While exploring in and around Lima, a team of Peruvian archaeologists from the National Major University of San Marcos (UNSM) uncovered the remains of a U-shaped stone temple that was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. This connects it to an era known as the Andean Formative period (1,500 to 500 BC), when a temple-building culture occupied the area of central Peru that surrounds the modern country’s capital city.
The temple was buried beneath tons of heavy boulders. This obscured it from passersby, but not from the trained eyes of the Peruvian archaeologists, who were able to locate and excavate the ancient place of worship in the lower valley of the Chancay River. The temple is located at the Miraflores archaeological site, and would have been recognized as an important destination for spiritual seekers for many centuries.
Ancient Peruvian temples of this type always included a central pyramid structure flanked by two long, rectangular buildings, creating their distinctive U shape. This temple would have been one of many constructed during the Andean Formative period along Peru’s central coast, which reveals the deep interest in ceremony and religion that helped preserve cultural unity in the region.
“The execution of this research project is important because it will allow us to know the importance of this ceremonial site around the first millennium BC, in the context of the Chancay Valley, who occupied it and for what purpose,” excavation team leader Dr. Pieter van Dalen said, in a UNSM press release .
The ancient temple was not covered by boulders because of rockslides. When it was abandoned, it was intentionally buried beneath the heavy stones, for reasons that remain unknown. It seems that the site was later reclaimed as a burial ground by the people of the Chancay culture (1,000 to 1,470 AD), who used some of the rock they found there to build tombs.
Ancient temple discovered in Peru (Global News/ YouTube Screenshot )
The Ancient Chacana, a Symbol Venerated for Thousands of Years
Finding the temple itself was exciting, but something unique found inside the ancient building adds extra import to this discovery. This was a 3D figure of an ancient cross symbol known as a chacana, which was carved into the back wall of the central pyramid structure.
“This chacana or southern cross is the oldest complete representation that has been found in the Andes,” Dr. van Dalen told Reuters, noting that this discovery helped reaffirm the centrality of the chacana symbol to ancient Peruvian cultures.
“It evidences the long cultural and religious tradition related to this symbol that developed from as early as 4,000 years ago up to the Inca period in a continuous way,” he explained.
A chacana was found on the ancient temple discovered in Peru (Global News/ YouTube Screenshot )
In the Andean Quechua language, chacana means ‘bridge’ or ‘cross over.’ This would appear to link it to ancient Peruvian beliefs about the afterworld, and the process by which someone might complete a journey there to be reunited with their ancestors after death.
This image is ubiquitous in ancient South America, and has been found decorating ceramics and textiles associated with multiple ancient Peruvian cultures, including those that existed long before the temple at Miraflores was constructed. As van Dieter references, the chacana had a prominent place in the iconography of the mighty Inca Empire as well. This shows it played a vital role in religious ceremonial practice in Peru from prehistoric times up to the Spanish conquest of the Incas in the early 16th century.
“We have also identified a series of religious cult activities that took place inside this pyramidal structure,” Dr. van Dieter said, verifying that ritual ceremonies were indeed sponsored at the ancient temple, with the carved chacana as a permanent fixture in the background.
Uncovering the Footprints of a Vast Temple-Building Peruvian Culture
This is not the first time in recent years that archaeologists have discovered an ancient temple along the Peruvian coast. In fact multiple temples have been found in this region, dating back to several thousand years before the present.
For example, in 2007 along the northern Peruvian coast near the city of Lambayeque, archaeologists discovered a 4,000-year-old temple that was covered in murals. The ancient house of worship found at the Ventarron site 472 miles (760 kilometers) north of Lima also included a staircase that led to an altar that would have been used in fire worshipping ceremonies.
And in 2013, just north of Lima at the coastal El Paraiso archaeological site, researchers uncovered the remains of a stunningly old temple that was apparently constructed around 3,000 BC. One of the oldest ceremonial sites ever found in the Americas, this temple featured a ceremonial fire pit where sacrificial offerings may have been burned.
Combined with the new discovery at Miraflores, these three temples alone reveal the existence of a prehistoric temple-building tradition along the Peruvian Pacific coast that covers more than 2,000 years of history. Researchers are not always able to link these temples to the people who actually built them (the archaeologists responsible for the find at Miraflores haven’t yet identified the architects), but it is clear that different ancient Peruvian cultures, some of which were separated by vast distances, shared an intense interest in constructing religious monuments.
The Excitement Builds at Miraflores
The new round of explorations in the area around Miraflores have revealed the presence of some truly exciting prehistoric ruins. More excavations are planned, and van Dieter and his teammates are filled with anticipation of the fascinating discoveries to come.
“We are sure that in the coming weeks we will report important findings, which will contribute to a better understanding of this early archaeological site with monumental architecture,” van Dieter stated, summing up his colleagues’ enthusiasm for their groundbreaking project.
Top image : The unearthing of the U shaped Miraflores stone temple in Huaral, Peru. Source: Global News/ YouTube Screenshot
By Nathan Falde