Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Aspero

Aspero (meaning “rough”) is a large Late Preceramic site located in the Supe Valley of Peru, on the arid north-central coast, and part of the Chico-Norte-Caral-Supe tradition of mound construction. Aspero covers an area of 35 acres and is composed of two huge platform mounds: Huaca de los Sacrificios and Huaca de los Idolos, along with 15 other smaller mounds.
The complex has ceremonial buildings, plazas, terraces, and large middens. Caches were found in these structures including clay figurines, wooden bowls, feathers, cotton, string and cane objects. Because of the many fish hooks and nets found there, and the fact it is close to the Pacific Ocean, the diet of Aspero is believed to have been primarily maritime.
    Research at the site led to the controversial "Maritime Foundations of Andean culture" theory, which is held by some scholars, including Michael Moseley, which argues that complex societies in Peru developed from a non-agricultural tradition, based on fishery and maritime resources, such as fishing, shellfish collecting, and hunting sea mammals, rather than agriculture; however, the idea is widely disputed by other scholars who claim there is evidence of earlier, inland sites where irrigation agriculture was widespread.
    Carbon dating of the communal structures of the local sites surrounding the Supe Valley places Aspero within 3700 to 2500 B.C. or the middle to late Archaic Period. These connections have led archeologists to believe that Aspero wasn't mainly a maritime culture, but an agriculture based community with more local maritime traits. Meaning Aspero exploited the trade and knowledge of agriculture from the inland sites; such as Caral and Lurihuasi. These new dates not only provide an insight in how Aspero developed, it also shows the cultural connection that Aspero had with its neighboring sites in the Norte Chico area, that spread across several valleys.
Aspero is located at the mouth of the Supe river, close to the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the probably agricultural side of Aspero, the people also depended on fishing, shellfish collecting and hunting sea mammals
    Plants cultivated by Aspero's inhabitants included guayaba, pacae, achira, beans, squash, sweet potato, avocado and peanuts. It is also likely that Aspero, along with other early coastal settlements, had intense social relations with inland communities with whom it exchanged agricultural products, not locally available.
    Ceremonial buildings at Aspero, such as the Huaca del los Sacrificios and Huaca de los Idolos, represent some of the oldest example of public architecture in the Americas. Some archaeologists believe that these constructions were the result of corporate efforts that brought together different communities to create a communal place for rituals and public ceremonies.
Left: Huaca de los Idolos; Right: Huaca de los Sacrificios
    The largest of these structure is the Huaca of the Idolos, which is more than 32 feet high, and measured 131 feet by 98 feet. The raised platform features basalt block masonry, along with cobble and adobe constructions. The main structure atop the mounds present several enclosed rooms and courts. The outer platform walls are often covered with a surface of plaster and are occasionally painted.
    The name, Huaca de los Idolos, comes from an offering of several human figurines (interpreted as idols) recovered from the top of the platform. Huaca de los Sacrificios, instead, owes its name to two burials, a child and an adult, found in one of the rooms on the top of the platform. The remains of the adult burial were very disturbed, but the child offered much useful information. The body was wrapped in textiles and the head wore a headdress adorned with shells, plant and clay beads. The body was placed into a basket, wrapped into textiles and finally covered with a carved stone basin.
    Archaeological research at Aspero began in 1905, with the work of Max Uhle. Later, in 1940s, Gordon Willey and other archaeologists investigated the site. During the 1960s and 1970s various studies attested the early development of the site and helped assign a Late Preceramic (or Preceramic VI, 2500-2000 B.C.) phase to the ruins.
    Recent investigations of Aspero have revealed much about the effects of el Nino climate and earthquakes on the Caral Supe civilization. In a recent paper, Sandweiss and colleagues documented evidence of damaging earthquakes in most of the buildings, and hypothesize that the combination of catastrophic events led to the eventual downfall of the early civilization.
Left: Near-vertical cracks with several centimeters of lateral separation from earthquake damage in the central ceremonial stairway at Aspero; Right: earthquake-damaged and back-rotated structures on the summits associated with scarp of a large and deep-seated landslide displacing a large volume of material in the southwest quadrant of the temple caused by earthquake shaking
    Aspero, located along the Supe river, directly on the coast, is 32 acres and has 17 mounds (6 of which were centrally located pyramids forming a central plaza) measuring over thirty feet high. The two largest mounds, Huaca de los Sacrificos and Huaca de los Idolos were decorated with clay friezes, had rooms over 100-square feet, and stone walls over a foot thick.
    This is considered the largest concentration of early corporate constructions that existed between the Chicama and the Rimac Valleys (corporate labor construction is defined as a building or architectural feature believed to be the product of an organized work force larger than several nuclear families). The amount of corporate labor structure at Aspero suggests the beginnings of a complex, non-egalitarian society and represents one of the earliest Preceramic period monumental constructions and one of the largest Preceramic period settlements in Peru.
    The Aspero site has 150,000 to 200,000 cubic meters of cultural deposits, both pyramids topped with summit rooms and courts. Both raised platforms had modeled and painted clay friezes, and show evidence of cobble and basalt block masonry and adobe construction. They are composed of successive phases of stone walled rooms, built by progressive infilling of rooms. The outer platform walls are of large, angular basaltic rocks set in adobe mortar with a smooth outer surface coated with plaster and occasionally painted.
    7 million cubic feet of rock was placed in mesh net shicra bags and then put inside the walls. After the builders filled in the walls, they carefully plastered the walls and and painted them red. The Aspero site yielded the earliest date of all Early horizon structures, with dating available for the two largest platform mounds, spanning 4900 to 3970 B.C., with the latest construction dated between 4260 and 3950 B.C.
The isometric reconstruction of the Huaca de los Idolos at Aspero 
    As the scriptural record tells us, the Jaredites had fine-twined linen (Ether10:24) at an early age, as did the Nephites (Alma 1:29). It is interesting that at the site, fine-twined linen was found, some of the earliest found in the Americas. In Andean Peru, ancient people wove cloth using a technique called twining. First the weaver laid out a set of vertical threads called warp threads. Using her fingers, she wove horizontal threads, or weft threads under and over the warp. Sometimes she twisted the weft threads as she worked, or she tied a weft thread to a warp thread. By using threads of different colors, these ancient weavers created images of eagles, snakes and crabs.

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