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Discovery in Peru shows Andes adobe architecture dates back over 5,000 years

By Fernando Gimeno

Lima, Nov 26 (EFE).- The earliest known monumental adobe structure in the Americas has been unearthed from the sand in a desolate, inhospitable desert enclave of Peru’s northern coast, a find that shows that earthen architectural tradition dates back between 5,100 and 5,500 years.

These ancient buildings constructed from adobe – a sun-dried brick made of clay-rich soil and other materials that the great civilizations of Ancient Peru used to make their spectacular buildings – were found under what appeared to be a simple, common dune in the Chao Valley, located 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of the city of Trujillo.

“What we’ve found is the oldest evidence of architecture using this adobe technology,” archaeologist Cecilia Mauricio, who has carried out research in that zone for nearly a decade, told Efe.

Archaeologists from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and the Andean nation’s National University of San Marcos, with the collaboration of researchers from the University of Maine in the United States, were involved in the discovery.

The ancient adobe walls found at Los Morteros archaeological complex are even a thousand years older than the constructions of the Caral-Supe culture, which flourished between 3000-1800 BC in the Supe River valley, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Lima, and is the oldest known advanced civilization in the Americas.

“In Los Morteros, we see in a way a precursor of what will later be Caral, with these fabulous and enormous buildings for antiquity that they have,” said Mauricio, whose research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), that Washington DC-based organization’s official journal, and later cited in Nature.

Adobe was the preferred construction material for some civilizations that dominated the coast of Ancient Peru and perfected this technology.

They include the Chimu culture, whose capital Chan Chan was the largest adobe brick city on earth, and the Moche civilization, known for its Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna adobe brick temples.

“There’s a whole process of evolution and development of knowledge about adobe technology. It wasn’t invented from one moment to the next by the great coastal societies like the Moche, but rather it dates back a long way and we’ve apparently found that starting point,” Mauricio said.

Radar was used to detect an underground structure at the Los Morteros archaeological site measuring 10 meters (33 feet) long, seven meters wide and two meters tall. After it was unearthed, Mauricio and her colleagues were astounded to see that the walls were made of adobe, which was unprecedented for that era.

The archaeologists observed that the adobe bricks were made exclusively of clay and that no other material had been mixed in to provide greater stability, a clear indication that the architectural technique was in its very early stages.

An analysis of the bricks’ composition also showed that the adobes were cut from natural clay deposits located near the mouth of the Chao River and likely created by El Niño flooding.

The researchers determined that the ancient inhabitants of the Chao Valley took advantage of the unusual flooding triggered by El Niño’s torrential rains in Peru’s coastal desert to invent a new means of building monumental structures for communal ceremonies.

“For us El Niño means death and catastrophe, but these phenomena may have been understood another way in pre-Hispanic eras and capitalized upon,” Mauricio said. EFE


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