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The New World's Oldest Calendar
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Research at a 4,200-year-old temple in Peru yields clues to an ancient people who may have clocked the heavens
They were excavating at Buena Vista, an ancient settlement in the foothills of the Andes an hour's drive north of Lima, Peru. A dozen archaeology students hauled rocks out of a sunken temple and lobbed them to each other in a human chain. Suddenly, Bernardino Ojeda, a Peruvian archaeologist, called for the students to stop. He had spotted bits of tan rope poking out of the rubble in the temple's central room. Ojeda handed his protégés small paintbrushes and showed them how to whisk away centuries of dirt. From the sickeningly sweet odour, he suspected that the rope wasn't the only thing buried beneath the rocks: most likely, it was wrapped around a corpse.

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Solar observatory
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Fox Temple
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Latitude:-11.731111° , Longitude: -76.968117°

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RE: Temple of the Fox
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Archaeologists working high in the Peruvian Andes have discovered the oldest celestial observatory in the Americas -- a 4,200-year-old structure marking the summer and winter solstices that is as old as the stone pillars of Stonehenge.

According to archaeologist Robert Benfer of the University of Missouri, the observatory was built on the top of a 33-foot-high pyramid with precise alignments and sight lines that provide an astronomical calendar for agriculture.
The people who built the observatory -- three millennia before the emergence of the Incas -- are a mystery, but they achieved a level of art and science that archaeologists say they did not know existed in the region until at least 800 years later.
Among the most impressive finds was a massive clay sculpture -- an ancient version of the modern frowning "sad face" icon -- flanked by two animals. The disk, protected from looters beneath thousands of years of dirt and debris, marked the position of the winter solstice.

"It's really quite a shock to everyone ... to see sculptures of that sophistication coming out of a building of that time period" - Richard Burger, archaeologist at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the discovery.

The discovery adds strong evidence to the recent idea that a sophisticated civilization developed in South America in the pre-ceramic era, before the development of fired pottery sometime after 1500 B.C.

Benfer's find "pushes the envelope of civilization farther south and inland from the coast, and adds the important dimension of astronomy to these ancient folks' way of life" - Michael Moseley, archaeologist, University of Florida, and noted Peru expert.

The 20-acre site, called Buena Vista, is located about 25 miles inland in the Rio Chillon Valley, just north of Lima.

"It is on a totally barren, rock-covered hill looking down on a beautiful fertile valley" - Richard Burger.

Richard Burger presented the find last month at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Puerto Rico.
The name of the people who inhabited the region is unknown because writing did not emerge in the Americas for another 2,000 years. Some archaeologists call them followers of the Kotosh religious tradition. Others call them late pre-ceramic cultures of the central coast. For brevity, most simply call them Andeans.
Benfer and archaeologist Bernardino Ojeda of Peru's National Agrarian University have been working at Buena Vista for four years. The entire site contains ruins dating from 10,000 years ago to well into the ceramic era in the first millennium B.C.
The large pyramid and a temple occupy about 2 acres near the centre of the site. Radiocarbon dating of cotton and burned twigs found in the temple's offering pit place its use at about 2200 B.C.

Benfer calls it the Temple of the Fox because a drawing of a fox is incised inside a painted picture of another animal, probably a llama, beside each doorway. According to Andean myth, the fox taught people how to cultivate and irrigate plants.
As the team mapped out the site, Benfer saw that a person standing in the doorway of the temple and gazing through a small, flap-covered window behind the altar is aligned with a small head carved onto a notch of a distant hill. The line had an orientation of 114 degrees from true north, pointing just slightly south of east. That points to sunrise on the Southern Hemisphere's summer solstice, Dec. 21, the longest day of the year.

Dec. 21 marks planting time, as the Rio Chillon begins its annual flooding, fed by melting ice higher up in the Andes.

"This was the beginning of flood plain agriculture" - Richard Burger.

He thinks fishermen from the coast originally moved to the site to grow cotton for use in making fishing nets.

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The Temple of the Fox lay covered by dirt and sand for 4,000 years in the barren hills of Buena Vista, Peru, before it was unearthed in June 2004 by Robert Benfer, professor emeritus of anthropology at Missouri University.

In the 10 metre high Andean temple, Benfer’s team found the earliest known astronomical alignment and sculptures in the New World.

"We did not expect to find architecture like this. No one did." - Robert Benfer.

Benfer shared his team’s findings and its historical significance to about two dozen people on Monday evening at Missouri University, US.
The most significant finds from the temple were the numerous astronomical alignments, suggesting that the Andeans used constellations to guide their lives. Ancient Andean forecasters used the astronomical alignments to predict weather such as droughts and floods.
However, these astronomical alignments no longer point to significant constellations and will not do so again for approximately another 22,000 years.

He said these minor positioning differences prove that the astronomical alignments are not simply coincidental.

"That was the only time you would have alignment with the constellations and the solstice. The only time it would be of any use."- Robert Benfer.



Other excavated temples in the region contained the exact same angle alignments.
Aside from astronomic alignments, the researchers also found ancient artwork on the 16-acre site, including a mural of a fox carved inside a painted llama.
Ancient Andean people held the fox with the utmost respect because they believed foxes walked in areas suitable for building canals.

"They are not wildly attractive, but they will be very interesting because they are so old."- Robert Benfer.



The temple was well-preserved because rainfall on the western side of Peru occurs only about once a century, and almost disrupted by looters, who came within inches of uncovering and likely ruining some of the structures. Because ancient Andeans built offering chambers on top of each other, the original chambers remained hidden from looters and the elements.
In the chamber were offerings of ancient cotton and twigs. Benfer used radiocarbon dating technology on two of the twigs and dated both of them to be from 2200 B.C., a rare match.

"That doesn’t ever happen in archaeology."- Robert Benfer.

After retiring from Missouri University in 2003, Benfer headed to Peru with funding from the Missouri University Research Board, field schools in North and South America and National Geographic. He said he plans to finish his research this summer. He will present his findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Puerto Rico next week.
The site is currently covered with protective coverings shielding it from looters looking for gold or other treasure. However, gold isn’t likely to be found since ancient Andeans had yet to use gold in 2200 B.C.
Benfer said he believes the anthropology community won’t be the only group benefited by excavation.

"There has been more than some thought of making a tourist route to go see it. The treasure is there all right, and if we can maintain the site it can really help the economy of the region."- Robert Benfer.

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