Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oldest Monumental Structure in Peru discovered

(Photo from El Comercio/Reuters)

As reported Sunday in the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, and related in several English language sources, archaeologists in Peru have discovered a circular architectural complex at Sechin Bajo, on the Peruvian coast north of Lima dated to approximately 3500 BC. That makes it one of the oldest examples of monumental architecture in the New World.

The oldest remains of complex civilization in South America come from the Peruvian coast, where the remains of mud-brick platforms known as huacas are found grouped symmetrically around a large open plaza or plazas. The earliest of these sites date before the discovery of ceramic technology, at a time when the economy was based on cotton agriculture (as well as peanut and squash) and the exploitation of the rich offshore fishing grounds. Archaeologists not surprisingly call this period the Cotton Preceramic. The usual dates span approximately 2500 to 1500 BC, but discoveries like those at Sechin Bajo are pushing the start of complex civilization earlier and earlier.

These centers probably had populations up to a couple thousand or so. Attention has focused on the large mud-brick huacas, which probably had a ceremonial (and perhaps also a political or social) function, the precise nature of which is unclear, since we lack written records. The platforms were topped by buildings consisting of a series of courtyards and rooms constructed in stone. Some of these structures have painted or sculpted decoration, which is difficult to interpret. Our knowledge is still very limited however, and much remains to be discovered.

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