Monday, May 28, 2012

South America’s Animal Shaped Mounds

 Perhaps the most famous effigy mound in the Americas is the gigantic Serpent Mound in Ohio. And it was long thought that these curious structures, constructed by the Adena people, were unique to North America. But a series of mounds has been discovered in several coastal valleys in Peru, and there is evidence that they may be as much as 4,000 years old. And some of them are enormous.

One of the mounds depicts an orca. Another, located in the Chillon Valley, appears to be a condor.  Nearby is a figure that looks like a cross between a cougar and a cayman or alligator. Both seem to be deliberately oriented.  The condor points toward the most extreme orientation of the Milky Way while the cougar-cayman points to where the sun rises on the morning of the June solstice. Two other birdlike figures in the Casma Valley also point toward the June solstice.

The discoverer of the mounds, anthropologist Robert Benfer, formerly of the University of Missouri, found the mounds by studying satellite photographs. He has so far explored only five valleys located along the Peruvian coast. In addition to the large figures, he has found many smaller mounds. He plans to return to the valleys to gather material for radiocarbon dating in order to establish more accurate dates for the sites. He is also eager to explore other valleys along the Peruvian coast in the hope of finding even more effigies.

Here is another interesting fact about these South American mounds. The famous Serpent Mound in Ohio is believed to have been built somewhere between 1000 BC and 1000 AD. If Benfer is right about the age of the Peruvian effigies and they are around 4,000 years old, then they are much older than their North American counterparts. Were these structures built by two different peoples with the same ideas, or was there communication between the two continents? And why would there have been such a lapse in time between the construction of the South American mounds and those built in North America? Hopefully, we’ll find out more sometime in the near future.

There is a photo of the orca mound here

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mysterious Apes in the Republic of Congo

What looks like a chimpanzee, eats like a chimpanzee, seldom climbs trees and makes nests on the ground like a gorilla? The answer is, nobody is quite sure.

Part of the problem in identifying these peculiar animals is that some of their behaviors appear to be more like those of gorillas, which currently do not seem to inhabit the region.

Skulls brought to Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren in 1908 were re-examined in 1970 and anthropologist Colin Groves determined that they were identical to the skulls of western gorillas. A much more recent skull recovered by wildlife photographer and conservationist Karl Ammann had the pronounced forehead ridge characteristic of gorillas while the rest of the skull bore a remarkable resemblance to those of chimpanzees.

Adding to the confusion is the animals’ diet. Unlike gorillas, which generally dine on various types of leaves, analysis fecal material shows that the mystery apes eat a diet rich in fruit.

Efforts are underway to determine whether these animals, known as Bondo mystery apes, are giant chimpanzees, some type of chimpanzee-gorilla hybrid, or an as-yet unidentified new subspecies of great ape. They are reclusive, like gorillas, and no live animals have been captured. Ammann is in the process of habituating a group of these ground-nesting chimps by offering them sugar cane.

The world of the great apes still holds mysteries. Are these animals chimpanzees who have somehow incorporated gorilla-like behaviors into their culture, or are they some completely new type of animal that developed its own unique adaptations to its environment? Karl Ammann is devoting his efforts toward finding answers. It will be interesting to see what he finds out.

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