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People living at least 2,000 years ago near the Pacific Coast of what’s now Guatemala crafted massive human sculptures with magnetized foreheads, cheeks and navels. New research provides the first detailed look at how these sculpted body parts were intentionally placed within magnetic fields on large rocks.

Lightning strikes probably magnetized sections of boulders that were later carved into stylized, rotund figures — known as potbellies — at the Guatemalan site of Monte Alto, say Harvard University geoscientist Roger Fu and his colleagues. Artisans may have held naturally magnetized mineral chunks near iron-rich, basalt boulders to find areas in the rock where magnetic forces pushed back, the scientists say in the June Journal of Archaeological Science. Predesignated parts of potbelly figures — which can stand more than 2 meters tall and weigh 10,000 kilograms or more — were then carved at those spots.

a huge stone head

HEADS UP Colossal stone heads from an ancient Guatemalan site contain magnetic fields on the right temple and cheek, spots that apparently held special significance for makers of the sculptures.

R. FU

Potbellies represented dead but still revered ancestors of high-ranking families, suspects art historian Julia Guernsey of the University of Texas at Austin.  Sculptures that repelled magnetized objects would have been seen as demonstrating the presence and authority of deceased ancestors in rapidly expanding societies (SN: 6/1/13, p. 12), she suggests. Fu’s results also indicate that Mesoamericans attributed special powers to certain body parts, such as the face and midsection, Guernsey adds…Read More at

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