by Agence France-Presse
February 17, 2013
The recent discovery of a ceremonial
fireplace believed to be more than 5,000 years old sheds light on
one of the oldest populated sites in the Americas.
The fireplace, dubbed the Temple of Fire, was discovered
El Paraiso archeological complex in
the Chillon valley, located just outside the bustling Peruvian
Archeologists say the site is comparable in age to
Caral, the oldest
pre-Columbian site in the Americas that was inhabited between
2,600-2,100 BC. Caral is located some 200 kilometers (125 miles) to
the north and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The fireplace was found when archeologists discovered a narrow
entrance on a wing of El Paraiso’s central pyramid in January, when
they were removing sand and stones.
“We quickly realized the importance
of this discovery,” said Marco Guillen, the head archeologist at
The entrance, measuring some 48
centimeters (19-inches) wide, leads to a chamber measuring eight by
six meters (26 by 20 feet) where shellfish, grains, flowers and
fruit were burned as offerings.
The stone walls inside,
“were covered with a fine coating of
yellow soil, with traces of red paint,” Guillen said. “The smoke
allowed the priests to connect with the gods.”
The temple has four levels,
“each one older than the other,”
The find shows that the Andean world was
more closely connected than previously thought - this early
construction set a blueprint reproduced in the ancient mountain
chain civilizations for the centuries to come.
The central pyramid is the only building uncovered in El Paraiso.
Experts say there are 10 “architectural units” at the site that
include temples, plazas and residences.
Archeologists believe that the central pyramid had a communal use,
while two other structures - which at a glance look like sandy hills
- include buildings that appear to be homes.
“We know little about the other
units, because they have not yet been studied,” said Luis
Caceres, head of archeology at the Ministry of Culture.
El Paraiso is spread across 50 hectares
(125 acres) about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Pacific Ocean.
At the center of the site are stone platforms discovered by French
archeologist Frederic Engel in 1965. Today parts of the
archeological zone has been taken over by farmers and urban
squatters, though locals have banded together to stop further
Evidence uncovered by Engel lead experts to estimate that some 3,000
people could have lived in El Paraiso, Marco Guillen said.
currently analyzing waste samples to find out what they ate.
Archeologists believe the ancient coastal civilizations raised crops
including cotton, which they traded with coastal fishermen for food.
The discovery “demonstrates the importance of Lima from time
immemorial,” long before the arrival of Spanish conquistador
Francisco Pizarro, who founded the Peruvian capital in 1535, Deputy
Culture Minister Rafael Varon told reporters when the
discovery was announced on Tuesday.
“There is a lot to discover in order
to untangle the mysteries held at El Paraiso,” Guillen told AFP.
“We need to know if below these structures there are even older
“We just began and already found the Temple of Fire,” he said.
The government of President Ollanta
Humala has allocated $1.8 million over the next five years for
research at the site.