In a puzzling discovery, archaeologists have found heads of babies wrapped in "helmets" made out of the skulls of other children.
A team of researchers excavated the site from 2014 to 2016 and found the two infant burials along with nine other burials in a site in Salango in central Ecuador. The infant skulls date back to 2,100 years.
Nonetheless, what mystified researchers most was the discovery of helmets made out hollowed out skulls of two other unknown children that was put on top of the heads oft he buried infants, seemingly to protect the head.
This is the first time that skulls made of infant humans has been found on other remains. Neither the identities of either of the children nor the causes of their could be established. However, evidence of a volcanic eruption in the vicinity sometime before the time of the burial could indicate environmental change as cause of mass death. However, one of the babies was 18-months-old at death and wore the skull of a child aged 4-12 years. The second baby was just 6 months old and wore the skull of another child aged 2-12 years at the time of death.
Results from the excavation were released in a paper in the Latin American Antiquity journal. According to lead author of the paper Sara Juengst, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, the human-skull helmets could be part of deeper religious or afterlife-related rituals.
The paper stated that the skulls possibly had flesh on them when placed on the heads of the children to be buried. This is evidenced by the fact that without the flesh, the helmet would not have held together the way it did.
Incidentally, another type of bone known as a "hand phalanx" was found wedged between the skull and helmet of one of the infants. Who the bone belonged to or why it was placed there remain unknown.
Apart from the helmets, the heads of the infants were also surrounded by figurines of ancestors which may go on to support the idea of providing protection to the buried infants in their afterlife.
However, the researchers concluded that the findings could also indicate medical rituals and that more evidence was required to further establish facts.