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Strange Discovery Made in Mexican Cave, Including Mummified Macaw, Baby and Adult Remains

Strange Discovery Made in Mexican Cave, Including Mummified Macaw, Baby and Adult Remains


Archaeologists are accustomed to finding evidence of funeral practices around the world, but every once in a while, something they find surprises them. This was the case with a recent discovery in Mexico, in which experts were confronted with a Pre-Hispanic burial of a mummified macaw and a baby, amongst other interesting artifacts.

A press release by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) details how the discovery was made. It says that when Manuel Rodríguez and his son, residents of San Francisco de Borja, Chihuahua, Mexico were leveling the floor of a cave on their property they made a startling discovery. The father and son first came across the remains of the naturally mummified macaw and some other archaeological materials. After discovering the artifacts, they notified members of the School of Anthropology and History Northern Mexico (EAHNM). Aarchaeologists were soon sent out to investigate the findings – the first of their kind in the area.

Upon arrival at the cave, Seeker reports that the experts unearthed a large amount of artifacts including two human skulls, a textile, deerskin, baskets, a large sea shell, and the naturally mummified head of a macaw.

The local residents told the archaeologists that there was more to the macaw’s remains when they first unearthed the bird, but they only had the head to give the authorities. Unfortunately, the rest of the bird’s remains were swept away by the earth-moving machinery and thus it’s out of context, making it difficult to say for certain if the macaw was really buried at the same time as the human remains.

The naturally mummified macaw head found in the cave in Chihuahua, Mexico.

The naturally mummified macaw head found in the cave in Chihuahua, Mexico. (Emiliano Gallaga/INAH)

"We assume the villagers hit upon a funerary context. It is possible that the macaw was part of the burial offering and is probable that was a pet of at least one of the two individuals," Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta, director of the EAHNM, told Discovery News.

Referring to some information provided by the INAH, The History Blog explains part of the significance of the macaw for Pre-Hispanic cultures in Mexico.:

“Macaws were prized in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. They had to be imported as they are not native to the north, so were extremely expensive. Their large size and soaring flight connected them symbolically to the sun, and their brilliant green-blue plumage was associated with lifegiving rain and water. By the Middle Period of Paquimé, macaws were being bred there for use in rituals and in commercial goods.”

All of the remains are believed to pre-date the Paquimé period (700 - 1450 AD). The INAH report adds that human hair and cotton string were found amongst the first set of artifacts. These discoveries intrigued the experts and led them to excavate more of the cave floor and they dug another section 25 meters (82 ft.) long and one meter (3 ft.) wide.

According to the INAH press release, the list of the second set of finds includes: walls of a reed and mud wattle housing structure including a hand print from when they were made (early-mid archaic period), a charred corn cob, coal, burnt beans, 30 arrow points from the middle archaic period or early agricultural period (2500/1000 BC- 700 AD), coprolites (fossilized human feces), a complete gourd, and ropes.

1) Archaic corn, 2) Gourd, 3) Textile, 4) Deerskin, 5) Possible basket base.

1) Archaic corn, 2) Gourd, 3) Textile, 4) Deerskin, 5) Possible basket base. (Emiliano Gallaga INAH)

Then, the archaeologists also found two more strange burials. Seeker reports that one of the sets of remains included “Small pieces of human bones on a rabbit skin [indicating] that a small baby had also been buried there.”

The second set of remains was even more intriguing and archaeologists believe it may be evidence of a re-burial. As Gallaga said:

"Placed against the cave all the way to the rock, there were two bone legs tied with a rope. We believe they belonged to a rather tall adult […] The pelvis of the adult was very fragmented, so we need to wait until it is restored to establish whether the individual was a male or a female. It is also too early to tell whether the adult and baby were related […] It is possible the human remains were originally interred somewhere else and re-buried in the cave sometime later. However, we do not know why only half of the body was buried."

Excavating the remains of the pelvis.

Excavating the remains of the pelvis. (Emiliano Gallaga/INAH)

Altogether, the discoveries have strengthened the belief that there was a connection between the coastal region and Chihuahua since ancient times. In particular, the discovery of the mummified macaw and shell from the Gulf of California support this idea. The rest of the artifacts are said to be local.

The remains are still being analyzed and restored, so further information should come to light on the cave and its interesting collection of artifacts in the future.

Top Image: A group of artifacts that were found in the Mexican cave including skulls, a macaw head, bones and a large shell. Source: INAH

By Alicia McDermott



I am sorry, but your experts are wrong. The Scarlet macaw Ara macao macao (South American subspecies) and Ara macao cyanoptera (Central American subspecies) are both most scarlet red. Their entire head, neck chest, shoulders and legs are red. They have no tracks on their face. The rhinotheca is an off white and black. The gnathotheca is black. These keratin covers seem to have come off leaving the bone exposed. The head has black tracks on the facial patch, green feather on most of the head with some orange on the back of the neck. In another picture I have seen of the head, there appears to be red on the forehead. This is an indication that the bird was either a Military macaw, Ara militaris, or a Buffon, also called a Great green, Ara ambigua. The characteristics that distinguishes these to species from each other are not visible. They are eye color, and tail color. The Buffons is a paler shade of green and rare individuals may have yellow on the back of neck. The shade of green and the orange on the back of the neck makes me suspect that this is a Buffon. Perhaps the orange color is something that has disappeared during the course of evolution. Just some guesses on my part, but I am 100% certain that the bird was not a Scarlet.

Alicia McDermott's picture

Hi Kashmir,

Thanks for the question. The INAH report says that the experts identified the macaw as a scarlet macaw. I agree it is a shame that the body was not recovered as well.



I can't figure out what kind of macaw this is? My guess is that the beak is black and faded over time or the keratin has come off. It has black tracks on its face. That narrows it down to Blue and Gold, Military and Buffons. The shape of the head is like a Blue and Gold, but the feathers are green. Wait a minute--- what gives with the orange on the back of the head? It is too bad the body was destroyed.

I wonder if the Macaw ever spoke to them.. ? :) that would be funny, way back then, a bird, responds one day to someone; who never suspected a bird could repeat what it hears, In Any language..
The Spock in me must admit.. "Fascinating" ! :)

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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