Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Buena Vista and Chankillo: Oldest Peruvian Observatories – Part III

Continued from the previous post regarding what additionally was found at Buena Vista and what it had to do with the early Peruvians who settled this area.
    As has been stated, early settlers in an area, especially one completely void of any previous landmarks or sky-views, would automatically require a way to determine the dates, specifically the planting and harvesting seasons in order to provide for food over the long term, especially to provide for an upcoming winter, when game is not plentiful and starvation looms on the horizon. This is difficult for most modern people to think much about its importance since almost anyone today can obtain food quite easily throughout the year at the corner grocery store or vast supermarkets.
    However, when Lehi landed, the first thing they would have done is explore their area for a suitable place for planting, particularly near drinkable and potable water. Once that was done, then they would have sent out hunting parties to obtain immediate food while others tilled the ground and planted the seeds they brought from Jerusalem. In addition, they would have done some exploring of the vicinity of their landing and settlement site to ascertain what dangers might present themselves, what natural resources were available, such as a sustained water supply and timber for whatever building they intended, and means for shelter beyond their tents over a longer term.
    To determine when to plant, they would have to know such things as time of the year, weather conditions in the land they settled, when the solstices would occur so they could anticipate the changing of the seasons in this new land. Assuming they landed in Chile, they would have been in the Southern Hemisphere, thus around June 20 to 22 is when the Winter Solstice arrived, or the shortest day of the year.
The Winter Solstice, known as hibernal solstice or as midwinter, would have occurred in mid-year in the Southern Hemisphere for Lehi rather than in December to which he was more familiar, which means their entire planting regime had to be changed from what had been the winter to now what had been the summer months

While Lehi had been used to the winter months of January to April being what the ancients often referred to as the “famine months,” now the Nephites had to switch to July to October as those winter famine months. In addition, early man considered the reversal of the ebbing of the Sun as the time of rebirth when the “year was reborn” and celebrations often occurred in the spring, which was in March-April, but now would be in September-October.
    We point this out to suggest why it would have been so important for early man in South America (or anywhere in the Americas) to have concentrated on such matters as the astronomical calendar of their time, and why early observatories were built, regardless of their apparent simplicity or later complexity. Knowing when to plant was the difference between having food for the next winter or starving.
    In South America, September, of course, would be when the Spring Equinox occurred, or when the sun crossed the Equator moving southward, in the Southern Hemisphere. Since this would have been reversed from the Northern Hemisphere where Lehi and his party originated in Jerusalem, they would have had to reverse their orientation to the seasons—no doubt that first year would have been somewhat of a mystery to them. One can only wonder if the Liahona played any part in this period of change for Lehi.
    It is also something that modern man exploring the past, such as archaeologists and anthropologists, have to keep in mind and thus concentrate on seeing the sky and agricultural events from a different point of view for those who themselves originate in the Northern Hemisphere. This was not apparent to those who discovered the site at Buena Vista, since the Temple of the Fox faced a large hill which blocked off 26 degrees of the eastern sky. It appeared at first that the ancient Peruvians would have needed to focus on something other than the sun breaking the horizon because, quite simply, they couldn’t see to the horizon. However, the following year, in 2005, archaeologist Benfer and archaeologist Bernardino Ojeda of Peru's National Agrarian University, who have been working at Buena Vista for four years,l along with his team, and his team extended their excavations and made another series of discoveries in a building just south west of the Temple of the Fox.
The Menacing head disc, flanked by two foxes, was at the center of a 20-foot-long mud sculpture, which directly faced the setting sun at winter solstice

The entire site contains ruins dating from many thousands of years ago to well into the ceramic era in the first millennium B.C., with the large pyramid and a temple occupying about 2 acres near the center of the site. In the building facing West, they discovered a sculpture they entitled the “menacing disc” which appeared to them as an image of an unhappy Sun. The menacing disc faced west toward a 300-foot-long platform on the ridge of a mountain on the other side of the valley in which Buena Vista sat, and ultimately towards the winter solstice sunset in June. The platform was covered in ash that had worked its way into the surrounding soil. To scientists, this suggested that fires, perhaps ceremonial ones, had once been set there. 
    With this discovery, the team could then see that the full temple covered both solstices: the menacing disc faced the winter solstice sunset and the fox mural faced the summer solstice sunrise. To Benfer, the entire complex was an agricultural calendar. Inside the temple, the archaeologists found bits of cotton and burned twigs, which they knew were the remains of ancient sacrifices. By testing the carbon in the cotton and twigs, they found that the temple was in use around 2200 BC. Also was a special chamber for offerings, with the doorway directly facing a large, carved rock on the horizon. The carving resembles a human face in profile, and to someone who looked out of the chamber's door on the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year, the sun would appear to set behind the carved face. In Peru, that solstice is December 21.
    It should be noted that in temperate latitudes, observers use constellations to identify celestial movements. In South America where the Milky Way is often high in the sky, people have constructed figures in the dark patches in the Milky Way to identify celestial movements. Contemporary dark cloud figures include the Llama, the Turtle, and the Fox. Using astronomical software, Benfer’s team discovered that the Sun is in the Fox on December 21, the summer solstice.
    On December 21, 4,000 years ago the Fox rose about 3 hours before the Sun. A distinctive asterism in the constellation Scorpius preceded it. Ancient priest/astronomers were able to watch the rising of the Fox as a harbinger of the summer solstice. The team suggests that these dark patches (actually dark clouds) in the Milky Way might have been used as a herald of the Sun’s rising.
It would have been a most valuable benefit to the Nephites to have this knowledge of such astronomical events to aid them in their planting and harvesting, certainly the Fox has been associated with plant cultivation and irrigation. Around the summer solstice, melting glaciers high in the Andes cause the Chillon River to flood. The rising of the Fox then would signal the optimum time to plant. Winter solstice obviously marked harvest time. 
    Within the Temple of the Fox, are engineered astronomical calendar specifically adjusted for the needs of its setting. It was in operation, based on radiocarbon dating of offerings made there, in 2,200 BC. That compares with Stonehenge, built in 2,500 BC. Other American observatories are much later, for example the Olmec sites are dated to 3,000 years ago (1000 BC). Observatories at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, Cahokia, IL, Medicine Wheel, Wyoming, and Casa Grande, Arizona, are dated only to 1,000 years ago.
     Obviously, there can be no question from all that has been uncovered and radiocarbon dated that both Chankillo and Buena Vista are the oldest astronomical observatories in the Western Hemisphere.

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