They have discovered the remains of two dead babies wearing the skulls of other dead children in Salango, Ecuador. The horrifying burial ritual dates back between 2,600 to 2,100 years ago, but archaeologists are unsure what the purpose of the ritual was. Experts from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte said one of the infants was around 18 months old, wearing the skull of a child between 4 and 12 years old.
The other baby was just six to 12 months old, wearing the skull of a child who was likely around 12 years old.
Cut marks discovered on the skulls suggest it was removed from the body shortly after the older children’s death, and fashioned so the top and back of the cranium allowed the babies’ faces to still be viewed.
To make the discovery even more gruesome, the researchers believe the skin was left on the skull when they were placed on the babies’ heads.
Lead archaeologist Sara Juengst wrote in an accompanying research paper: “The human head was an important symbol for many of the ancient South American cultures.
“Often, isolated heads were included in funerary contexts, representing enemies, important people and symbolic ‘seeds’.
“In this report, we present a mortuary tradition without known parallels.
“Heads in South America have long been linked with ritual, symbolic, and real power, but these data from Salango present a highly specific mortuary practice in which the infant dead were interred wearing a ‘helmet’ made from crania of other children.
“It seems likely that the modified cranium was still fleshed when it was processed, due to the fact that the extra fragments were positioned in anatomical position, and juvenile crania often do not hold together, depending on the timing of cranial sutural fusion.”
The researchers continued: “The extra crania included with infant burials at Salango may represent an attempt to ensure the protection of these ‘presocial and wild’ souls.
“The surrounding of infant heads by stone ancestor figurines underscores this, indicating a concern with protecting and further empowering the heads.
“We hope that by reporting these burials, similar patterns may be identified in other contexts.”