A creature dating back 2,000 years has been uncovered by stunned archaeologists with its feathers perfectly preserved.
The mummified macaw, whose beak and bright green feathers can be clearly observed in pictures, was found near San Francisco de Borja, a town in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.
It was unearthed by pure chance after a rancher brought in construction workers to level a cave on his property.
The workers discovered the parrot and the rancher stopped construction and contacted archaeologist Emiliano Gallaga of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Dr Gallaga believes the specimen is the oldest of its kind, with tests revealing it dates back 2,000 years – 800 years older than the next earliest example.
Experts believe the birds – not local to the area – were being imported earlier than previously thought, perhaps as status symbols.
The skeleton of an infant human and the lower half of a man with his legs tied together were also found with the macaw, along with a set of stone arrowheads, textiles and other artefacts.
Dr Gallaga said it was the first time such a discovery had been made in Chihuahua outside of the Paquimé dig site, 187 miles to the north.
He said: “This tells us that macaws were very important for the pre-Hispanic communities way before the appearance of the Paquime site in 1130 AD.
“Also, it tells us that macaws in particular and birds in general were very important animals for the collective imagination of the pre-Hispanic communities.
“This could be for economic reasons – the colourful feathers, for example, where some of the colours like blue are associated with water, and red with blood and life.
“It could be for religious reasons, as magical entities that serve as middle men between men and gods in heaven.
“They could also be ceremonial items – sacrifices and offerings – social animals like pets, or status items.
“In addition, this is one of very few that is mummified – if not the first.”
Dr Gallaga, who is director of the institute’s School of Anthropology North of Mexico, says the creature is a type of military macaw.
It’s a medium sized macaw that’s still in existence today, though it is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.