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art of the megalithic temple excavation site at Huaca el Toro in Peru. Source: EFE

Water Cult’s Megalithic Temple in Peru was Re-Purposed for Death

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A megalithic temple found near the springs of the Zaña Valley river in Peru is an interesting find for several reasons. First, it’s the only known megalithic architecture in the Lambayeque region. Second, archaeologists say it’s built by the earliest “great religion of ancient Peru.” And third, it seems that centuries after the site had lost its religious significance, people were still going there – though their reasons were quite different from the builders’ intentions for the temple.

Location and Layout of the Megalithic Temple

50 meters (164.04 ft.) long and 40 meters (131.23 ft.) wide, the megalithic temple discovered at the Huaca El Toro site in the Lambayeque region of Peru is an impressive example of Pre-Inca architecture. La Vanguardia reports that the huge blocks, weighing up to three tons each, were dragged at least a kilometer and a half (almost a mile) by ancient Peru’s “first great religion” – the Chavin culture – to create a ceremonial site.

The Chavin culture lived in the northern and central parts of what is now Peru from about 900 to 200 BC. This culture is best-known for another large temple – the Chavín de Huántar in the heart of the Andes. One of the indications that the Chavin people were the probable builders of the site is a ceramic vessel that was buried around the same time as the temple was built.

Ceramic styles helped identify which ancient cultures built and used the megalithic temple site. ( Con Nuestro Perú )

There are other burials at the site too. Apart from the abovementioned grave, 20 more tombs have been unearthed so far. Ceramics and metal artifacts such as knives have helped experts to identify the other burials as Chimu and Inca. This shows that centuries after the Chavin culture had left, there were still people using the site.

The leader of the excavations, Dr. Walter Alva (who is most famous for discovering the Lord of Sipan ), spoke of the other graves, saying that , “These were not elite people, they were regular people who lived nearby after the site had lost all religious importance.”

According to Daily Mail , the megalithic temple was identified in October, but the authorities decided to hold off on presenting their find for a month to try to avoid unwanted visitors (i.e. treasure hunters ) stealing artifacts. However, the announcement now means they will have to keep an eye on the site until next year when they can return to excavate more of what is believed to be “a huge complex.”

Dr. Alva says that “This discovery is unique because it is the only megalithic architecture in Lambayeque.” Other cultures which inhabited the same region, such as the Moche, Chimú, and Inca, all opted for adobe for their construction in Lambayeque.

Sacred Space for a Water Cult

Alva describes the site as a series of platforms built one on top of the other, with buildings constructed on them. In front of the temple there’s a plaza. A rock wall runs around it and has some markings that the archaeologist says are commonly seen at water cults’ sites.

An altar provides further indications that the megalithic temple was used by a water cult. Dr. Alva states that the small holes seen on the altar are “typical of water altars that are in other places, and it is located in the springs of the Zaña Valley river.” The archaeologist believes that people were probably performing fertility rituals at the site too.

The temple also has a large central staircase that is 9.75 meters (32 ft.) wide and 14.9 (49 ft.) long. Dr. Alva explains the significance of this feature, stating, “This place was especially important because the stairs are facing the east, where the mountains are and the water flows from. This is unusual because generally temples face the valleys and agricultural lands .”

Archaeologists found a large central staircase. ( Listin Diario )

Although the water cult of the Chavin culture is long gone, water is still extremely important for life in the Zaña Valley area. And the large concentration of archaeological sites in the area, such as Huaca El Toro, are testaments to the special role water has played in the region for thousands of years.

Top Image: Part of the megalithic temple excavation site at Huaca el Toro in Peru. Source: EFE

By Alicia McDermott

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