Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Another Nephite Fortress?

One of the hilltops within the Fortress of Acaray. Note the distance between the outer wall and the inner walls

Acaray known as the Fortress of Acaray, is an archaeological site located in the Huaura River Valley of the Central Anders, on the near north coast of Peru. The impressive fortress is located on a series of three hilltops, each ringed with a number of perimeter defensive walls that have parapets and bastions, which stand as testaments to the military nature of the site. Radio carbon dating has established it was built about 900-200BC and abandoned some 1000 years later.
    Research at the Fortress provided a baseline for determining temporally diagnostic architectural styles, of which two principal ones were identified at Acaray: 1) A more formal style using large quarried stone blocks stabilized by mortar and smaller chinking stones is attributed to the first stage of the fortress, about 600-200 BC; and the other, 2) Characterized by uncut stone or mixed materials backfilled with layered fill, appears in the later period.
    According to Brown Vega, Acaray early megalithic wall constructions may be similar to those of Chankillo from the same period (Vega M. Brown, “Conflict in the early horizon and late intermediate period: new dates from the fortress of Acaray, Huaura valley, Peru,” Current Anthropology, vol.50, Is.2), 2009, pp255-266).
The second defensive wanka pachilla (block and spall) wall where the regular stone blocks are laid with mortar on each side (wankas)  and filled with inking stone (pachillas)

These walls are remarkable in the fact that there are three, one after another, and cover a vast hilltop of several miles around.
    Further south in the Huaura Valley, the Acaray fortress was in line of sight with four other fortresses securing the valley upwards. these megalithic fortresses share the characteristics described above. All three are similar in design as Acaray but smaller in size, which is among the most interesting and largest fortified sites of this period. There is also no question that Acaray had been besieged many times
    According to Vincent Chamussy and Nicolas Goepfert, these forts were clearly built in prevision of the arrival of a potential enemy (Vincent Chamussy and Nicolas Goepfert, “From warless to warlike times in the Central Andes: the origins of institutional war between Moche and Casma Valleys, northern coast of Peru, Archaeology of the Americas , Paris, vol.4, 2019). In fact, the occupation of Acaray shows the construction of fortifications in neighboring valleys on the north coast and in the central highlands, suggesting an expansion of the culture. The 23‐ha site of Acaray is one of the largest fortified sites known in the near‐north‐coast area, and it holds significant potential for exploring these two periods of conflict on the coast of Peru.
The Northern three valleys and the southern three valleys that made up the location of the numerous forts of the central coast

Indeed, warfare midst the six river valleys of Moche, Virú, Chao, Santa, Nepeña and Casma, was fought over long periods of time, with the major cities and settlement built for such warfare with numerous massive fortifications in inaccessible places to withstand and counter threats from potential aggressors. It is also evident that these invaders, according to Goepfet and Chamussy, were not just other cities or settlements in nearby areas, but from a completely different culture with significant different traditions.
    The signs of warfare in these valleys are the defensive structures such as fortresses and strongholds, great walls, walls obstructing access to dry ravines; palisades, look-outs, dry moats and ditches; strategic locations (hilltops, ridge tops, centers of communication and exchange); line-of-sight connections; offensive or defensive weapons (munitions, throwing or thrusting weapons, armor and helmets, shields, rams, banners, and slingstones),; settlement patterns (clusters of residential sites, buffer zones); short-lived site occupation; traces of violence-related injuries, almost all of which have been found in the six valleys mentioned.
    There are also battlefields; warrior tombs; traces of massacres; deliberate destruction or burning of sites; human sacrifice, severed heads or trophy heads; arms caches; iconography of war representing one or several of the previous features (Pacheco, A.R. Retamal, P Mendez-Quiros, “Avoiding War: Ritualized violence in the Andean Period,” Paper presented at the 2014
The Fortress of Acaray showing the defensive walls, bastions and ditch, including the CAYS (a low bank or reef of coral, rock, or sand)

Surrounding the hilltop fortress are lower-lying areas of occupation and extensive cemeteries, which have been looted. Attention was called to the site early on by the German archaeologist Hans Horkheimer, who wrote about Acaray in 1962 in the Peruvian magazine, published in Lima.
    Unlike earlier forts which were built around settlements in the valley, these second wave forts were built with no preferred location, but are usually built further away from the valleys and much higher up on the slopes and mountains, some as high as 3200-feet elevation above the valley floor.
    The definition of culture  as used relating to the work accomplished in the Huaura River Valley is chaîne opératoire, or “operational sequence,” that is based on “horizon styles and periods that characterize the Chavín (Chavín de Huantar of the Andean highlands and coast of Central Peru, known for its carved stone sculptures and boldly designed ceramics) or the Cupisnique, a pre-Chavín culture which flourished from 1500 to 500 BC along the northern coast, known for its distinctive style of adobe clay architecture but shared artistic styles and religious symbols with the later Chavín culture which arose in the same area at a later date.
The Huaura Valley along the coast 91 miles north of Lima; also the site of Paramonga in the Pativilca River Valley

The German archaeologist Hans Horkeimer, one time chair of the archaeology department at the University of Trujillo, and long-time resident and expert on Peru, as well as recipient of the Peruvian Master Palms Award for recognition of the work he had done there, called Acaray de Huara a true fortress, unlike the more well-known neighboring site of Paramonga in the Pativilca River Valley, whose defensive nature was limited.
    Horkheimer noted the abundance of rolled river cobbles on the surface of the site, which were used as projectiles or slingstones.
    During the 1970s interest in Acaray increased, the first work by archaeologists was initiated at the fortress. Peruvian archaeologist Mercédes Cárdenas, of the Riva Agüero Institute, excavated at Acaray, among other coastal sites, as part of a larger project to understand the use of marine resources in the past on the Peruvian coast and to obtain radiocarbon dates. She led a team that surveyed the Huaura Valley and excavated at several sites, including the hilltop fort at Acaray. She estimated that it was built about 900-200BC and abandoned 1000–1470AD. Around the same time, Peruvian archaeologist Arturo Ruiz Estrada, of the National University José Faustino Sánchez Carrión, Peruvian engineer Domingo Torero visited the fortress. In 2004, North American archaeologist Margaret Brown Vega of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, began research at Acaray, carrying out intensive mapping, surface analysis, and excavations, which lasted for two years.
    According to Vega, Acaray early megalithis wall constructions may be similar to those of Chankillo from the same period, In addition artifacts and refuge during the reconstruction of the fort, and during periodic visits are evidence of practices realized by a community of people living under the threat of war who used Acaray as a refuge. War, or the threat of war, framed the formation of communities during both time periods. In the latter period a larger community of people converged to rebuild Acaray. This process is concurrent with an elaboration of ritual that helped to maintain community identity. Moreover, the offerings made during this time are also aimed at healing, coping with fear, ensuring security, and strengthening defensive walls (Margaret Brown Vega, “War and social life in pre-hispanic Peru: ritual, defense, and communities at the Fortress of Acaray, Huaura Valley,” PhD dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008).


  1. There are quite a few archaeological sites in Peru. Many of them are fortresses.

    List of archaeological sites in Peru

  2. Compare that with Mesoamerica, where almost all the marvelous structures there were not defensible with no outer walls of defense, etc.
    Of course, no buildings at all in North America.

  3. Interesting but no ties to the Nephites.

  4. Jake: Don't make the mistake so many do and consider a point as a stand-alone item. All of these things we point out here are part of an overall picture, forming a definitive Nephite connection. As an example, Mormon tells us the Nephites had fortresses and forts and resorts. There is only one place in all the Western Hemisphere that had numerous forts dating to the last millennium BC and the first millennium AD. That is a match, but in and of itself, not convincing--but taken as part of the whole, lends credence to the Nephite connection or "ties."