For more than a century and a half, scientists and tourists have visited massive animal-shaped mounds, such as Serpent Mound in Ohio (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show), created by the indigenous people of North America. But few animal effigy mounds had been found in South America until recently, when anthropologists identified numerous earthen animals rising above the coastal plains of Peru, a region already renowned for the Nazca lines, the ruined city of Chan Chan, and other cultural treasures.
Anthropologist Robert Benfer says, "I had always noted that a very large structure just north of Lima resembled a bird. But since there were supposedly no giant animal effigy mounds in South America, I thought it couldn't be one."
Then, two years ago, while studying satellite views of archeological sites, he noticed what looked like teeth on one of the mounds north of Lima. The jagged teeth-like structures had been misidentified as irrigation canals. But after a ground survey of the area, he realized he was standing atop the caiman/puma monster of Chillón Valley. He soon found the nearby condor mound and went on to identify numerous other earthen animal effigies.
Benfer says, "The mounds will draw tourists, one day. Some of them are more than 4,000 years old. Compare that to the effigy mounds of North America, which date to between 400 and 1200 AD. The oldest Peruvian mounds were being built at the same time as the pyramids in Egypt.(NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show too!)"
Like the Nazca lines, which include a series of giant animal outlines drawn on the ground to the south, the animal mounds were best observed from a higher vantage point. Google Earth images of the mounds revealed the shapes of birds, including a giant condor, a 5,000 year-old orca, a duck, and a caiman/puma monster seen in bone and rock carvings from the area.
According to Benfer, "The finding of animal effigy mounds where there were none before changes our conception of early Peruvian prehistory. They probably represent the Andean zodiac. A controversial interpretation of some Nazca figures as representations of the zodiac is supported by these mounds."
At the Chillón Valley site, an earthen condor's charcoal eye lined up with the Milky Way when viewed from a nearby temple. The monstrous caiman/puma mound aligned with the June summer solstice when viewed from the same temple.
Benfer thinks that astronomer priests may have made directed construction of the mounds and then made observations of the sky and offerings to Earth from atop the earthen creatures. For the ancients, having a celestial calendar allowed farmers and fisherman to prepare for the year ahead.
"For example, knowing that December 21st had passed was very important. If there was no sign of an El Niño by then, fishers would know they would have another good year, and farmers would face neither drought nor floods."
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