Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Thirteen Towers of Peru

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Thirteen Towers of Peru

Article excerpt

IN A DESERT IN Peru, a mysterious series of thirteen stone towers lines a ridge like the spine of some giant dinosaur. The towers are part of an ancient ceremonial center named Chankillo, in the Casma-Sechin River Basin on the coast of Peru. Although researchers have been aware of Chankillo's importance as a ceremonial center, they weren't sure about the purpose of the thirteen towers. Now archaeologists have identified them as the oldest solar observatory in the Americas, predating the Inca Empire by seventeen centuries.

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Sun worship was extremely important to the ancient cultures of the Andes. The Inca used the position of the sun to determine what time of year it was, and some of their kings legitimized their rule by claiming to be the offspring of the sun. "The 2,300-year-old solar observatory at Chankillo is the earliest such structure identified and unlike all other sites, contains alignments that cover the entire solar year," says Ivan Ghezzi, archaeology director of the National Institute of Culture in Lima. "It predates the European conquests by 1,800 years and even precedes, by about 500 years, the monuments of similar purpose constructed by the Mayans in Central America."

Ghezzi began his study of the towers in 2001 when he was conducting fieldwork at Chankillo for his graduate studies at Yale. He was intrigued by the towers and by the writings of nineteenth-century explorers who claimed there was a connection between the number of towers and the number of months in the lunar calendar. Ghezzi decided to use modern-day science to test out this theory, and to his delight, he discovered that the first tower aligned with the June solstice and the last tower with the December solstice. After several years of fieldwork, Ghezzi collaborated with archaeoastronomy expert Clive Ruggles from the University of Leicester In England. …

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