Monday, March 16, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Ventarrón

In 2007, a temple housing the oldest murals in the Americas, dated to 2000 B.C., was discovered near the town of Ventarrón, Peru. The temple’s unique iconography and clay block construction provide evidence of a previously undocumented civilization—a seminal precursor to complex society in Northern Peru.
    Located in a valley, the complex covers about 27,000 square feet, and lies about 12 miles from Sipan, a religious and political center of the later Moche culture, and about 470 miles north of Lima. What may be the oldest documented mural in the Americas has been found inside the 4,000-year-old temple in the Lambayeque region on the northern Peruvian coast.  One mural depicts a deer caught in a net, another has an abstract design in red and white that zigzags across one wall.
Part of the red and white abstract uncovered in the Ventarrón structure
    Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva, director of the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum, and who discovered the looted site, claimed Ventarrón mural and structures predate Sipán by nearly 2,000 years. “The structures were made from primitive materials but were relatively sophisticated and were artistically elaborate,” he added.
    Despite the simplicity of the building techniques, dried mud without stone, gravel, or straw filler, the building was decorated with red and white exterior paint and internal rooms contain polychrome murals adjacent to a fire-blackened altar and a ten-foot high chimney—a prominent symbol that leads to the label “fire-temple,” a well known feature of later Andean ceremonial architecture in which people burned offerings to the gods.
    The stylized rendering that runs across two full walls of the deer snared in a net runs deep in Andean iconography, being symbolic of the primordial hunt and man’s first offering to the gods. This captured deer image symbol was still being used 2,000 years later by the Moche—no doubt, along with the fire altar and chimney, a continuation of the Ventarrón culture as it progressed over the years into an advanced civilization that archaeologists tend to give a separate cultural designation, but in reality merely suggest one continuing civilization, like that of the Nephites. 
His team found the wall paintings after discovering a staircase leading up to a hidden altar, where a second red-and-white wall painting was also found. The stairway caught their attention because it is an architectural oddity in that region. Also strange, the temple was built from blocks of river sediment rather than adobe or stone, which Ignacio Alva Meneses, son of the famed Walter Alva who discovered the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, said were “Construction characteristics that have not been seen before in northern Peru.” The site was built by a culture that predated other pre-Columbian cultures such as the Cupisnique, Chavinoide, Chavín, and Moche.
    Daniel H. Sandweiss, an anthropology professor at the University of Maine, said the discovery was significant—and also sheds light on a long-standing mystery. "The Lamabayeque valley complex is the largest extent of irrigable land on the Peruvian coast and offered many attractive resources for hunter-gatherer-fishers before irrigation agriculture.” However, preceramic occupations were virtually unknown there, even though most of the Peruvian coast has an abundant preceramic record.
The artifacts found in Ventarrón suggest that the region of Lambayeque was a cultural exchange point between Peru's Pacific coast and other regions. Alva’s team, as an example, found ceremonial offerings including the skeletons of a parrot and a monkey that would have come from Peru's jungle regions. They also found shells that would have come from coastal Ecuador, he said.
    Michael E. Moseley, an anthropologist at the University of Florida, was not involved in the research, but added, "Dr. Alva has a track record for unique discoveries, and his latest unearthing of ancient temple murals greatly enlightens understanding of the vibrance of ceremonialism in native America millennia ago."
Luis Jaime Castillo, an archaeologist at Peru's Catholic University in Lima, agreed the finding is important. "It suggests that societies in their formative period, the period before complex societies came into being, extended into the northern reaches of Peru earlier than we thought."
    Kelly Hearn of National Geographic Magazine explained that the finding was also fortuitous given the site's recent history. Over the years, Ventarrón has been almost totally destroyed by locals digging for materials to make adobe buildings and livestock corrals. The tomb at Ventarrón was ransacked in 1990 and 1992, but the raiders failed to find the staircase leading to the temple.  
    Archeologists on site have engaged many of Ventarrón’s community members in the temple’s excavation—empowering them as stewards of their cultural heritage. Following a similar ethic, the design and planning processes will rely heavily upon local knowledge and community contribution, and building projects will be constructed by community members, from locally sourced materials. Current plans include a museum, a community center, a clinic, schools, a central plaza, demonstration gardens, water supply and sanitation infrastructure.
    Also found at the site to the side of the temple is a series of rooms that are shaped like the ancient Andean 12-point symbol called the Chacana—also known as the Andean Cross (Spanish: the Cruz Andina).
The Chicana design, symbolizing the Tree of Life, this stepped cross is made up of an equal-armed cross indicating the cardinal points of the compass, representing the Hana Pacha (upper world of superior gods), Kay Pacha (world of everyday existence) and Ucu or Urin Pacha (underworld or spirits of dead ancestors)
    The three worlds of the ancient Andean Chicana are described in animals as Underworld (snake), Current World (Puma) and Upper World (Condor). Garcisalo de la Vega, known as El Ynga (The Inca), the half Inca prince and half Spanish historian wrote of this cross found in Cuzco after the Conquest and was a pre-Inca symbol bearing cultural and spiritual interpretations, and was originally found in pre-Columbian artifacts as textiles and ceramics, and two carved monoliths surviving in Ollantaytambo, and sixteen pointed crosses were found in Tiwanaku.
    While no one really knows the actual meaning of these so-called crosses, what they stood for or why they were used, the point is that they permeate throughout ancient Peruvian cultures in textile, ceramic, and even building designs. They exist and had some meaning or purpose. Again, the point is that once again an iconographic symbol shows an obvious continuation of a theme through separate so-called cultures and time periods, suggesting that there is more reason to tie these varying cultures together into one overall civilization, such as the Nephites, than into separate, uninvolved and non-connected cultures as archaeology does.
As the Peruvian author Tupaq Katari once wrote: “When I hear you foreigners, with ease and lightness talking of the Andean themes, this surprises me, since we here in Peru continually try to find details about our own history, which is very complex and you argue so lightness without a historical or experiential support of what are the Andes and its diversity.”
    Might not the Book of Mormon have more to do with the actual history of Peru than all the varying, conflicting and “lightness” of modern historians, scholars, archaeologists and anthropologists?

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