Andean cross found at Peru temple ruins may be oldest ever
By Carla Samon Ros
Lima, May 15 (EFE).- A group of archaeologists has discovered a nearly 4,000-year-old temple complex on Peru’s central coast that may contain South America’s most ancient “Chakana” (Andean cross) carved into one of its friezes.
That U-shaped ceremonial center, part of the Miraflores archaeological site in the coastal province of Huaral, is located in the lower valley of the Chancay River at a spot some 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Lima.
Now buried under tons of rocks and surrounded by farmland, the temple compound covers an area of around 70 hectares (170 acres) and is made up of a pyramidal structure and two elongated mounds that form a large ceremonial plaza in its center.
The team of archaeologists led by Dr. Pieter Van Dalen Luna of the National University of San Marcos presumes the temple must have been built during the Formative Period of pre-Columbian Peru (also known as the Initial Period and lasting from around 1,800 BCE to 900 BCE) and was likely one of the largest, “if not the largest,” of Peru’s central coast.
“We’ve found walls, corridors, staircases … elements of worship, artifacts used as part of funerary rituals and very early style ceramics,” Van Dalen told Efe.
Most surprisingly, however, during excavation work a few weeks ago on a three-meter-high (10-foot-high) stone and adobe wall, the team of archaeologists discovered an enclosure located in the upper and rear section of the main pyramid.
Within it, they found a “geometrically shaped frieze (with a carving of an Andean Cross, which would be the oldest example of a complete Chakana found in the Andes,” Van Dalen said.
A Chakana, a recurring symbol in Incan and pre-Incan Andean societies, has the shape of a square, stepped, 12-cornered cross and a circular center.
The archaeologists in Miraflores thus far have excavated half of the frieze, but they suspect the cross will be complete. If so, it would be the oldest ever found in Peru and in the entire Andes region.
It also marks the first time a Chakana has been found at an archaeological site on Peru’s central coast, an indication that this sacred icon was revered not only in southern Peru but in the entire Andean region, Van Dalen said.
Experts say this temple served during the Formative Period as a ceremonial center for the worship of water and for that reason its structure faced the source of the Chancay River and faced away from the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
“At certain times of the year, a series of religious activities took place … in which people asked for water, rain for agricultural production,” Van Dalen said.
“The whole population” participated in the rituals, bringing their “excess output for the sustenance of the priestly class” that governed the valley and resided in some sectors of the temple.
Later, due to “social processes possibly driven by climate change or other factors,” this religious compound was abandoned and forgotten, although it was later occupied occasionally by other pre-Inca cultures, such as the Chancay of the Late Intermediate period (1000 CE – 1476 CE).
The Chancay and other later cultures of pre-Columbian Peru kept alive the Andean cross as a symbol that has survived to the present day. EFE