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24 February 2008
Mysterious pyramid complex discovered in Peru

The remnants of at least ten pyramids have been discovered on the coast of Peru, marking what could be a vast ceremonial site of an ancient, little-known culture, archaeologists say. In January construction crews working in the province of Piura discovered several truncated pyramids and a large adobe platform. Officials from Peru's National Institute of Culture (INC) were dispatched to inspect the discovery. They announced that the complex, which is 2 miles (3.2 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, belonged to the ancient Vicús culture and was likely either a religious center or a cemetery for nobility.
     "We found several partial pyramids, at least ten," said César Santos Sánchez, chief archaeologist for INC's Piura division. "We also found a large adobe platform that we speculate could have been used for burial rituals. But we cannot know without further testing." The platform, measuring 82 feet (25 m) by 98 feet (30 m), was found alongside one of the larger pyramids in the complex. Another of the larger pyramids contained some artifacts as well as bone fragments from a human skull. The fact that the skull fragments were found several meters below the surface, indicating a deep grave that took much time to dig, prompted researchers to theorize that the individual buried there had high social status. The area containing the pyramids is surrounded by a cemetery that has been looted by grave robbers."But the complex itself is intact," Santos said.
     The Vicús was a pre-Hispanic civilization that flourished in Peru's northern coastal desert from 200 BCE to 300 CE and is known for its decorated ceramics. Experts say little is known about the culture, because its sites have been heavily looted over the years. Experts say the Vicús ceramic style is similar in some respects to that of the Moche, a fact that has spawned research on the relationship between the two cultures.
     The Moche civilization flourished in areas south of the Vicús from around 100 CE to 750 CE, producing intricately painted pottery as well as gold ornaments, irrigation systems, and monuments. The two cultures thrived within a relatively short distance of each other—less than that between Los Angeles and San Francisco—experts point out. "It was once thought that Moche was a single monolithic state, but people don't think that is true anymore," said Joanne Pillsbury, an archaeologist at the Washington, D.C.-based Dumbarton Oaks. "It was likely a series of regional or multi-valley kingdoms that shared a broader culture. And Vicús was probably part of that sphere of interaction."

Source: National Geographic News (20 February 2008)

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