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17 November 2007
Archeologists unearth 4,000-year-old temple in Peru

Archeologists in Peru have unearthed a 4,000-year-old temple on the country's northern coast, making it one of the oldest discoveries of its kind in the Americas. Archeologist Walter Alva said the temple is located inside a larger complex in the Lambayeque Valley, 760 kilometres north of Lima, and located near another site that he had unearthed in the 1980s. The temple, named Ventarron by the team of scientists that uncovered it, includes murals and a staircase that leads up to an altar, likely used for fire worship.
     At a Peruvian government conference this weekend, Alva announced that carbon dating conducted in the United States shows that the mural and temple are 4,000 years old. Alva said Ventarron is unique because of its plethora of murals as well as its construction methods and design. It sits right next to the Sipan site, the religious centre of the Moche culture, which flourished in the northern coast of Peru between 200 BCE and 700 CE. The Moche were adept at irrigation, turning their desert lands into fertile farmlands. Moche society was made up of priest rulers, potters, artisans, farmers, fishermen and weavers. A sophisticated culture, their pottery and jewelry are noted for their fine workmanship.
     Alva's team found a wall painting—which depicts a deer caught in a net—after discovering a staircase leading up to a hidden altar. Another red-and-white wall painting was also found. The stairway caught their attention because it is an architectural oddity in that region, Alva said. Also strange, the temple was built from blocks of river sediment rather than adobe or stone, he said. "These construction characteristics have not been seen before in northern Peru," he said. "Though the construction materials were very primitive, the mural and structures themselves are surprisingly sophisticated and artistically elaborate."
     Daniel H. Sandweiss, an anthropology professor at the University of Maine, said the discovery is significant—and also sheds light on a long-standing mystery. "The Lamabayeque valley complex is the largest extent of irrigable land on the Peruvian coast and offered many attractive resources for hunter-gatherer-fishers before irrigation agriculture," he said. "Yet preceramic occupations were virtually unknown there, even though most of the Peruvian coast has an abundant preceramic record." Alva said some of the artifacts found in Ventarrón suggest that the region of Lambayeque was a cultural exchange point between Peru's Pacific coast and other regions. His team, for example, found ceremonial offerings including the skeletons of a parrot and a monkey that would have come from Peru's jungle regions. They also found shells that would have come from coastal Ecuador, he said.

Source: Reuters, CBC News (11 November 2007), National Gepgraphc News (12 November 2007)

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