Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Sites in the North Coast of Peru

Peru is rapidly becoming the capital of the pyramid world. Not only does it have the oldest officially recorded pyramid in the world (Caral), with each archaeologist’s spade dig, more pyramid complexes are uncovered.
Completely unknown to most tourists, an obscure patch of plainlands between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean in northern Peru holds one of the largest and most important groupings of ancient pyramids in the world. The Lambayeque Valley is home to three separate pyramid cities, an astonishing 250 pyramids in total. These cities arose successively over a period of several centuries, with a new site being constructed just as the old one was abandoned. The newest and most visually impressive pyramid city built in the area is called Túcume.
North coastal area of Peru

18 miles north of Chiclayo, northwest of Cajamarca and south of the La Leche River on a plain around La Raya Mountain, is a track of land covering 540 acres containing an array of structures of varying sizes in the most important archaeological site of Peru. Boasting the highest concentration of monumental architecture and the best expressions of mural art in the Lambayeque region, the site is a combination of simpler buildings, cemeteries, and residential areas, which are contrasted with monumental architectural structures, including 26 enormous adobe truncated pyramids that may have been constructed in stages throughout the early stages.
    This pre-Columbian and pre-Inca area today is referred to as Purgatorio (Purgatry) by the local people, and called Túcume by archaeologists. Anciently, this was a regional center, and probably the capital of the successive occupation of the area by the Lamnayeque, Sicán, and Chimú cultures, and probably those before them.
    The vast plains of Túcume are part of the Lambayeque region, which is the largest valley of the north coast of Peru. The originators of these pyramids were also excellent engineers, building canals to bring water to this arid area from distant water sources. Today, the Lambayeque Valley, called the Valley of the Pyramids, is the site of scores of natural and man-made waterways and is also a region containing the remains of about 250 decaying and heavily eroded mud-brick pyramids.
   The site itself is on the plains located on the valley’s southern edge. It is now surrounded by fertile land, due to a forty-three-mile irrigation canal.
The eroding giant pyramid at Túcume called Huaca Larga or Long Pyramid

In Tucume’s north and northeast sector are found the largest and most imposing pyramids, especially Huaca Larga or Huaca 1, called the Temple of the Sacred Stone. It has long corridors and dividing walls partition the complex, and researchers have identified a northern, possibly public, ceremonial area and a southern area devoted to cooking and manufacturing. The pyramid is also the largest pyramid at the site, measuring 2,297 feet in length, 886 feet in width and 98 feet in height—which is the same as a ten-story building. It is also the longest adobe structure in the world. It is a stepped pyramid with its narrow access ramp making some right-angle turns up its façade.
    Along a trail leads down into a lovely carob tree forest full of colorful birds, lies Huaca las Balsas, a partially excavated pyramid famous for its murals that focus on ocean themes, including waves, sea creatures, and marine birds. Since thee Carob Tree was indigenous only to the Eastern Mediterrnean, it was like brought to Peru among their “seeds of every kind” (1 Nephi 8:1).
    A sumptuous burial-place of an important ancient leader, perhaps Tucume’s governor, was discovered by archaeologists, and from the hill behind the site there is a view overlooking the 26 pyramids as well as the entire valley. In addition, there are two plazas connected to it that are surrounded by high walls, along with several annexes.
    One annex is known as “The Bell Shaped Building” and is an outstanding sample of Andean design with overhanging walls. At its top Huaca 1 has rooms that may have been the living quarters of the city’s leaders, which is decorated with flying bird paintings. Much later, when the Chimú dominated the area of Huaca Larga, the artwork was marked by their red, white and black paintings, some of which depict flying birds. The site is thought to have been abandoned in the colonial period by raging fires.
The large pyramid at Túcume under rebuilding

Túcume went largely unstudied until the famous Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl took an interest in the site starting in 1988. He and his team unearthed many important artifacts in 1989 through 1994 from tombs and other areas within the pyramids. They were the first group to truly appreciate the importance of the site by thoroughly analyzing their findings and attempting to reconstruct the history of how the site was used by its inhabitants.
    They also interpreted the cultural significance of their findings, the greater implications of the architectural site, the fascinating pyramid structures, and impressive artifacts uncovered. The most exciting discoveries were linked to Heyerdahl’s inquiry regarding possible ocean travel and boatbuilding by early inhabitants of Túcume. Among the finds were stunning friezes depicting birdmen piloting reed boats amid anthropomorphic waves.
    Thor Heyerdahl and his team opened forty tombs. So many artefacts were uncovered that a museum was built at Túcume. Four burial chambers were found in the large Huaca Larga pyramid, in which the bodies of nineteen female weavers, between the ages of ten and thirty in the chambers. The weaving of delicate textiles, an activity that was usually the work of women, which was practiced at Huaca Larga and may well date back to the earliest centuries.
    It should also be noted that though archaeologists have labelled this period in different time frames involving different cultures, Túcume’s history, the site was continually occupied for millennia. It should also be noted that before the current site was built, an earlier and older site had exited there but was burned and a new city built.
The U-shaped pyramid called the “Temple of the Sacred Stone”

The Temple of the Sacred Stone is a U-shaped truncated pyramid. Although small and plain, it was a major stop for travelers passing by as they entered the site. The road through the Lambayeque Valley leads first to this temple and then to Huaca Larga. What seems to make this temple special is a large boulder set in the middle of a building. Archaeologists do not know what it represents but found a huge amount of offerings around it that included shells, slaughtered llamas and numerous other items and figurines.
    Huaca Balsas has lovely mythical friezes, although the pyramid was damaged by looters. “The Mound of the Rafts” frieze portrays a scene in which a bird man and bird lead a raft that follows another raft. “The Frieze of the Rite” portrays a priestly figure under a roofed structure who is holding a llama in one hand and a staff in the other. It is thought by archaeologists that these scenes depict myths of an ancient culture.
    Although just a shadow of the creators’ original design, the remains of Túcume are one of Peru’s most important archaeological sites.
Huaca Larga, the largest adobe pyramid in the world

While the site is impressively large, today it is extensively eroded and damaged partly because of the El Niño rains and floods, but mostly from looters. Nevertheless it stands as a sign of ingenuity, engineering, and dedication in building ancient cities. As Helaman wrote: “it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east” (Helaman 3:8), and as Mormon wrote: “he whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea” (Mormon 1:7).

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