Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The first Americans and Who They Were – Part III

Continuing from the previous two posts regarding the change in understanding of archaeology and anthropology as to the earliest cultures of the Americas and their location in the area of Andean Peru in South America, many sites pre-dating those of Mesoamerica by millennia.
As stated in the last post, archaeologists and anthropologist tend to have their minds made up about certain tenets and canon, using that information to interpret what they find. As an example, they see a slab of rock in the middle of a room and interpret it as a ritual table where human sacrifice was conducted rather than an altar where sacred rituals were performed; or a large amount of broken pottery is found and the archaeologist decides this was an area of a large amount of people as opposed to there simply being unskilled potters.
    In fact, the prominent British archaeologist, paleolinguist and professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, Colin Renfrew, admitted that the archaeological establishment was often "set in its ways and resistant to radical new ideas,” while Garret G. Fagan, Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Penn State University, and author of a book on “How archaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public, has said, “In the academic archaeological community, longstanding, well-entrenched positions will take considerable effort and particularly compelling data to overturn.”
    Consequently, when we discuss the archaeological sites uncovered in Andean South America, we are faced with ideas and beliefs that have often been stated by several archaeologists and anthropologists that these sites date no earlier than 1800 B.C., and many much later. These dates have been used for some time to show that Andean South America is basically contemporary with the development in Mesoamerica, specifically the oldest of the former no earlier than that of the Olmec dates in Mesoamerica.
    However, recent dating by many archaeologists conducting current work there have confirmed the age of these coastal sites to be much older than 1800 B.C., as old as 4000 B.C. and even older because of several new and remarkable finds. It has been found that in these areas, along the central and northern coast of Peru, where river rock is quite plentiful, the early builders used rock-filled bags weighing from 40 to 100 pounds per bag, to fill in the base of their pyramids and platforms, rather than mud bricks or sand and rubble as found elsewhere.
    These bags are called shicra bags, because they are made of vegetation—durable long shicra grass gathered in the mountains and braided into loosely meshed bags—that can be radiocarbon dated. Thus, the earliest sites in Peru are now pushed back to beyond 4000 B.C., deeper into the Pre-Ceramic Period and far older than anything in Mesoamerica.
Shicras, or woven fiber bags (yellow arrows) of vegetable fiber or cotton, have been found in many of the recently discovered structures. The shicras were woven from cotton or grass and used to carry rocks and fill to build the monuments. The stones were not dumped out of the bags however once brought to the site, the bags were then left in place in construction (much like a sand bag is used today). The majority of the carbon dates have come from dating these organic shicra bags
    To erect their structures, they perfected the "shirca-bag" technique, by which armies of workers would gather a long, durable grass known as shicra in the highlands above the city, tie the grass strands into loosely meshed bags, fill the bags with boulders, and then pack the trenches behind each successive retaining wall of the step pyramids with the stone-filled bags. In this way, using the bags as landfill, anchoring and reinforcing the structure at each stage, the people in these sites were able to build pyramids up to 70 feet tall.
    Archaeologists, rocked the archaeological world in 2000 when, uncovering these bags, were able to carbon date the vegetation in the weaving. Through this means, the site at Caral, which covers 165 acres and one of the largest in Peru, was dated to the same period as the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and those of Egypt—about 4700 years old. This meant that Caral was the oldest city and site in all of the Western Hemisphere.
    Then in 2007, radio-carbon dates again rocked the archaeological community when a similar site located just south of Caral in the Huaura valley suggested that Caral may not be the oldest city in the New World. The site, called Bandurria, has similar architecture to Caral (and 18 other near-identical sites in the Supe Valley) including a sunken circular plaza, stairways and other structures, which were constructed in a symmetrical pattern. According to Alejandro Chu Barrera, the director of the Archaeological Project of Bandurria, radio-carbon analysis has dated the site to 3200 B.C.
    Though the earliest cities in Peru have been located on or near the coast, contemporaneous late Pre-Ceramic sites have also been discovered in the highlands. The architectural style and painted reliefs of these sites point to an entirely different tradition (known as the Mito Tradition). The site of Kotosh (2000-1800BC), located in the Central Highlands, has several different architectural features. These features include interior wall niches and mud-relief friezes, which decorate the temple walls, featuring coiled serpents and mud sculptures with two pairs of arms crossed.
Left: Adobe reliefs in the Temple of the Crossed Hands; Right: Uncovering the sculptured head at Huaca del los Reyes
    These mud sculptures are the earliest examples of sculptures in the Americas and give Kotosh the nickname "The Temple of the Crossed Hands." The crossed arm designs on the temple walls are believed to be the earliest example of "duality," a central theme that was represented in Andean Ideology all the way down through the time of the Incas. One set of arms has the left hand crossed over the right while the other pair on the opposite wall have the right hand over the left. It has been suggested that one pair of arms may represent the feminine because of their smaller size, while the larger arms represent the masculine.
    The temples at Kotosh are also lacking in the sunken and rounded plaza features of the coastal sites. Several similar sites, including La Galgada, Piruru, and Wairajirca have a comparable architectural theme. The material culture recovered by archaeologists can be explained by an underlying religious ideology, which archaeologists have dubbed "The Kotosh Religious Tradition." It is believed the architectural features of Kotosh and similar sites were constructed primarily for religious purposes, specifically for the burning of different offerings. Structures were purposefully covered after offerings were burned. This practice, now called "temple entombment," is demonstrated in all sites representing the Kotosh Religious Tradition.
Though there are two distinctive cultures that make up the earliest sites, which feature monumental architecture in Peru, there is evidence that these cultures interacted and traded. Fishing in the highland rivers is relatively unproductive, making the maritime resources of the coast a commodity in highland sites. The coastal sites also had access to salt, which has been found in burial offerings in several highland sites. In return, highland staple foods such as cuy (guinea pig) remains, quinoa, maize and potato have been found at coastal sites.
    The Supe valley lays claim to the earliest cities, but the Chicama and Rimac Valleys have the largest concentration of early corporate constructions. Due to their proximity to the coast and an abundance of maritime resources, these valleys became the cradle of the earliest civilizations in the New World. Between 3000-1800 BC large architectural complexes sprung up in coastal Peru while a contemporaneous yet different complex developed in the highlands.
These impressive acts of construction are markers for complex and organized societies. The earliest dates for these cities have been radio-carbon dated to 3200 BC (around the time the pyramids of Egypt were first being constructed). Not only do these monuments represent the societies' religious ideologies, but they also represent a high degree of planning and an organized labor force. These civilizations, which are the earliest in the New World, laid the ground work for the extraordinary cultures which were to come.
    In the posts that follow, the numerous sites of the earliest Americans and their cultures will be presented. Though most archaeological and anthropological works of the past still cling to later dates, these recent findings show, without question, that the sites in Andean Peru are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere and, as such, match them to the first peoples to inhabit the Americas since the Flood—the Jaredites, Nephites and Mulekites.

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