Washington, May 10 : An ancient burial site in Colombia, uncovered by builders clearing land for a housing project, has revealed 1,000 ancient tombs linked to two little-known civilizations.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the tombs range in date from around the first century to the 16th century AD, based on analysis of pottery found with the remains.
The site covers some 12 acres (5 hectares) in the impoverished Usme district in southeast Bogota.
The first 500 years of the site's use date to the so-called Herrera period, when several small, obscure groups thrived in this region of the Andean highlands during the development of agriculture.
"The agriculture became more intensive, more systematic at this time," said Ana Maria Groot, one of the lead anthropologists from the National University of Colombia working at the site. We have high expectations about finding what kinds of plants they cultivated," she added.
From around AD 500 to 1500, the site seems to have been occupied by the Muisca, another culture that is one of Colombia's most important but least understood civilizations.
"Rife with artifacts from both periods, the Usme site is a potential treasure trove of information," said Groot.
According to Groot, a settlement like Usme offers the chance to research the settlement's development through different moments in a prolonged occupation. "We can identify those changes as expressed in their cultural practices," she said. "Ongoing analysis should reveal more about life expectancy, diet, disease, and other aspects of daily life and social organization in the settlement," she added.
The site includes one set of remains that some researchers believe could be a victim of human sacrifice.
The possible victim is a young woman who seems to have been buried alive, according to Groot.
"Her mouth is open as if in terror, and her hands seem contracted as if she had tried grabbing hold of something," said Groot.
"Another tomb contains the remains of a man with a curved tibia, or shinbone, possible evidence that the man was a shaman," she added.
According to Groot's colleague, Virgilio Becerra, Spanish observers in the 1500s wrote of indigenous shamans spending long periods in caves with no exposure to sunlight.
A lack of sunlight would produce a shortage of vitamin D, causing curving of the bones, he explained.
"If the period that each tomb belongs to can be identified, even if they are in a poor state, it would be an invaluable amount of information about this Muisca population," said Guillermo Cock, an archaeologist.