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A Chavin Rover robot archaeologist at work in the Chavin de Huantar temple.

Robotic Archaeologists Discover New Tunnels and “Face Down Bodies” at Chavin de Huantar

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State of the art all-terrain robots called Chavin Rovers have explored the 3,000-year-old temple of Chavin de Huantar in Peru. After mapping a series of ancient underground passageways, which are found throughout the Chavin de Huantar complex, these robot archaeologists have made what archaeological authorities are hailing as “the most important discovery on this site in the last 50 years,” according to a report on Archaeology News Network .

Situated in a remote Andean valley at 3,100 meters (10,200 feet) above sea level, this temple is often regarded as the “first major religious and pilgrimage center in South American history” and the temple of Chavin de Huantar was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. Being located so far from the ‘beaten path,’ only a few archaeologists have ever committed their lives to the study of this ancient repository of lost religious knowledge, but U.S. scientist John Rick is among them.

'El Castillo’ (The Castle) at Chavin de Huantar, Peru. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú)

'El Castillo’ (The Castle) at Chavin de Huantar, Peru. ( Ministerio de Cultura de Perú )

This Peruvian mega-temple was recently infiltrated by Rick and his team of electronic Chavin Rovers equipped with “high technology.” And as these robot archaeologists “edged through the narrow channels that lead to the galleries of the complex, many of which remain hidden to this day,” they discovered “graves of the people who built the temple” which are still intact after thousands of years.

These remote controlled robotic four-wheel-drive vehicles were equipped with mini studio photography kits, including: cameras, batteries, and advanced lighting systems. This and other micro-technology played a leading role in the first discovery of burials from the Chavin period. For almost 25 years, archaeologist John Rick has been the director of the excavations financed by Peru's Culture Ministry, Stanford University and the Antamina mining company.

A Chavin Rover, a ‘robot archaeologist’ in an underground passage. (Andina)

A Chavin Rover, a ‘robot archaeologist’ in an underground passage. ( Andina)

Rick told reporters , "What's interesting is that they weren't people of high social standing. They were probably sacrificed, but we'll find that out with further studies.” What was it about the ancient bodies that led Rick to make a call on their social status? According to an article published by Peru’s Ministry of Culture “The archaeologist was intrigued by the position of the bodies when he discovered they had been “buried face down under piles of rocks,” which he considered as a "not very honorable" treatment for the departed.

Speaking of his quite unique ancient discovery, Rick told reporters , "So we have solved part of the mystery about where the people of Chavin buried their dead.” The American archaeologist is also confident that the space age rovers can find “at least another three burial sites,” because he has “located three further galleries similar to these” which are situated between “the left side of the main temple and the round plaza of the complex.”

Exploring an ancient underground passageway at the temple of Chavin de Huantar in Peru. Source: Juan Ponce/El Comercio

Exploring an ancient underground passageway at the temple of Chavin de Huantar in Peru. Source: Juan Ponce/El Comercio

The rovers mapping the ancient subterranean labyrinth have so far determined the courses of “36 underground tunnels and passageways” which interconnect with each other. The director of excavations believes “there remain centuries of work in these ruins, where approximately every 300 years new passageways were constructed.”

Archaeologists in a subterranean gallery at Chavin de Huantar. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú)

Archaeologists in a subterranean gallery at Chavin de Huantar. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú )

South American archaeological authorities are world leaders in the application of technology with hands-on digging. In 2017, the use of drones allowed archaeologists to map 2,000-year-old Venezuelan rock carvings . And in March this year, a report in Smithsonian Magazine detailed how archaeologists in Peru used military grade drones to uncover “more than 50 new examples of Nazca lines in the Palpa province that likely would have been missed by the human eye and even satellites.”

National Geographic  exclusive on this discovery called the Nazca lines one of the “greatest enigmas” of archaeology. And researchers are even considering that some of the newly found lines were created not by the Nazca culture, which existed from between 200 to 700 AD., but by earlier civilizations, the Paracas and Topará cultures, who may have carved the lines between 500 BC and 200 AD.

Top Image: A Chavin Rover robot archaeologist at work in the Chavin de Huantar temple. Source: Andina

By Ashley Cowie

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