Peruvian archaeologists discovered a temple in Lima that may predate Stonehenge and be the oldest known in the Americas.
The rectangular stone building in the El Paraiso archaeological complex in the north of the capital may date to 3000 B.C., Deputy Culture Minister Rafael Varon said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The temple was found inside a complex of 10 buildings that were first explored in 1965.
The building, which covers an area of 48 square meters (517 square feet) and was plastered with a mud layer and decorated with red paint, may be as old as Caral, a 5,000-year-old temple north of Lima discovered in 2001, said Jose Hudtwalcker, an archaeologist at the Riva y Aguero Institute in Lima. At 3,000 BC the temple would predate the Step Pyramid in Egypt and Stonehenge in England.
“This was the pre-Ceramic Period, when civilizations lived off fishing and basic agriculture,” Hudtwalcker, author of the forthcoming book on coastal Peruvian civilizations -- “San Lorenzo Island: Territory & Encounters” -- said today by phone. “Carbon dating will make it definitive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at least as old as Caral.”
Workers discovered a fireplace in the center of the construction, nicknamed the Temple of Fire, that may have been used for sacrificial offerings of shellfish and agricultural produce, said Marco Guillen, who headed the team of archaeologists who made the find.
“Fire was the main part of their rituals, which used smoke to communicate with their gods,” Guillen said today in a telephone interview. “El Paraiso will provide many more discoveries as we’ve only explored 1 percent of the area.”
The Culture Ministry hopes to eventually make the complex a tourist attraction, said Guillen, who is in charge of a four-and-a-half-year research project at the site. The government has pledged to provide additional security to prevent theft and illegal urban settlements, he said.
Peru, best-known for the Inca Empire that lasted for a century until the Spanish Conquest of 1532, was previously dominated by civilizations such as Chavin, Wari-Tiahuanaco and Mochica. Those civilizations came after the people who built El Paraiso and Caral.
At the time of the conquest, Lima was dotted with 400 temples, according to the Patronato de Lima, an entity dedicated to the conservation of the capital’s monuments.