Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Bandurria

Located along the northern coast of Peru in Huacho of the Huaura province, Bandurria is considered the oldest radiocarbon dated ceremonial site in the Americas, and home to the earliest monumental architecture yet found. It sits along the coast on the plain of a long, sandy beach 86 miles north of Lima, Peru, called Small Beach. The pyramids are located on high ground about 65 feet above sea level, and the site has a similar architecture as that of Caral and 18 other sites in the Supe Valley.
According to archaeologist and anthropologist Alejandro Chu Barrera (left), of San Marcos University and Director of the Archaeological Project of Bandurria, the 133-acre site is considered the origin of ancient Peruvian civilization. In the first mound directly facing the sea was found a large pyramid with a central staircase and circular plaza.
    The site consists of four pyramids rising to heights of 26 to 40 feet that are nearly 5,500 years old, the site dates back to at least 3200 B.C. Excavations have also revealed ancient homes and a cemetery that belonged to a complex society that had developed a tradition of reed and rush weaving, a skill used to produce such objects as mats and baskets before ceramics had even been invented!
In the site on the southern end, covering over 27 acres, was mostly found everyday, domestic activities such as food preparation and buildings used for habitation. About three hundred yards to the north is an area of approximately 50 acres where four stepped pyramids with terraced platforms and six other small mounds are found.
    The largest of these mounds, and the most studied, is a solid structure formed by overlapping platforms that reach over 32 feet high, almost 200 feet wide and 100 feet deep, with a wide staircase in the center leading to the top of the pyramid. In front is a fifty-feet wide circular sunken plaza. This is important because this construction (step pyramid, central staircase and sunken circular plaza) is characteristic of public buildings Precerámico Late period (Late Pre-ceramic from 3,000 to 1,800 BC), in the north-central coast of Peru (also colloquially known as "Northern boy "), which tells us that the society of that time shared many religious customs and forms of political organization with its coastal neighbors, as Caral, Lurinhuasi, Miraya, Vichama, Rough and other far away as La Galgada in the mountains.
    Again, suggesting a tie-in between all these sites of a common culture with numerous characteristics of a connected people, as found among the Nephites in the Book of Mormon.
This main mound, as well as other pyramids and mounds, was built using as the main raw material, boulders united with mud mortar to raise the embankments of the platforms and stairs of the pyramids. Use of this building boulder material, is unique to this pyramid and distinctive of this site, as other contemporary archaeological sites related to Bandurria have been raised using carved stone blocks. Another distinctive element is the absence of "shicras" as a technique for filling platforms, the common technique used in most contemporary sites of the central coast, north-central and northern Peru. This, however, does not suggest a different culture, merely a different method of filling in the pyramid walls. With so much sand in the area, it might seem more likely to use that than find river rocks along more distant areas.
Top: The site of Bandurria as first seen with the pyramids completely covered by sand and dirt: White Arrow: the Bandurria birds; Yellow Arrow: Covered pyramid seen (Below) uncovered. Inset: the black-faced Ibis Bandurria (Theristicus melanopis) found in western South America and especially along the central and  northern coast of Peru
    Bandurria was discovered by Sunday Torero in late 1973, with the first excavations conducted in 1977, and was named by the discoverers after the bird species that inhabits the area. However, it wasn’t until July 2005 that the site began to be excavated by a team of archaeologists and students from San Marcos National University, led by archaeologist Alejandro Chu.
    It is believed that the cold waters of the Pacific Humboldt (Peruvian) Current, before the time of the Bandurria construction, brought a change in climate to the area. As this upwelling current brings cooler water from the Antarctica Current along the Peruvian coast it cools the temperatures changing an otherwise tropical climate to a temperate one and attracting close to the beach species of cold water fish such as anchovy and sardine, which can be fished with nets, which became the staple food of the people of the coast in that historical period, along with horse mackerel, croaker, cojinova, catfish and dogfish, which were caught using string with hooks. Blue mussel, clams and marine mollujsks were also found in large quantities.
    To some researchers like Michael Moseley, it  was the abundance of fish that allowed the large settlement of sedentary human groups on the coast of Peru, before use of agriculture for their livelihoods, though cultivated species such as pepper, cotton, and pumpkin, along with fruit such as guava, lucuma, mate and pacae were found in large quantities.
    The proposal of a fish-oriented culture has been accepted by many other researchers, including Chu, the principal investigator of this site. This reaffirms that subsistence-based fishing and harvesting marine life allowed people to build permanent settlements and the emergence of monumental architecture, like that of Bandurria, for one of the first and oldest in the Americas. However, since agriculture was also known in Peru from the beginning of settlement, growing fruits, tubers, gourd and cotton, which supplemented the other (fish or produce) is a point of conjecture among archaeologists and not all agree with Mosley's marine hypothesis.
A view of the two main mounds from the interior with the ocean beyond; the mound on the right is the main one that has been uncovered and shown in the photos above
    The building of pyramids (stepped structures) made places like Bandurria a ceremonial and political center, which included urban layout with public spaces, such as the circular plazas, as well as private spaces, homes, and places of business. This same development is seen all along the Peruvian coast from Lima northward. Considering that Pachacamac (just outside Lima) was the ancient Nephite city and national capital of Zarahemla, then these buildings to the north made up the Nephite nation within Zarahemla and the lands toward Bountiful. There is no question that Pachacamac was the religious and political center in this matrix, and that the main development of Nephite cities were located along the land between the mountains and the coast within the scriptural record.
    One of the interesting facts discovered in Bandurria is that the household was the basic social unit. Excavations of residential areas at Bandurria revealed a sector of monumental architecture unreported by previous researchers. In the domestic sector, evidence of two types of domestic structures: a quadrangular stone structure associated with a small ceremonial platform and smaller oval hut made of perishable materials. Oval houses were occupied by 2 or so people; the proximity of some oval structures suggests that a household unit consisted of at least two such structures. The quadrangular structure held a larger floor, and was related to ritual activities such as unbaked clay figurines. Estimates of household size indicate five inhabitants for the quadrangular structure. From the analysis of the two types of domestic structures the households at Bandurria were composed of the nuclear families.
Chronologically, both structures were occupied at the same time. The artifact assemblages from the domestic sector exhibit little variety and low density, and all the excavation units share similar artifact types in low proportions.
One significant difference is the presence of figurines depicting human figures found in the quadrangular stone structure. Another difference is the type of access to marine resources. In the monumental sector, excavations were centered in one of the mounds uncovering evidence of architecture made entirely of round cobble stones and mud mortar, and was constructed later than the domestic occupation was in use.
    Interestingly, the results from Bandurria challenge the models that characterize the Late Preceramic society as a complex chiefdom or state. As a result, alternative models have been proposed to fit the domestic data within a larger explanatory framework. Though they would not think so, it seems that little by little archaeologists and anthropologists are getting closer and closer to the understanding of the family, development and cities found in the Book of Mormon.

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