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"

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Milestones, the Lima Peru Temple, and Joseph Smith

We mark the end and passing of 2011 in Lima Peru as temple missionaries.  We are more than a week now passed Christmas, the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, and about to enter 2012. The year has gone by quickly as we count down the remaining months until we will leave the work each day, the good friends, this beautiful and incredible land, and return home to Utah. The hardest part for both of us is missing friends, family, and especially the grandkids.  Video chats via FaceTime and Skype bring them closer as compared to prior generations of missionaries using only a telephone or written letters. We are grateful for that.
Christmas 2011 at the Lima Temple
This morning we are off to visit our friend Cesar going to a special market area in old Lima known as La Parada. Cesar has taken us there before and we have found it fascinating. No watches, wallets or cameras in sight are recommended and we don't go there in the evening either. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum from upscale Jockey Plaza filled with its stores and glitz that make it indistinguishable from any other mall in America or Europe.  Our goal today is to find a number of fruits and vegetables that are grown in Peru and sold at this market, including a few different kinds of potatoes or papas that we have not enjoyed before. Also on the list are foods that originated in this hemisphere but have spread elsewhere throughout the world and remarkably did so Pre-Colombian or European.  That is to say, quite an astonishing number of Andean and South American food stuffs and other items traversed both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans prior to the arrival of Spanish, Portuguese conquerers, and English explorers. Multiple tests with gas chromatographic spectroscopic analysis done in European labs have found Peruvian coca or cocaine as well as new world tobacco in the tissues and bones of 3,000 year old Egyptian mummies. The list of goods and items both originating in Peru and arriving here from Asia is significant and merits a post for another day. We'll see how many items we can find in La Parada of things that traversed the ancient world prior to the coming of the Europeans.

This blog site has reached a milestone in recent days in closing out the year having passed more than 10,000 visits since it was launched some 14 months ago. The topics have been, for the most part, narrowly focused on our travels, our life in Peru, and of course the food we enjoy. All of this being outside of the experiences of working in the Lima Temple. Properly so, the things that transpire that RuthAnn and I have shared in that special place remain there and are not to be published here. They remain private to us and are special. They are hidden away in the places of the heart and our souls.

The most widely searched and visited post on the blog is about food. It is clearly the single most searched after topic of anything we have written about or experienced. It is about cebiche, that unique uncooked but processed with a marinade fish I have come to enjoy so very much. Cebiche is also on our weekend schedule to share with our friends the Ramos on Monday. They too are nearing a milestone in their two years as missionaries in the Lima Temple.  When the temple closes again for maintenance in February they will return to their home in Arequipa. We will miss these very good and wonderful friends.

Absent from this blog in 14 months has been any statement or expression on my part about my feelings and thoughts concerning faith and the religious experience that ultimately is the basis and reason we are here and not home enjoying our family and grandchildren among other pursuits. It is therefore appropriate and overdue that I should write several lines to close out this blog for 2011.  Joseph Smith, as much as any man in American history, has been investigated, written about, praised by those who admire him, and maligned by those who oppose him for what he did and has come to represent. I believe he deserves a few lines here based on my personal respect and admiration. No, he was not perfect.  In so many ways he has been found wanting in the court of critical opinion in political or social correctness. But he was perfect, and I am eternally appreciative for him, in his giving it his all -- all that he had and cherished, for his sacrifice to the cause of faith and laying the foundation of this great Latter Day Saint work. I make no apology for him, as he needs none, and I make no apology for my love and belief in him and all that he did and accomplished.  Few people I have associated with, on a non professional historian level at least, over the decades have read more or studied about our history in critical ways than I. Family traditions and stories have been handed down creating a personal link to him through a grandmother in Nauvoo. Some have left the Church over related issues such as ours and lesser matters. My personal court of opinion has weighed all of the information, good and ill. Everything that I have read from and about our history, both within and without, at year's end I raise my voice in respect, love, and 'Praise for the Man.'

With love and affection too, for family and friends with whom we share these things -- We thank you for all that you mean to us, your support, and with anticipation look forward to renewing friendship and association once again.

And here's to you Brother Joseph: http://youtu.be/k5id63Twddk -- a link to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performing their "Praise to the Man."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Earliest Image of God in the Americas?

We recently returned to Caral, the earliest urban center and civilization in the Americas, one of six cradles of civilizations in the world.  We went armed with more information having had benefit of reading and studying about the site and the Norte Chico people who built it. The site is surrounded with controversy pitting archaeologists in Peru and America against each other. The acrimony, finger pointing, and public accusations are only equaled by the current deficit reduction talks between congress and the Obama administration. Claims of plagiarism, sloppy science, and personal aggrandizement have been tossed back and forth between scholars, casting a shadow on future joint projects. A Peruvian scholar by the name of Ruth Shady Solis is responsible for gathering all that we know and have about this important and earliest civilization in the Americas.  Carbon 14 testing and the money to do so came from the USA.
Turistas en Caral. The covered area behind us is a circular chamber 
surrounded by a square retaining wall. Squares encompassing circles are 
common motifs in Caral and elsewhere in the ruins and sites of pre-
Colombian Peru. 
Though Caral was first visited by scientists early in the 20th century it has been largely ignored even by the grave robbers or huaceros as they are known, since no precious metals were to be found. The Norte Chico civilization built it some 5,000 years ago. Additional work, and carbon 14 dating is underway which may push the beginnings of Caral even further back. The people of Caral and other sites on the North coast of Peru were pre-ceramic, meaning they did not fire their pots, only sun dried clay. Without the lure of gold and other treasure to loot, it was left to sleep under the millennia of wind blown sand and El NiƱo rains and flooding. The site is not often visited by foreign tourists and no English speaking guides are provided. We have watched bus loads of Peruvian school children unload at the visitor's center. Caral lacks the appeal and beauty of Machu Picchu and other more well known ruins in Peru for foreign tourists, yet it is a fascinating and remarkable site nevertheless. We plan on returning again to the coastal site of Aspero as we ran out of time on our last two visits. There is a debate whether this nearby sea coast settlement of Aspero rose before Caral or came after. Traditional theory states that for a city to rise, the surrounding lands must be developed for agricultural production to support the division of labor with sufficient daily calorie intake to move or advance from bands of hunter gatherers to city building. Proponents of Aspero first, say it rose ahead of Caral due to the abundance of available marine protein for the diet such as shellfish and sardines. Each theory has its detractors and defenders. At best, all of this is to say that the science of archaeology is evolutionary and subject to change with notice. Theories are continually modified to accommodate the most recent discoveries.  
Our group in front of the Pyramide Mayor in Caral
In order of priority I was impressed with Caral, not because it was as masterfully constructed or as beautiful as Machu Picchu, but because of its unique role and prominence in history. I was struck that there were no defensive structures, barriers, battlements, or walls in Caral. "Imagine all the people" in living for today, (actually for a thousand years), with "no countries, nothing to kill or die for... Scientists have found no weapons, no disfigured skeletons with broken skulls, no victims of war. Shields. body armor, and clubs, the weapons of a warrior class of any kind have been found in the excavations.  It was a peaceful society. Flutes made from pelican bones as well as sunbaked clay versions have been recovered.  In one temple cache 38 instruments believed to be bugles was excavated. This confirms music was a part of their society and religious worship. Have to wonder what their music might have been like. Without a warrior class scientists suggest the motivating factor for the monumental construction of Caral was religion. The religious priest class was supported by literally thousands in the construction of their pyramids and urban centers. In return the masses were assured the beneficence of the Gods bringing water in the Supe River for crop irrigation for adequate crops and harvests.
These flutes were recovered from Caral along with pan flutes and rattles
The earliest image of god recovered in the Americas was found in Caral. It was, or he was, carved into a gourd, and has been dubbed the "staff god" because he carries a staff in the right hand. His left arm terminates in the head of a snake. The experts suggest this early image of a god would be copied and used by successive cultures such as the Chavin and even to the Inca and their god Viracocha. This religious pattern began and emanating from Caral is called the Kotosh Religious Tradition. The serpent, among other icons including the puma/jaguar and condor, played a very important role in many early cultures in South America and throughout the world. These symbols would continue for thousands of years until the Inca were conquered by the Spanish. Moses raised a brass serpent on a staff for the Israelites to look upon to heal them from their encounter with poisonous snakes as found in Numbers 21:8-9. Peru and South America have a number of venomous snakes but most of them are found in the Amazon regions to the north and east.  Coral snakes and vipers are the most common of the poisonous variety though in Caral the bite of any snake would have spread infection and likely resulted in death for its inhabitants. 
Photo Courtesy of Jonathon Haas and The Field Museum. Insert color 
adjusted for clarity. 
The first example of a written language in the Americas was also recovered in Caral, though it is still being debated and explored. Known as Khipu, these strange knotted and twisted cords of cotton string and other fibers were used at least to store data and were perhaps a system of writing. Professor Shady and her group found a cache of items in one of the pyramids of Caral including the khipu. A team at Harvard University has been using sophisticated computer software to try and decode khipu from the Inca but so far it has largely evaded their understanding. No Rosetta Stone has been found to assist in decoding it.  It may have been just a binary system for recording the numbers of alpacas and llamas in the king's or ruler's stable or how much tax was collected during the previous season.  Debate continues as to whether it was actually a written language. It is hard to imagine the Inca, who had an empire controlling some 12 million people, managed to do so without a written language, only khipu.
The builders of the pyramids of Caral seemed to understand seismic design in building their structures. They used packaged rocks in bags called shicras made from reeds and or cotton to fill in between the walls of their pyramids. The incarceration of rocks within a restraining mesh or netting is called a gabion. Today instead of marsh reeds civil engineers use gabions to restrain earth movement and erosion along river banks, the seashore, and freeway overpasses.

Present day use of gabions
Shicra bags were filled with rocks, dragged to the building site, and placed
between walls for seismic stability. 
While we were strolling around Caral I asked our guide Miriam if the duality we have seen represented in other early archaeological sites was present in the temples or huacas of Caral. She responded affirmatively that they are found everywhere.  This just seems to be part of the cosmology and religion of   many ancient peoples. The opposites, the dialectic, or duality of things akin to the yin yang of Asian philosophy was a part of pre-Colombian Peru. For awhile we actually had yin yang symbols as part of the decorative features of the Bountiful Temple until one president had them painted over during a semiannual maintenance closing. They are now lunar phases more in keeping with symbols found on the Salt Lake Temple.
The Pyramide Mayor with symbolic stones representing duality.
Our guide pointed to these stones on the first landing of the great pyramid of Caral. These are the light and dark stones on either side fronting the stairs.

My compass indicated the Huanca and the pyramid in the background would
correspond to sunset of the Summer Solstice of December 22 in the Southern

Caral was laid out to the cardinal directions of the compass. Solstices, both winter and summer, are observed from the two meter tall Huanca Stone. This stone aligns with the tops of the two adjacent pyramids.  Other sites probably signaled astronomical events associated with life; planting, harvesting, and the cycle of life.  The ever present spiral carved into stone in Caral and found throughout neolithic Europe and Celtic sites was part of Caral's mythic lore. Discussion continues and likely will not ever be resolved what it meant to early peoples throughout so much of the world.
The spiral is found carved into stone in one of the steps
leading up a staircase of a pyramid. 
Another stone was pointed out to us by our guide and maybe it is a star chart or map.  It does not represent the location of the home world from which ancient astronauts came to carve the images of Nazca.  Most likely it was a reference for astronomical observances relating to the seasons of planting and harvesting. I am waiting for my friend and knowledgeable astronomer Watson to shed light or confirm the stone is something more than a non skid surface. I am voting it illustrates the Pleiades, known as the Seven Sisters, also the emblem of Subaru automobiles.
About one half of the stone that our guide suggested was a star chart. 

The Constellation Pleiades, M45, or the Seven Sisters
Eventually, as has been suggested by scholars, this earliest city of Caral would be abandoned for the more rich agricultural regions to the north. Altogether, the reasons for the rise of Caral in this relatively dry and desert like environment seem incongruous, supporting the validity of the claim for the maritime foundations of the first civilization at Aspero. For the present at least it lays claim to being the first city of the Americas and it is found here in Peru.