Funny Bones

It’s not everyday in a zoo that you find a human skull. Particularly when all you were trying to do was to install a fountain.

The construction team had only been digging for a few hours, hitting the ground of the wolf enclosure repeatedly with their spades, when one of the men noticed a discoloured grey object poking out from beneath their feet.

It was not just a skull either, it was a full blown skeleton. The head, face down in the yellow dirt, was still attached to a spine and a splintery looking ribcage. There were even shapes in the soil that looked suspiciously like legs.

The men did the only thing they thought was sensible, they quickly covered it up again and hoped that it would go away.

The next morning the workers found themselves in an awkward predicament. They still needed to put in the fountain.

Since the overturned earth indicated clearly where the skeleton was lurking they decided to just dig around it.

It took even less time on this occasion for a spade to crunch into something that none of the team wanted to see.

There were more bones. In fact there were two skeletons lying only a few metres from the first. Thoroughly spooked the men decided it was probably time to report what was happening.

It was late morning by the time that the director, Dr Ignacio Idalsoaga, found out that he had three dead bodies in his zoo and that as far as anyone knew, none had been put there as food.

Within hours the Chilean police arrived to tape off the area, carefully watched from a distance by a pack of grey wolves.

The bones were over 2,000 years old. Forensic anthropologists concluded that the skeletons belonged to family group of Bato people. Men and women who once lived nomadic lives, hunting and gathering in the green valleys and Andean highlands of central Chile.

Not much is known is about their lives and customs of the Bato apart from the fact that they wore the tembetá, a winged disk made of ceramic or stone, in their lower lips. The Bato tended to bury the dead under their houses, so the area had probably once been a settlement.

The forensics team also said that there were another three or four skeletons still waiting to be found. There is an ancient burial ground under the zoo.

But instead of worrying over the storyline of the Poltergeist film, the zoo is celebrating. The discovery could mean that Buin Zoo may become Chile’s first Biopark.

Bioparks must show nature in all its forms. This means human history and culture as well the usual plants and animals. But before the zoo can claim that title it needs to raise a few million for the excavation.

In the meantime this Bato family’s last resting place will be guarded by a pack of wolves. Unsurprisingly, no-one seems that concerned about grave robbers.

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