In the scorching plains of Peru rests a small temple and observatory that has sat in the sand for thousands of years.
It has a strange name but the structures visually represent symmetry: beautiful with architectural accuracy. From the academic side Chankillo is a, “ceremonial centre with ritual, administrative and defensive attributes located in the coastal desert just outside the flood-plain of the Casma-Sechín river basin.” For those who aren’t familiar with hardened geography, Chankillo is located in a costal desert in Peru, in South America, one of the world’s driest areas.
As a result of its location, it has fared badly against the elements. Strong winds, humidity, temperature fluctuations, and earthquakes have caused erosion, loss of mortar, and weakening of stone masonry to the historic elements of the site. As a result, stones have cracked and fallen out, causing structural instability and the gradual collapse of walls.
The site has a history of wading off threats. William Harris Isabell in his book titled Andean Archaeology III: North and South states, “Chankillo had significant defences, reflecting the great threats that must have existed at the time. What kind of warfare environment may have characterized the late Early-Horizon period of the north-central coast area to warrant the fortification of temples?”
The solar observatory is ingenious. And it was only revealed as a solar observatory in 2007. Before then, archaeologists and scientists were puzzled. It has a central observatory and above that, thirteen small towers that illustrates the full pattern of the rising of the sun throughout the year. The World Monuments Fund have this site on their Watch List and state, “excavations at Chankillo have indicated that the site was occupied sometime between the mid-fourth century B.C. and the early first century A.D. for a relatively short period of time and was subsequently abandoned, most likely due to violent conflict.”
When the site was inscribed onto their list, there was an instant reaction. In addition to including Chankillo on the 2010 Watch, WMF is participating in the Chankillo Revalorization and Sustainable Development Project.
The first mission for restoration and preservation was laser scanning the entire site. Next the WMF completed a survey that addressed some recommendations from organisations about preservations. The next phases to be carried out between 2011 and 2014 will consist of conservation work, development of a Management Plan, archaeological research and the potential nomination of Chankillo to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Why does it matter?
The beauty of Chankillo is that its history and origin is complex and mysterious. Currently, no archaeologist can identify a known culture with astrological and engineering knowledge capable of pulling off this site. Radiocarbon studies indicate that Chankillo is over 2,500 years old, making it the oldest astronomical observatory in the Americas.
“Archaeological research in Peru is constantly pushing back the origins of civilization in the Americas,” said Ivan Ghezzi, a graduate student in the department of Anthropology at Yale University. “In this case, the 2,300 year old solar observatory at Chankillo is the earliest such structure identified and unlike all other sites contains alignments that cover the entire solar year. It predates the European conquests by 1,800 years and even precedes, by about 500 years, the monuments of similar purpose constructed by the Mayans in Central America.”
“Archaeological heritage is a non-renewable source, once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”