Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Earliest Americans— El Paraíso

Known as Huaca El Paraíso (meaning Paradise or Heaven), it is located in the Chilon Valley on the central coast of Peru, approximately two miles inland on the Rio Chillón flood plain and surrounded by over 220 ares of arable land and 370 acres of lowlands capable of sustaining irrigation supported agriculture. It is one of the largest settlements encompassing over 143 acres of land and is just one of six preceramic sites in the Ancón-Chillón Valley, lying just north of La Florida.
    The site has been dated to the pre-ceramic period, though the textiles used to bury an infant at one of the structures is dated to the ceramic period. Uncovered textile fragments consisted primary of cotton yarns that were in natural shades, from white to dark brown, but others were colored in deep reds and two shades of blue. Other centers at this time revealed that dying cotton was not uncommon as yellow, red, bright emerald green and orange dyed textile remains have been found in such Preceramic sites as Huaca Preta, Los Gavilanes, and La Galgada. In addition, two objects were found with an inlay of dark blue stone, resembling lapis lazuli. Other items recovered during excavation work include mats, looped bags, nets, wood and bone artifacts, grinding stones, spindle whorls, stone beads, crude biface tools, a polished stone mirror, and figurine fragments.
The site includes at least 13 mounds, seven of which are still free standing and make up a central group that form a U-shaped plaza, which archaeologist consider to be the prototype for the later, Initial Period architecture. Some researchers of the site believe there are more pyramids that have not yet been uncovered.
    Both El Paraiso and Aspero are especially significant, according to Michael E. Mosely, archaeologist and Director of the Moche Valley Project, since he claims that both support his Maritime hypothesis, i.e., early cultures dependent upon marine life and proving that large complex civilizations could flourish without reliance on agriculture. 
    El Paraíso belongs to the period of general growing social complexity along the Peruvian coast, which saw the introduction and increase in centers with monumental architecture, including indications for increasing trade and greater regional interactions, both up and down the coast, and between groups in low and high elevations. Population estimates of the site range from between 1500 to 3000 people. There was obviously a supply of sufficient food and all other necessities, for at this time huge populations was only made possible with an effective utilization of all available resources, a successful economy and an ordered social structure.
    Situated along the coast, the nearby Pacific Ocean provided fresh fish and other sea food in abundance because of the upwelling currents of the Humboldt (Peruvian) Current, and the special climate with high humidity all year round and low clouds during the winter months in particular, providing for extensive water and allowing for widespread agriculture. With the Chillón river nearby allowing for the development of an effective irrigation system to increase the effectiveness of agriculture.
    Already around 2000 B.C. cotton (for beautifully weaved cloths), maize, yucca, pumpkins, kidney beans, sweat potatoes and fruits like lucúma (lucma) and guava were cultivated. The appearance of ceramics in the Lima region around 1600 B.C. made it possible to cook food directly on the fire and store it.
Shicra bags to carry stones for pyramid fill was found at El Paraiso as in the numerous sites to the north along the coast, as well as the circular structures, show a definite connection from as far north as Trujillo and as far south as Lima, again suggesting a solid connection of these earlier believed separate cultures (more resembling the Nephite nation)
    The importance of El Paraíso as the "largest and earliest example of monumental architecture in the New World," has not resulted in a significant amount of archaeological investigation it should have. The first mention of the site was in the 1950s when Louis Stumer surveyed the Chillón valley and includes it in his report. He initially named it Chuquitanta, after a local hacienda, however this name was later changed to El Paraíso by Fréderick Engel
The El Paraíso condor lines up with this stone sculpted (left) to resemble a condor head. Viewed from the entrance to a 4,000 year old temple of El Paraíso, the sun rises over this pillar during the equinox. Stone condors are common in the Andes; this is the first one found on the coast. Although they appear to be plentiful, researchers overlooked the animal effigies since the first days of scientific archaeology in Peru. It is also interesting that animal carvings and sites have been found all over Peru, from the Andes mountains, to the Nazca desert and now at the coast. As University of Missouri anthropology professor emeritus Robert Benfer put it, “This was the beginning of a very long tradition.”
    This again suggests that the coastal and highlands cultures of Peru, though always considered separate civilizations with nothing in common were far more aligned with one another than archaeologist and anthropologists have led us to believe.
According to Benfer (left), “like the Nazca lines, which include a series of giant animal outlines drawn on the ground to the south, the animal mounds were best observed from a higher vantage point.” Such vantage viewing revealed the shapes of birds, including a giant condor, a 5,000 year-old orca, a duck, and a puma monster seen in bone and rock carvings from the area. “"It was a totally unexpected find," he added. "It's especially unexpected to archaeologists like me who had walked over some of these sites before without realizing what we walked over." Benfer went on to add: "The finding of animal effigy mounds where there were none before changes our conception of early Peruvian prehistory." That prehistory seems to connect much of the already discovered cultures of ancient Peru into a more closely involved civilization as is found in the Book of Mormon among the Nephites.
Even though El Paraíso was named the largest and earliest example of monumental architecture in the New World, today little archaeological investigation and excavation was done at this important ancient complex and therefore little is known about the life of Lima's ancient inhabitants. It is believe that the complex consisted of as many as 15 pyramidal structures, though today many are still just big hills of dirt.
    Recently, a new investigation and excavation project led by Mark Guillen started at El Paraiso. And already, just 3 months later, a groundbreaking discovery was announced. Archaeologists found an ancient temple located next to the main temple of El Paraíso. First excavations uncovered an underground ceremonial center comprising of 4 levels each older than the other. The construction is believed to have been built around 3000 BC. The inside discovered fireplace where presumably offerings were burnt earned the ceremonial center the name "Templo el Fuego" (Fire Temple).
    The temple walls were made of stone and covered in fine yellow clay, which also contained some traces of red paint, and showed even more that the communities in the Late Pre-ceramic Age were more closely connected than had been previously thought. According to Peru’s Deputy Minister for Culture Rafael Varon said, “the temple was the first structure of its kind to be found on Peru’s central coast and corroborates that the region around Lima was a focus for the civilization of the Andean territory, further bolstering its religious, economic and political important since times immemorial.”
    This site is only a dozen miles from Pachacamac, which we consider to be the city of Zarahemla—the Nephi nation’s capital for more than 600 years. The project is financed until 2017, so we may be learning much more about these early Peruvians sometime soon.

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