It is estimated 95% of the Ventarrón archaeological site in Peru has been destroyed by fire, including one of the oldest murals in the Americas.

Flames Ravage Peruvian Temple and one of the Oldest Known Murals in the Americas

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A fire has destroyed much of a 4000-year-old temple site in Peru, including a wall painting which is said to have been one of the oldest known murals in the Americas. Almost 95% of the site has been ravaged by the flames.

The Ventarrón archaeological site after the fire.

The Ventarrón archaeological site after the fire. ( Ignacio Alva Meneses )

CNN reports that the Ventarrón temple in Peru's northern Lambayeque Valley was discovered by archaeologists in 2007. The temple has been dated at 4,500 years old, and the mural was carbon dated to 2000 BC. Archaeologist Walter Alva told El País that the people living in the preceramic culture which created the mural had a fire cult.

The artists used brilliant colors of yellow, red, and blue pigments to depict a deer caught in a net and their local environment at a time when the region had more lush vegetation.

The mural of the deer in the net before the fire.

The mural of the deer in the net before the fire. ( Proyecto Arqueológico Cerro Ventarrón )

Ignacio Alva Meneses, director of the Ventarrón Archaeological Project, lamented the loss, stating :

"We have lost the cradle of our culture. Five thousand years of history, the original temple, the origin of the Northern Peru civilization, mural art and the oldest and most complex symbolic meanings destroyed in a few hours. The losses are irreparable."

According to the BBC, residents living near the archaeological site apparently tried to stop the flames from consuming the temple, but they were unable to hold it back. The Peruvian news agent El País says the fire began as a planned burn set by the agribusiness Pomalco to burn a field of sugarcane. However, this common method used to clear crops got out of control and when the flames reached the inflammable plastic roof of the site it was beyond control.

Parts of the Ventarrón archaeological site were looted in the 1990s, however National Geographic reports the stairs to the temple were not located or accessed until 2007. Preserved pottery and art were found at the site as well as parrot and monkey skeletons. The artifacts suggest the site pertains to the formative period (when societies began to become more complex) and it may have served as a location on a trade or ceremonial route in prehistoric Peru.

Salvador del Solar of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture believes that some parts of the site can still be preserved and told El País that work has begun to review, clean, and protect what remains of the site from the elements.

The Ventarrón archaeological site consumed by flames.

The Ventarrón archaeological site consumed by flames. ( Ignacio Alva Meneses )

Top Image: It is estimated 95% of the Ventarrón archaeological site in Peru has been destroyed by fire, including one of the oldest murals in the Americas. Source: Ignacio Alva Meneses

By Alicia McDermott

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