Favorite recent and insightful quote I have read recently:

Favorite quote I have recently read: "The word temple comes from the Latin templum, which signifies an extended open space that has been marked out for the observation of the sky. In what manner is such a space marked out? According to Dr. Hugh Nibley, the word templum, "designates a building specifically designed for interpreting signs in the heavens--a sort of observatory where one gets one's bearings on the universe." The root "tem-" in Greek and Latin denotes a "cutting" or intersection of two lines at right angles, the point where the "cardo" and "decumanus" cross, hence where the four regions come together." Matthew Brown - "The Gate of Heaven"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Oldest Solar Observatory in the Americas...

We are trying to work out a weekend adventure to get to Chanquillo, also spelled Chankillo. It is north of us on the Peruvian coastal desert plain and is on the way to Chimbote. A few years ago a Yale University archaeologist  from Peru began seriously investigating the site, not for its astronomical significance, but for a very well constructed fortress. For decades, even centuries, no one understood what the 13 stone towers across the top of a prominent hill meant or were used for by the ancients. The scientist who solved the puzzle of the 13 towers is Ivan Ghezzi. Many of his papers are available in PDF format on web.
The 13 stone towers of  Chanquillo
Photos courtesy of Ivan Ghezzi
Since we had visited Caral our interest in archaeoastronomy in Peru has been piqued to some degree. Archaeoastronomy has been defined as the study of beliefs and practices relating to the sky in the past, especially in prehistory, and the uses to which ancient people's knowledge of the skies was utilized.
Sunrise of the Winter Solstice in June 
Chanquillo dates to the 4th Century BC. Archaeologist, Ivan Ghezzi, noted that "research in Peru is constantly pushing back the origins of civilization in the Americas. In this case the complete solar observatory at Chanquillo is the earliest such structure identified." It predates the Mayan observatories by 500 years and the Inca by 1700 years. The peoples who constructed both the solar observatory and the nearby fortress have not been identified as of yet. They predate the Moche/Chimu and followed the Norte Chico. Unlike Caral stone weapons have been recovered from the site. The 13 stone towers gave the locals accurate dates throughout the year within a two or three day accuracy and told them the dates for the summer, winter solstices and the equinox.  That was sufficient for them to plant their crops and to know when other important ceremonial observances should take place.
The hill of the 13 stone towers with the added artist's demarcation. A similar
observatory is opposite the hill for the sunset.
A film crew from the BBC with narrator Brian Cox has visited the site and filmed the rising sun at Chanquillo. The video can be viewed with Professor Cox's narrative at this BBC site for science and the environment. 
The fortress
Chanquillo, in addition to the fortress, includes a large ceremonial center. Altogether it  covers almost a square mile. Its 13 stone towers stretching a thousand feet across the hilltop draws visitors to the site.  Maybe we can watch and video a sunset. Dr. Ghezzi concluded the fortress was likely used for ceremonial purposes, rather than for valley defenses for a number of reasons.
The 13 solar towers as seen from the fortress
Today we confirmed the names of three different tour operators and guides that might be willing to take us there. Our next post about Chanquillo will have our own photos and images from the site.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Caral -- The Oldest City in the Americas

Because of the Peruvian Federal elections the temple was closed on Saturday so we traveled north of Lima for a little more than three hours along the Pan American Highway to our destination of Caral.  We hired Pedro, one of our two favorite taxi drivers for the day. His wife Carmen Rose came along also.  We took almost twelve hours of their day. They speak no English, so it was a nice opportunity to visit as best we could and exhaust our limited vocabularies. RA prepared a great picnic lunch we enjoyed with them.

GF, Pedro, Carmen and RA in front of the Great Pyramid 
There are a number of ruins collectively known as the Caral Supe. It flourished in this Supe River Valley between 5,000 and 4,000 BCE, making it the oldest city in the Americas, thus making it contemporary with the Egyptian Pyramids and the city of Sumer in Mesopotamia. Archaeologists suggest it is one of 30 major population centers of the north central coastal area of Peru of the Norte Chico culture. This civilization was pre-ceramic, meaning no fired pots only carved stone plates along with sunbaked pots and kitchen ware. The society was advanced in many ways  including extensive canal building and irrigation from the Supe River. The area along the river is still farmed today but otherwise it is a very dry and arid place.
Peppers, corn, potatoes and a number of other crops are still farmed today
Estimates are that Caral existed for a thousand years and at its high had a population of 3,000.  Climate change today is eroding a very large dune behind one of the major pyramids exposing ancient burial sites.

The dune in the background is being eroded after 5,000 years

Archaeologists believe the Caral was organized as a huge calendar. Every public building, pyramid, and temple was constructed as homage to a particular deity and each "respects a specific astral position."
The Large Amphitheater
We were shown this carved granite stone with a number of pock marks on it as the entrance of one pyramid that I assumed were just for "non skid" purposes. Our guide book suggests it was a star chart and associated with the activities of observation from the pyramid. Next time we are there maybe I can find Pleiades on this Caral stone star chart. It was an important constellation for ancient peoples in recognizing both the vernal and autumnal equinox. 
The stone with the star chart is closest at the bottom of the photo
Feline forms are constructed into the pyramids, the origination for the much later Incan use of the jaguar. Birds and serpents are also found in the form of stone petroglyphs and carvings. The three symbols of existence for the Inca and Caral were the serpent which represents the underworld or death, while the jaguar is our present existence and the condor or bird represents the future life. We were not allowed into the pyramidal structures to photograph these feline forms and more. Petroglyphs are common in Caral. The ubiquitous and mysterious spiral is found here as many other ancient cultures including the Anasazi of the Southwest US. It seems it was important to the Celtic peoples as well. 

Spiral carved into granite near one of the pyramids.
Oddly, very few weapons have recovered from these sites suggesting to those who know that it was a very peaceful society.  They thrived for approximately a thousand years, but then began moving north to more fertile areas but still extensively used irrigation from rivers to grow their crops. A number of musical instruments have been recovered suggesting music was a very important part of the Caral society. These consisted of flutes and recorders, made from bone, clay, and stone.
Sculture of a male surviving these many millennia
Of significant interest to us were the evidences of archaeoastronomy in Caral. A stone monolith of some 2 meter in height called "La Huanca" was uncovered and connects it with the adjacent Galeria and Huanca Pyramids. It happens the angle of the stone to the tops of the pyramids marks the location of the summer and winter solstices of about 40+ degrees. I have looked for additional information about this angle but have found little so far.

The Huanca stone aligns with the tops of these two pyramids
Also of interest are the temple symbols we found both in Caral and in Machu Picchu. The quadrature of the circle remains a part of many civilizations it seems. Several squares with circles exist in Caral as they are found in our Temple in Bountiful, here in the Lima Temple, and many others. Brother Nibley and others have written about the meaning of the square and the circle in temple worship.
A circular enclosed area inside a square with the accompanying notation that
 it was designed to admit one person at at time
Note the square and the circle of this temple pyramid. This photo was borrowed from a
a book on Caral we purchased in Lima. 
In the residence portion of Caral we noticed this "Inca" looking door construction and found it interesting.  According to our guides at Machu Picchu this shaped door has greater strength in resisting earthquakes so common in the western portion of South America.
Note the doorway or window in the almost tumbled down wall
We want to go back again to Caral as we missed a number of sites within the city ruins including more petroglyphs and temples. 14 miles from Caral on the coast at the mouth of the Supe River is another set of ruins we did not take time to visit.  We have been told by friends the beach and coast, with tide pools and sea life is not unlike La Jolla CA.
*A petroglyph of quipu, a type of ancient writing system continuing
to the Inca where it was lost with the arrival of the conquistadores
Peru remains a fascinating place with an incredible history and great natural resources. The people are industrious and talented. They work very hard to live and exist, especially those outside of immediate prosperous neighborhoods of Lima where we are. The people sent a strong message to the government this past week on election day. The left leaning socialist candidate received a majority of the vote.  A runoff will happen in the next month to determine the direction the country will go.  It seems the theory of trickle down economics  practiced by Peru's recent leadership has benefited a few, but not enough for all the people.

*A post on quipu or the Inca and Caral writing system will happen on another date.