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At Chan Chan statues thought to be marking tombs have been found.

Oldest Statues Ever Found At Chan Chan Have Been Saved From the Claws of Climate Change


Archeologists excavating in Peru, at the largest pre-Columbian ancient site in the America’s, have saved 20 wooden statues dated to around 800-years-old from encroaching weather fronts.

Culture Minister for Peru, Patricia Balbuena, and her team of researchers revealed on Monday that the 20 statues were found in the Chan Chan archeological site located close to the north Peruvian modern city of Trujillo, once the capital of the Chimu Kingdom which pre-dated the Inca Empire. This name “Chan Chan” meant “resplendent sun” and this ancient metropolis flourished between AD 900 and 1450 on the northern coast of Peru.

A corridor of statues have been found at Chan Chan ancient city site in Peru. (Image:Youtube Screenshot)

A corridor of statues have been found at Chan Chan ancient city site in Peru. (Image: Youtube Screenshot )

The remarkable desert city of Chan Chan

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986, at its height Chan Chan housed around 30,000 inhabitants. Today, about 500 people including 50 archeologists are involved in wide ranging investigation and preservation projects at Chan Chan which comprises of a six kilometer squared (2.3 square miles) city center, with 20 square kilometers of extended suburbs including 10 walled palaces. Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, is said to have been the first European to have laid eyes on the spectacular city of Chan Chan around AD 1532.

Corridor of tomb statues

The 20 statues are some of the oldest found at the site to date and measure around 70-centimeters (27.5 inches) in height. They were found "buried in earth” at the entrance to Utzh An, or Gran Chimu, one of the largest complexes at the site. A corridor of friezes with wave and checkerboard designs leads to a ceremonial courtyard, and this corridor was only discovered in June according to a report about the discovery on AFP. Archeologist Henry Gayoso told reporters at The Peruvian Times , “There are also images of the "lunar animal” which is a mythological symbol common in pre-Hispanic cultures along the north Peruvian coast.

A corridor with wave and checkered pattern and ‘lunar animal’ has been restored. (Youtube Screenshot)

A corridor with wave and checkered pattern and ‘lunar animal’ has been restored. ( Youtube Screenshot )

The statues, discovered last month, are believed to have been used to mark “the tombs of significant people” and one of the wood sculptures is female, “which is very uncommon” said the researchers. They [the statues] were found to be “aligned in niches in the wall in the ceremonial corridor” which dates to 1000 years ago and was decorated with high mud reliefs. Balbuena told reporters that "It's an important discovery for its age and the quality of its decoration.” Earlier this month the  Andina News Agency  announced that “four wood sculptures were black with beige clay masks” and they are “the oldest sculptures known to date in Chan Chan," said archeologist Arturo Paredes, who is leading the dig.

Each sculpture was found standing upright “with a circular object on its back,” which specialists believe might be shields. These treasures would have been of little interest to Pizarro’s expedition in the 16th century, who were more concerned with the walls and other architectural features of Chan Chan, which they recorded as having been made from “precious metals.” In one recorded incident, one of Francisco’s kinsmen, Pedro Pizarro, discovered a solid silver doorway which historians estimate to have been worth more than $2 million today.

Each of the 20 statues is around 70cm (27.5 inches). (Image: Youtube Screenshot)

Each of the 20 statues is around 70cm (27.5 inches). (Image: Youtube Screenshot )

At a recent press tour at the site Balbuena said, “the government has assigned approximately S/ 8 million ($2.4 million) to cover the 30-month restoration project at Utzh An, which should be completed in May 2020.” Although since the Spanish arrival in the 16th century Chan Chan has always attracted treasure hunters, the greatest threat to its continued survival are the current heavy rains and flooding which threatens to dissolve the mud bricks by which the entire city is built.

Aerial of the area of  Chan Chan city in Trujillo, Peru currently being excavated. (Youtube Screshot)

Aerial of the area of  Chan Chan city in Trujillo, Peru currently being excavated. ( Youtube Screshot)

Climate changes at Chan Chan

Smithsonian recently reported in an article that “Chan Chan was left to the mercy of the weather.” The Chimú were a highly organized civilization and any water damage to the adobe-brick structures of Chan Chan “could be repaired immediately,” said Claudia Riess, a German native who now works as a guide to archeological sites in northern Peru. Riess believes that climate change is a primary cause of the increasing rainfall and a 2007 report published by Unesco describes the erosion of Chan Chan as “rapid and seemingly unstoppable” and concludes “global warming is likely to lead to greater extremes of drying and heavy rainfall.”

Top image: At Chan Chan statues thought to be marking tombs have been found. Source: Youtube Screenshot

By Ashley Cowie



Gosh, I had a chance to be a part of the National Geographic expedition to Chan Chan almost 40 years ago. I actually turned it down due to my jealous husband who thought I would "hook up" with someone else on the team. SOOOOO stupid of me. Follow your dreams, don't have regrets. I divorced this person years later. I love my life now, still, makes me wonder what would've gone on in my life if I had gone.

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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