Monday, 1 December 2008

Discovery of 5,500-year-old human settlements in Peru

by Kathryn Hadley

El Comercio newpaper reports that recent excavations have revealed evidence of 5,500-year-old human settlements in the Palpa Valley region on the South coast of Peru, approximately 400km South of Lima and just North of Nazca. The group of homes and nineteen graves are believed to represent the first evidence of human settlement from the late archaic period, approximately 3,500BC, ever discovered in southern Peru.

The remains are suggestive of simple houses with walls and roofs constructed of branches and sticks. Some of the graves include sculpted bones and snail shells as well as necklaces and bracelets. No concrete evidence of offerings to the dead or to deities was found, however, and researchers have consequently concluded that there were not significant social distinctions amongst the inhabitants. One of the graves was, however, different: it included the body of a child younger than one year old, which appeared to have been mummified.

The findings are part of a large scale research project led jointly by the two Peruvian archaeologists, Johny Isla Cuadrado and Elsa Tomasto, and by the German archaeologist Markus Reindel from the Deutsches Archaologisches Institut. The project aims to research the cultural history of the Palpa region from its beginning until the end of the pre-Hispanic period, at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1532, which saw the downfall of the Inca civilisation.

Although the southern coast of Peru has been investigated archaeologically since the early twentieth century, systematic excavations and the number of scientific publications on the area remain scarce.

The region is also the site of the mysterious Nazca lines, the series of geoglyphs which cover approximately 450 square kilometres and depict living creatures, imaginary beings, as well as geometrical figures. The figures are scratched in the surface of the desert and are believed to date from the Nazca civilisation, from approximately 200BC to 800AD. The longest line is 12 kilometres long and the drawings are only visible from the sky. Their purpose and meaning remain a mystery; various theories suggest that they were created as astronomical observation lines or were used in religious rituals.

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