Archaeologists Discover 4,000-Year-Old Temple and Theater in Peru

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The newly-discovered structures predate the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu by roughly 3,500 years, and were made long before the Inca and their predecessors, according to a team of archaeologists with the Ucupe Cultural Landscape Archaeological Project.

The newly-discovered archaeological site, including carving of a mythological bird creature, at La Otra Banda, Cerro Las Animas, Peru. Image credit: Ucupe Cultural Landscape Archaeological Project.

“It was amazing. This discovery tells us about the early origins of religion in Peru,” said Dr. Muro Ynoñán, an archaeologist at the Field Museum.

“We still know very little about how and under which circumstances complex belief systems emerged in the Andes, and now we have evidence about some of the earliest religious spaces that people were creating in this part of the world.”

“We don’t know what these people called themselves, or how other people referred to them.”

Dr. Ynoñán and his team discovered the new archaeological site at La Otra Banda in Peru in 2023.

They selected a plot roughly 10 by 10 m (33 by 33 feet) and began slowly removing the sediment that had piled up over the millenia.

Just 1.8 m (6 feet) deep, they found signs of ancient walls made of mud and clay.

“It was so surprising that these very ancient structures were so close to the modern surface,” Dr. Ynoñan said.

As they dug deeper, the archaeologists found evidence that the site once housed a temple.

“We think that a large temple was built into the side of the mountain, and we’ve found one section of it,” Dr. Ynoñan said.

“One of the most exciting things we found was a small theater, with a backstage area and a staircase that led to a stage-like platform.”

“This could have been used for ritual performances in front of a selected audience.”

Flanking one of the theater’s staircases, the archaeologists found mud panels decorated with elaborate carved designs showing a bird-like creature.

“It’s a very beautiful and, at the same time, intriguing design, of a mythological creature — it’s like an anthropomorphic bird, but with some reptilian features,” Dr. Ynoñán said.

“This figure stood out to us because it gives important clues as to when the temple was built and how this construction relates to other ancient temples built by early groups from the Andes.”

“Other images of mythological creatures similar to the one found by our team have been found in Peru, dating to what archaeologists call the Initial Period, roughly 4,000 years ago.”

“Despite the name, the people of the Initial Period were not the first to live in the region: people have inhabited Peru for 15,000 years.”

“Around 5000-3000 BCE, called the Preceramic Period, people in coastal Peru began creating societies and complex political systems.”

“The Initial Period came next, starting around 2,000 BCE and lasting until 900 BCE.”

“The Initial Period is important because it’s when we first start to see evidence of an institutionalized religion in Peru.”

“The bird creature at this temple resembles a figure known from the Chavín region, nearly 500 years later. This new site could help reveal the origins of this religion.”

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“The newly-discovered structures predate the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu by roughly 3,500 years, and were made long before the Inca and their predecessors. The post Archaeologists Discover 4,000-Year-Old…”

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