Sunday, November 11, 2018

Peruvian Canals Most Ancient in New World – Part II

Continued from the previous post regarding the makeup of the early Peruvian northwest coastal area and the north central highlands and western slope of the Andes. In this area scientists have lately uncovered the oldest canals in the Americas.
    Anciently, the Lambayeque or Sicán, Moshica or Moche, and Chimú, flourished in Chiclayo, and during the later colonization period, it was the only indigenous Indian village on the road that connected Lambayeque and Zaña. Monesfu is a nearby settlement of Cliclayo where artisian artifacts have been located. The importance of this area is found in the fact that here were uncovered the oldest irrigation canals in the Americas.
    A team of researchers working in the Andean foothills of Peru have unearthed solid evidence of canals confirmed to be at least 5,400 years old. The find is the oldest of its kind anywhere in South America as well as the entire Americas. The canals range in size from half to 2½-miles in length and were designed to slope downwards, relying on gravity to send water from an upper stream to the crop fields below. The layout essentially created artificial garden plots with fertile earth suitable for intensive agriculture.
The Zaña Valley and the site of (yellow arrows) one of the underground canals built there and first unearthed by the archaeologists in 1989

Settled for millennia by indigenous inhabitants of ancient Peruvians, the Zaña Valley became a powerhouse for Spain’s conquistador’s thanks to the vast gold and silver deposits hidden in its surrounding hills “in such vast amounts beyond compare” that it drew pirates and treasure seekers for generations in the early days of the Spanish conquest. Over time, the city of Zaña would not only rise in economic import, but its political heads would establish it as the most important city on the northern coast, surpassing even Trujillo.
    In fact, Zaña was so popular in the 16th and 17th centuries that the Spanish were even considering making it the political capital of Peru, providing a possible alternative to the rich port city of Lima (La Cuidad de los Reyes: “the City of Kings”). By the late 1680s, a little over one hundred years after the founding of the city, it was on the cusp of becoming one of the most important cities in the New World, and it wasn’t just the Spanish that started to become interested in Zaña’s wealth. In 1686, the infamous buccaneer, Edward Davis (Davies), the English pirate who led successful raids against Leon and Panama as well several coastal cities along Peru and Chile, with his attack on Panama in 1685, considered one of the last major buccaneer raids against a Spanish stronghold.
    The following year Davis led a raid on Zaña taking the inhabitants unaware and sacking the opulent city, making off with all possible forms of wealth and trade goods. Recovering, Zaña was in the process of rebuilding from multiple pirate attacks in the early 1700s when disaster struck again in the form of mother nature, with torrential rains beginning in the early part of 1720 that finally led to the rising of the Zaña River and the eventual flooding and destruction of the entire city on the 15th of March of that year.
Zaña River and Valley where the underground irrigation canals have been located

The important agricultural Zaña Valley in which the city sits, is an archaeological area in northern Peru, inland between the rich marine waters of the Pacific Ocean to its west and the highland Andes Mountains to its east. It is also situated between the fertile Jequetepeque and Lambayeque river valleys, making it a perfect intermediary for trade routes throughout northern Peru. It also sits in the rich, fertile Zaña River Valley, which was capable of producing high-yield crops of maize, fruit, and other important commodities that contains the earliest known canals in South America, which were constructed during or before the aceramic or preceramic period, when the early Peruvians were using bark, basketry, gourds or leather for containers. The valley is located southeast of the city of Chicalayo. The Zaña River is currently dry most of the year, but occasionally it has devastating torrential flows.
AMS dating for archaeology and geology involves accelerating the ions to extraordinarily high kinetic energies followed by mass analysis, which is more expensive than radiometric dating, but has higher precision and needs only a small sample sizes

Though the aceramic period ended in Peru sometime prior to 1800 BC according to archaeologists, these canals are believed to have been constructed around 4,500 years ago (2500 BC). In fact, Accelerator Mass Spectrometer dating of aggregate flecks of charcoal from the oldest canal have been dated to 6705 + 75 14C. In fact, a decade of intermittent archaeological research in the upper Zaña Valley has documented an intensive Middle Preceramic period (6000—4200 BC) occupation in the tropical-forest and thorn-forest ecotone on the western Andean slopes. This research has revealed one stratified nonresidential site (Cementerio de Nanchoc), characterized by dual earth mounds, and a complex of small, preceramic residential sites in the Nanchoc branch of the valley. 
    Evidence recovered from residential sites shows that non-specialized hunters and gathers lived in scattered households located along small streams in alluvial fans above the valley floor, with stone tool lithic technology and a diversified ground-stone technology attest to an economy primarily adapted to plant resources. The preceramic culture of the upper Zaña Valley is interpreted as a local manifestation of an early western-slope-forest cultural tradition associated with the development of a specialized public precinct and the adoption and intensification of agriculture (Tom D. Dillehay, Patricia J. Netherly and Jack Rossen, “Middle Preceramic Public and Residential Sites on the Forested Slope of the Western Andes, Northern Peru,” Cambridge Core, vol.54, Is.4, Cambridge University Press, October 1989, pp733-759).
    In addition, anthropology professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tom Dillehay, the Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Religion, and Culture, and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Professor Extraordinaire and Honorary Doctorate at the Universidad Austral de Chile, along with his colleagues found canals dating back over 5,400 years in Peru's upper middle Zaña Valley, about 35 miles east of the Pacific coast (Tom D. Dillehay, et al., “Preceramic Irrigation Canals in the Peruvian Andes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy of Sciences, vol.102, no.47, 2005, pp17241–17244).
    According to John Noble Wilford of the New York Times (January 2006), “evidence found shows that these canals watered ancient Peru, and are the earliest known irrigated agriculture in the Americas.” An analysis of four derelict canals, filled with silt and buried deep under sediments, showed that they were used to water cultivated fields 5,400 years ago, in one case possibly as early as 6,700 years ago, archaeologists reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In fact, long before the Inca, the Wari and Tiwanaku cultures rule the Andes, and long before them were the Caral, or Norte Chico. In fact, the Caral are one of the oldest civilizations in ancient northern Peru who were known for their monumental architecture, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas, with an urban complex of more than 150 acres, and at its peak, approximately 3,000 people occupied the area. About 1000 years after the decline of the Caral, the Chavín rose in the late BC period, especially in the Mosna River Valley. It might be noted that around 500 BC, significant increases in population, the introduction of the llama, major building occurred, and an increase in cross-cultural trade took place. Between 400 and 200 BC, the Chavín population great substantially and more urban forms of settlement appeared. Specialized pottery showed up , indicating local production and probably an increase level of agricultural surplus.
    The unique geography of the Chavín site—near two rivers and also near high mountain valleys—allowed its residents to grow both maize, which thrived in the lowlands of the river valley, and potatoes, which grew best in the higher altitudes of the Andes Mountains. The settlement pattern of larger villages in the lowland regions surrounded by smaller satellite villages in the highlands might have been a way to take advantage of these diverse agricultural opportunities through specialized production.
    Along with maize and potatoes, the Chavín also grew the grain quinoa and built irrigation systems to water these crops. They used domesticated llamas as pack animals to transport goods and as a source of food. A common method of preserving llama meat was drying it into what later Andean people called ch’arki—the origin of the word jerky! In addition, the design of the Chavín de Huántar temple shows advanced building techniques that were adapted to the highland environment of Peru, and an understanding of astronomy, metallurgy, sculpture, pottery and a high level of art. To avoid flooding and the destruction of the temple during the rainy season, the Chavín created a drainage system with canals under the temple structure.
(See the next post, “Peruvian Canals Most Ancient in New World – Part III, regarding the famed canals of Ancient Peru that were once undiscovered, but now have been located)


  1. 5400 and 6700 years ago sounds like it was before the flood. Does that make sense? Or are AMS datings skewed high like they are for Carbon 14 dating?

  2. The answer to your question is yes. We use these dates for two reasons: 1)because they are the ones people are used to seeing, and 2) while the dates are wrong, they compare with one another, so something in Peru that is 7000 years ago is older than something in Mesoamerica which is 5000 years old, though the actual dates are incorrect because of the Flood and the inherent method of skewing all dates to accommodate a 4.55 billion year old earth