Peru archaeologists find a hall for human sacrifice
Archaeologists discovered an ancient ritual ground used by a Pre-Columbian civilization for human sacrifices on Peru’s northern coast.
The finding appears to support existing hypotheses about a ritual known as “the introduction” performed by the Moche people, an agricultural culture that existed between 100 B.C. and 800 A.D.
“There was a great ceremonial hall or passage integrated into the rest of the architecture that establishes the presence of certain figures of the Moche elite and also the practice of complex rituals such as human sacrifice,” Wester told Reuters.
Carlos Wester La Torre, director of the Bruning Museum in Peru and a leader of the dig, said the ceremonial site likely hosted ritual killings of prisoners of war.
Photographs were taken at the site show more than half a dozen skeletons on the floor of the hall.
The remnants of a mural found within the corridor depict three high priests whose ornamentation confirms the involvement of the culture’s political leadership in the ceremony, he said.
His team uncovered a 60-meter-long (197-foot-long) corridor opening up to face three equidistant porticos and five thrones on the archaeological site’s main pyramid.
Peru is believed to be one of the places in the world where agriculture first developed and has hundreds of ancient archaeological sites, including the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
Fossil Found of Ancient Four-Legged Whale that Could Walk on Land
The four-legged creature above resembles an otter or a platypus at first glance. In fact, it’s a 42.6 million-year-old whale with a length of 13 feet. In a new study published in the journal Current Biology, palaeontologists have documented their discovery of this whale ancestor, whose skeleton was unearthed in Peru in 2011.
Named Peregocetus pacificus, which means “the travelling whale that reached the Pacific” in Latin, this recent finding is upending scientists’ understanding of how these creatures evolved and spread around the world millions of years ago.
“This is the first indisputable record of a quadrupedal whale skeleton for the whole Pacific Ocean,” study co-author Olivier Lambert said in a press release.
This ancient whale could walk and swim
Peregocetus had four legs, with small hooves of the tips of its fingers and toes. That adaption, along with the orientation of its hip and leg bones, suggests this whale ancestor could maneuver on land.
Its tail and webbed feet, however, indicate that Peregocetus could swim well, too, much in the same way modern-day otters do. So Lambert and his colleagues categorized the creature as amphibious (meaning it lived partially in water and partially on land).
But that doesn’t mean the animal was good at walking, and “certainly not at running,” according to the Los Angeles Times. It likely ate in the water and only took to solid ground for activities like breeding and giving birth, Lambert told the LA Times.
Palaeontologists uncovered the animal’s bones just inland of Peru’s western coast at a site called Playa Media Luna, a three-hour drive south of Lima.
They excavated the whale’s tail vertebrae, jawbones, some of its spine, and it’s front and hind limbs. The animal’s skeleton suggests it was just over 13 feet long, and there’s evidence it had a pronounced snout filled with sharp teeth for chomping on fish.
Peregocetus’ tail bones appear similar to those of beavers and otters, suggesting that the limb played a large role in swimming, the authors wrote.
Unfortunately, the bones from the tip of Peregocetus’ tail were missing, so the researchers weren’t able to determine whether it had a well-developed tail fluke (like modern whales have) to help propel it through the water.
Whales’ new evolutionary story
Scientists agree that today’s massive, flippered whales evolved from small, four-legged ancestors in south Asia more than 50 million years ago. Fossils from one of the oldest quadrupedal whales that lived 53 million years ago were discovered in India.
The ancient creatures likely migrated west from Asia to Africa and then swam across the Atlantic until they hit the shores of the Americas.
Until now, palaeontologists thought these ancient whales had only made it to North America and hadn’t strayed south.
This is the first time a whale ancestor with four legs has been found in South America. And according to the study authors, Peregocetus might also be the oldest quadrupedal whale found in the Americas.
Whale ancestors with four legs are ample in the North American fossil record. Researchers found a 41.2 million-year-old whale ancestor off the shores of South Carolina in 2014. This led scientists to hypothesize that amphibious whales likely reached North America after leaving Africa’s western shores.
But the discovery of Peregocetus – which is 1.4 million years older than the South Carolina fossil – in Peru suggests that the animal may actually have arrived in South America before spreading to North America.
So the study authors suggest that, contrary to previous ideas, Peregocetus and other whale ancestors likely traveled from Africa to South America. The distance between those was far smaller during the era in which Peregocetus lived – a period called the middle Eocene – than it is today. At the time, the distance between South America and Africa was about half of what it is today.
During the Eocene, North and South America were also separated by ocean, which created a channel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. So the researchers now think that four-legged whales sliced through this gap between the Americas, then traveled north.
The Guardian reports that a 3,200-year-old mural on a mudbrick structure situated near a river in northwestern Peru depicts a knife-wielding spider god associated with rain and fertility.
The image was painted with yellow, grey, and white paint in addition to ochre.
The wall of the 15m x 5m mud-brick structure in the Virú province of Peru’s La Libertad region – was discovered last year after much of the site was destroyed by local farmers trying to extend their avocado and sugarcane plantations.
The archaeologist Régulo Franco Jordán said the shrine’s strategic location near the river had led researchers to believe it had been a temple dedicated to water deities.
“What we have here is a shrine that would have been a ceremonial centre thousands of years ago,” he told Peru’s La República newspaper.
“The spider on the shrine is associated with water and was an incredibly important animal in pre-Hispanic cultures, which lived according to a ceremonial calendar. It’s likely that there was a special, sacred water ceremony held between January and March when the rains came down from the higher areas.”
According to the archaeologists, about 60% of the complex, which lies 500km north of Lima, was destroyed in November last year when farmers in the region used heavy machinery to try to extend their crop fields.
Jordán has named the temple Tomabalito after the nearby archaeological site known as El Castillo de Tomabal.
“The site has been registered and the discovery will be covered up until the [Covid] pandemic is over and it can be properly investigated,” he told La República.
The spider god is not the only ancient animal artwork to have appeared in Peru over recent months.
In October last year, the form of an enormous cat, dated to between 200 BC and 100 BC, emerged during work to improve access to one of the hills that overlook the country’s famous Nazca line geoglyphs.
Chinese Skeletons Found in Ancient Peruvian Pyramid
Archaeologists exploring Peru’s pre-Colombian past recently unearthed a glimpse of a less prominent chapter in the Andean country’s history – the remains of 16 Chinese labourers from around the turn of the last century.
The bodies, thought to be those of indentured workers brought to Peru to replace slave labour, were found buried at the top of an adobe pyramid first used by the ancient Ichma people, Roxana Gomez, the lead archaeologist of the site, said in a statement.
Peru was one of the biggest destinations for Chinese labour in Latin America in the 20th century, a market that thrived after slavery was abolished in the country in 1854.
The Chinese found at the Bellavista pyramid in Lima were buried in the late 1800s and early 1900s and had likely picked cotton at a nearby plantation in “very difficult” conditions, said Gomez.
In a possible sign of how the Chinese gradually emerged from dire poverty in Peru, the first 11 bodies were shrouded in cloth and placed in the ground, while the last five wore blue-green jackets and were buried in wooden coffins, Gomez said.
“In one Chinese coffin, an opium pipe and a small ceramic vessel were included in the funerary ensemble,” said Gomez.
Chinese labourers in the 20th century were generally not allowed to be buried at Lima’s Catholic cemeteries, forcing them to improvise burial sites, according to Peru’s Culture Ministry.
The remains of Chinese labourers were previously found in Lima at other adobe pyramids known as “huacas.” Built by the indigenous societies that once ruled much of Peru’s Pacific coast, huacas were used as administrative and religious centres where members of the elite were often buried with gold objects, ceramics or human sacrifices.
Gomez said the huacas had a sacred association that might have made them attractive places for burial by Chinese labourers.
The Bellavista Huaca was occupied by Ichma starting in about 1000 A.D. and was later annexed by the Incan empire until the arrival of Spanish conquerors who deemed huacas blasphemous.
Italian immigrants later kept vineyards at the base of the site, Gomez added.
“The best way to understand our history is as a continuum of different cultures,” said Gomez.
The Oldest City in The Americas Is an Archeological Wonder, And It’s Under Invasion
The oldest archaeological site in the Americas, having survived for 5,000 years, is under threat from squatters that claim that the coronavirus pandemic has left them with no other option but to occupy the sacred city.
The government wants to take all of the items found from archaeological sites for national security. Because of this, Ruth Shady, who archives the items before, and after she is done, she has been threatened with death.
Archaeologists told an AFP team visiting Caral that squatter invasions and destruction began in March when the pandemic forced a nationwide lockdown.
“There are people who come and invade this site, which is state property, and they use it to plant,” archaeologist Daniel Mayta told AFP.
“It’s hugely harmful because they’re destroying 5,000-year-old cultural evidence.”
Caral is situated in the valley of the Supe river some 182 kilometres (110 miles) north of the capital Lima and 20km from the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Developed between 3,000 and 1,800 BCE in an arid desert, Caral is the cradle of civilization in the Americas. Its people were contemporaries of Pharaonic Egypt and the great Mesopotamian civilizations. It pre-dates the far better known Inca empire by 45 centuries.
None of that mattered to the squatters, though, who took advantage of the minimal police surveillance during 107 days of lockdown to take over 10 hectares of the Chupacigarro archaeological site and plant avocados, fruit trees, and lima beans.
“The families don’t want to leave,” said Mayta, 36.
“We explained to them that this site is a (UNESCO) World Heritage site and what they’re doing is serious and could see them go to jail.”
Shady is the director of the Caral archaeological zone and has been managing the investigations since 1996 when excavations began. She says that land traffickers – who occupy state or protected land illegally to sell it for private gain – are behind the invasions.
“We’re receiving threats from people who are taking advantage of the pandemic conditions to occupy archaeological sites and invade them to establish huts and till the land with machinery … they destroy everything they come across,” said Shady.
“One day they called the lawyer who works with us and told him they were going to kill him with me and bury us five meters underground” if the archaeological work continued at the site.
Shady, 74, has spent the last quarter of a century in Caral trying to bring back to life the social history and legacy of the civilization, such as how the construction techniques they used resisted earthquakes.
“These structures up to five thousand years old have remained stable up to the present and structural engineers from Peru and Japan will apply that technology,” said Shady.
The Caral inhabitants understood that they lived in the seismic territory. Their structures had baskets filled with stones at the base that cushioned the movement of the ground and prevented the construction from collapsing. The threats have forced Shady to live in Lima under protection. She was given the Order of Merit by the government last week for services to the nation.
“We’re doing what we can to ensure that neither your health nor your life is at risk due to the effects of the threats you’re receiving,” Peru’s President Francisco Sagasti told her at the ceremony.
Caral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009. It spans 66 hectares and is dominated by seven stone pyramids that appear to light up when the sun’s rays fall on them. The civilization is believed to have been peaceful and used neither weapons nor ramparts.
Closed due to the pandemic, Caral reopened to tourists in October and costs just US$3 to visit. During the lockdown, several archaeological pieces were looted in the area and in July police arrested two people for partially destroying a site containing mummies and ceramics.
An unusual pre-Hispanic chimú burial was discovered in Peru
In an archaeological discovery in Peru, a pre-Hispanic burial belonging to the Chimu Culture was discovered on Wednesday by government workers who carried out domestic gas connection works very close to an urban area in the city of Chimbote, in the Ancash district.
Juan Lopez Marchena, head of the Decentralized Culture Directorate (DDC) of Chimbote, clarified that the skeletal remains belonged to an individual who was found in a flexed ventral ulna position along with three vessels.
“Following the studies and analyses, we will be able to know part of the pre-Hispanic history of the people at that time, the gender of the individual, the diet, the occupation, as well as information about the vessels associated with the find,” he told Andina news agency.
According to Lopez, the vessels were apparently destined for domestic use, and —on the inside— there was evidence of the presence of piruros, which the Chimu women used to spin wool.
“The vessels feature characteristic circles of the Chimu Culture, which settled mainly in Casma,” he mentioned.
Rich and millenary peoples
The discovery occurred in the shantytown of Bolivar. Before that —also while gas installation works were being carried out— a burial of the Moche Culture was found in the shantytown of San Pedro.
These discoveries are important for this reason, he said, because “we are building a cultural sequence.”
“Two finds have been reported, and they are very important because they indicate how rich and millenary different peoples in Chimbote can be,” he stressed.
The remains will be taken to the Max Uhle Museum, located in the city of Casma. They will be analyzed, and the results will be significant for the investigation of pre-Hispanic Peru.
Mass-Murder Under The Silvery Light Of The Moon
One aspect of the Chimú culture, which the Spanish conquistadors couldn’t forgive, was the mass-sacrifice of captive adult warriors at the Temple of the Moon, just a few miles from Chan Chan. However, this was way less horrific than the Chimú elite’s institutionalized killing of babies and children.
In a 2019 National Geographic article Dr. Gabriel Prieto, a professor of archaeology from the National University of Trujillo, discussed a shocking discovery in Huanchaquito, a hamlet on the north coast of Peru.
In 2011 he discovered the broken bodies of “269 children between the ages of five and 14.” More than 500 years ago these children were systematically murdered in “carefully orchestrated acts of a ritual sacrifice that may be unprecedented in world history,” said Dr. Preito.
Chan Chan’s sustained success depended on carefully managed irrigation systems and coastal fisheries. This means a severe El Niño weather event might have shaken the political and economic stability of the Chimú kingdom.
It is thought that the priests and leaders may have ordered the mass sacrifice of these children in a desperate attempt to persuade the gods to stop the rains and flooding caused by an El Niño.
Jane Eva Baxter, an anthropology professor at DePaul University, said the Chimú people probably considered their children as the most valuable offerings they could present to the gods and Dr. Prieto said this number of children (269) would have been “a massive investment on behalf of the state”.
A recent discovery in Peru uncovered an ancient and very old settlement that dates back more than five thousand years to a period long before Europeans settled in the Americas.
Archaeologists say the site, uncovered amid a complex of ruins known as Sechin Bajo, is a major discovery that could help reshape their understanding of the continent’s pre-Columbian history.
Carbon dating by a German and Peruvian excavation team indicates that the circular plaza is at least 5,500 years old, dating to about 3,500 BC, said Cesar Perez, an archaeologist at Peru’s National Institute of Culture who supervised the dig.
That would make it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Sechin Bajo, 230 miles north of the capital, Lima, thus eclipses the ancient Peruvian citadel of Caral, some 5,000 years old, as the New World’s oldest known settlement.
“This has tremendous importance, both in Peru and internationally,” Perez said by cellphone from the area. “We think it’s the oldest urban site found in the Americas.”
Word of the discovery was first published Sunday in the Peruvian daily El Comercio.
“The findings in Sechin Bajo, especially in the buried circular plaza, have demonstrated that there is construction from 5,500 years ago,” Peter R. Fuchs, a German archaeologist who worked at the site, told the newspaper. “Whoever built Sechin Bajo had a good knowledge of architecture and construction.”
Much of the hidden plaza was uncovered this year, and a great deal of excavation remains to be done, Perez said. Relatively little is known about the people who lived there.
The plaza, 33 to 39 feet across, may have been a site for gatherings, perhaps a kind of ceremonial centre. It was built of rocks and adobe bricks.
Successive cultures lived in the area and built over the site.
Earlier finds in the Sechin Bajo area, in the Casma Valley of Peru’s Ancash region, had been dated at more than 3,000 years old. But the circular plaza pushes the area’s settlement date back considerably.
Peru is perhaps best known to outsiders as the cradle of the Inca empire, which stretched from modern-day Chile to Ecuador. But the Incas were relative latecomers in Peru’s long history of human settlement, rising to prominence in the 15th century before being conquered by the Spanish in the early 16th century.
Before the Inca, Peru was home to various civilizations that left a rich legacy of ruins, pottery, tombs and artefacts. Teams of archaeologists are at work throughout the country, including the bustling capital.
Scientists say settlements were beginning to grow in Peru about the time of urbanization in such cradles of civilization as Mesopotamia, Egypt and India.
Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in the Americas
A complex of American pyramids that may be older than the pyramids of Egypt stands on a high, dry terrace overlooking a lush river valley in the Andes Mountains of Peru. These structures are remnants of the ancient city of Caral, which some have called the oldest society in the Americas.
According to groundbreaking research published in Science back in 2001, Caral was founded around 5,000 years ago. That origin date places it before the Egyptian pyramids in Africa and roughly 4,000 years before the Incan Empire rose to power on the South American continent. That history, and the sheer scope of the site, prompted UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural.
Caral sits in the Supe Valley, a region of Peru’s high desert nestled between the rainforest, mountains and the Pacific coast. The valley is brimming with ancient monumental architecture. And in the decades since Caral first made headlines, archaeologists working in the region have turned up about 18 nearby cities, some of which may be even older.
Taken together, these ancient people represent a complex culture now called Norte Chico. These people lived at a time when cities were on Earth, and perhaps non-existent elsewhere in the so-called New World. Even more incredible is that the civilization pre-dated the invention of ceramic pottery by some six centuries, yet they could master the technological prowess required to build monumental pyramids.
Much remains a mystery about this culture, but if archaeologists can unlock the secrets of Caral and its ancient neighbours, they may be able to understand the origins of Andean civilizations — and the emergence of the first American cities.
The Pyramids of Caral
A German archaeologist named Max Uhle first stumbled across Caral in 1905 during a wide-ranging study of ancient Peruvian cities and cemeteries. The site piqued his interest, but Uhle didn’t realize the large hills in front of him were actually pyramids. Archaeologists only made that discovery in the 1970s. And even then, it took another two decades before Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady kicked off systematic excavations of the region.
In 1993, working on weekends with the help of her students, Shady began a two-year survey of the Supe Valley that would ultimately yield a staggering 18 distinct settlements. No one knew how old they were, but the cities’ similarities and more primitive technologies implied a single, ancient culture that predated all others in the region.
By 1996, Shady’s work attracted a small fund from the National Geographic Society, which was enough to launch her Caral Archaeological Project working at the heart of the main city itself.
And when her team’s initial results were published in 2001, their study set the narrative for Caral as we still appreciate it today. The global press heralded it as the first city in the Americas. “Caral … was a thriving metropolis as Egypt’s great pyramids were being built,” Smithsonian Magazine reported. The BBC said the find offered hope to a century-long archaeological search for a “mother city” — a culture’s true first transition from tribal family units into urban life. Such a discovery could help explain why humanity made the leap.
Ruth’s work would make her an icon in Peruvian archaeology. As a 2006 feature in Discover put it, “She has dug [Caral’s] buildings out of the dust and pried cash from the grip of reluctant benefactors. She has endured poverty, political intrigue, and even gunfire (her bum knee is a souvenir of an apparent attempted carjacking near the dig site) in the pursuit of her mission.”
She continues to study the ancient society today, eking out new clues buried in the desert. Over decades, her long-running project has revealed that the “Sacred City of Caral-Supe” covers roughly 1,500 acres of surprisingly complex and well-preserved architecture. At its height, Caral was home to thousands of people and featured six pyramids, sunken circular courts, monumental stone architecture and large platform mounts made of earth. To researchers, these buildings are a testament to a forgotten ceremonial and religious system.
She now holds honorary doctorate degrees from five universities and a Medal of Honor from Peru’s congress. In November of 2020, the BBC named her to their 100 Women of 2020 list.
But controversy has also emerged in the two decades since the seminal study. Shady had a falling out with her co-authors in the years after their publication that turned nasty. Soon, other researchers had also started producing radiocarbon dates from the ancient cities that surround Caral. Surprisingly, some of those dates suggest they could be even older. Those dates could simply be evidence that these cities all existed simultaneously as part of a larger culture in this valley in the Andes. Or, it could be a sign that the true oldest city has yet to be found.
Influence on the Inca
Whichever city in the area is oldest, Norte Chico presents a puzzle for human history. Until recent years, conventional wisdom held that people first reached North America in earnest 13,000 years ago via a land bridge that appeared as the Ice Age thawed. A steady stream of sites older than that has since been found. In Peru, human remains have shown that hunter-gatherers lived in the region as far back as at least 12,000 years ago. And there are traces of settlements along the Pacific Coast from 7,000 years ago. The residents of Caral were likely the ancestors of these people who decided to settle down and build cities in the Supe Valley.
But why would the mother city of the Americas emerge so early in South America? Well-known sites in North America, like the cities of the Olmec, as well as Chaco Canyon and Moundville, weren’t built until thousands of years later.
To archaeologists, unlocking the story of Caral — and what became of the people who lived there — could carry implications for the story of the Americas as a whole. The Caral civilization survived for nearly a millennium, until, some researchers suspect, climate change wiped it out. But the people and their ideas didn’t disappear. Scientists see Caral’s influence in cultures that lived long after they were gone. All along the Peruvian coast, there are signs of mounds, circular structures and urban plans similar to those at Caral.
Archaeologists also found a khipu (or quipu) recording device at the site. For thousands of years after Caral’s demise, and throughout the Inca Empire, cultures in the Andes would use this system of knots as a kind of recorded language unlike any other known in the world.
The genetic heritage of the Caral people may also survive even today. A sweeping genetic study of modern Peru, published in Nature in 2013, showed that despite the Spanish influence, people in many regions of the nation can trace their genetic heritage all the way back to the first settlers of South America. It’s a line that runs right through Caral.