to posit that the find was most likely evidence of a bloody confrontation between two rival Neanderthal gangs -- you know, like the Bloods and the Crips, if the Bloods and the Crips slurped the marrow from each other's bones after pulling a drive-by.
The Genocide Pit
"Mutilated and processed" is a phrase that you only ever hope to read on the label of your favorite lunch meat. Wait, no. That's not a phrase that you ever hope to read in any context whatsoever, but especially not in the one in which we're about to use it. You've been warned.
Sacred Ridge in Colorado is an ancient Native American settlement consisting of 22 pit houses. Pit houses, in case you're not familiar with them, are pretty much exactly what they sound like: a home constructed by digging a pit into the ground and assembling a roof over top of it. On the list of foreboding things, they rank fairly low.
Unless you imagine that giant anthropomorphic ants lived in them, which they totally did.
But one day, as they were cataloging the usual pots and tools and petrified turds and such, researchers stumbled straight into a conundrum: they didn't have enough room on their checklist for the stupid amount of two-headed axes spattered in human blood that they were finding. Oh, and on a related note, the pit homes were absolutely filthy with (here it comes) "mutilated and processed" human bodies.
Bribable maids with questionable morals hadn't yet been invented.
In what must have looked like the aftermath of a horrific explosion at an old-timey chainsaw factory, 33 people had been diced into nearly 15,000 horror nuggets scattered all over Sacred Ridge. In case you're no good at word problems (or Nightmare Math wasn't a required subject when you went to school): to arrive at this answer, you take each person and divide them by around 450 (with an ax).
As if that wasn't bad enough, there's also evidence that, before being butchered, burned, and pulverized, the victims were hobbled (yes, like in Misery) and generally beaten about the feet and ankles, because that's an asshole thing to do. And if you still don't feel like you need a Clorox shower, take a gander at this: even with the astounding number of human bits scattered about all willy-nilly, some were conspicuously missing -- because the killers took heads, hands and feet as souvenirs.
An "I went to the massacre at Sacred Ridge and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" shirt isn't good enough for some people, we guess.
So what happened here, exactly? The superlative failure of history's very first sausage factory? Nope -- by analyzing the teeth and whatever other parts of the victims could be pieced back together, researchers discovered that they were of a different ethnic group than the other residents at Sacred Ridge, meaning that what we have here is a case of good old-fashioned genocide.
Future archaeologists may one day dig up that sentence and display it in a museum as history's most egregious misuse of the term "good old-fashioned."
(Modern) Petrified People Parts
The thing about human artifacts is that we're still cranking them out. So you don't necessarily have to sift through an eon's worth of dust to find something that'll haunt you to the end of your days. Do you think archaeologists a couple hundred years from now won't be completely aghast when they use their telekinesis app to lift a relic from the rubble of current civilization, only to discover that it's a My Little Pony-themed fleshlight?
Case in point: Girolamo Segato.
His wallet says "Creepy Motherfucker" on it.
Just a couple centuries ago, Segato was either one of the batshittedest or most brilliant bastards ever to raise a stethoscope, depending on your level of squeamishness. He remains the only man in history to petrify another human being via methods that modern science can only determine to be "fuck, magic, we guess."
So in a way, it's fitting that he practiced it on house elves.
The Italian naturalist and part-time cartographer was also an avid traveler. Inspired by the mummies he saw on a tour of Egypt, the 26-year-old Segato decided he'd like to pursue creeping people right the hell out for a living. So he devised a method by which he could turn dead people to stone -- you know, as one does. Many of his specimens have survived, and you can virtually peruse them at the Anatomical Museum of the University of Florence. Be warned, however -- apparently, the only thing that floated Segato's boat more than playing Medusa was playing with nipples, and some of the samples there could quite possibly ruin boobs for you.
This person stared at them for too long.
Modern science has been able to determine that Segato injected some unknown chemical mixture that infiltrated even the tiniest of blood vessels -- meaning that whatever he did, he did it when the subject was freshly deceased -- but beyond that, no one knows how in the everloving fuck he pulled off his flesh-to-stone transmogrification.
Chances are it'll stay that way, too. Segato once destroyed all of his notes in fear of someone stealing his technique, and he died unexpectedly at 44. Sadly, the sole practitioner of human petrifaction took his unique knowledge with him to his grave.
Some might say it wasn't so much "sadly" as it was "Oh thank God"-ly.
OK, everyone would say that.
Beneath a monument of Segato's visage (which depicts snakes growing out of his head, because subtlety hadn't been invented yet), his tomb in Florence reads "Here lies decayed Girolamo Segato from Belluno, who could have been totally petrified if his art had not died with him." You know what they say: one man's art is everyone else's horror.
Imagine being trapped aboard the doomed Titanic on an icy Atlantic. . . with the walking dead. Check out Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon's Deck Z: The Titanic.
Through November 26, 2017, use Amazon promo code GIFTBOOK17 at checkout to get $5 of a printed book purchase of $20 or more! (excludes products sold by third-party sellers)