Mysterious Pyramid Complex Discovered in Peru

Kelly Hearn in Buenos Aires, Argentina for National Geographic News

February 20, 2008


The remnants of at least ten pyramids have been discovered on the coast of Peru, marking what could be a vast ceremonial site of an ancient, little-known culture, archaeologists say.


In January construction crews working in the province of Piura discovered several truncated pyramids and a large adobe platform (see map).


Officials from Peru's National Institute of Culture (INC) were dispatched to inspect the discovery.


Last week they announced that the complex, which is 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) long and 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) wide, belonged to the ancient Vicús culture and was likely either a religious center or a cemetery for nobility.


The Vicús was a pre-Hispanic civilization that flourished in Peru's northern coastal desert from 200 B.C to 300 A.D. and is known for its decorated ceramics.


Experts say little is known about the culture, because its sites have been heavily looted over the years.


"We found several partial pyramids, at least ten," said César Santos Sánchez, chief archaeologist for INC's Piura division.


"We also found a large adobe platform that we speculate could have been used for burial rituals. But we cannot know without further testing."


The platform, measuring 82 feet (25 meters) by 98 feet (30 meters), was found alongside one of the larger pyramids in the complex.


Another of the larger pyramids contained some artifacts as well as bone fragments from a human skull.


The fact that the skull fragments were found several meters below the surface, indicating a deep grave that took much time to dig, prompted researchers to theorize that the individual buried there had high social status.


Santos added that the complex is surrounded by four large hills: Pilán, Vicús, Chanchape, and Tongo.


"We think that because of its geographic location the complex could have been a place of strategic value," Santos said.


The area containing the pyramids is surrounded by a cemetery that has been looted by grave robbers.


"But the complex itself is intact," Santos said.


"The Vicús are very interesting but so poorly understood, given that most of what we know about them is through looted ceramic art," said Steve Bourget, an archaeologist at the University of Texas at Austin.


"This could be an important find, because it is one of the few with monumental architecture. But it is too soon to tell."


Experts say the Vicús ceramic style is similar in some respects to that of the Moche, a fact that has spawned research on the relationship between the two cultures.


The Moche civilization flourished in areas south of the Vicús from around A.D. 100 to 750, producing intricately painted pottery as well as gold ornaments, irrigation systems, and monuments.


The two cultures thrived within a relatively short distance of each other—less than that between Los Angeles and San Francisco—experts point out.


"It is possible that the Vicús for part of its history was closely affiliated with the Moche culture," said Joanne Pillsbury, an archaeologist at the Washington, D.C.-based Dumbarton Oaks, a research institute affiliated with Harvard University.


The discovery of the Vicús pyramids comes as perceptions about the Moche have shifted, she added.


"It was once thought that Moche was a single monolithic state, but people don't think that is true anymore," Pillsbury said.


"It was likely a series of regional or multi-valley kingdoms that shared a broader culture. And Vicús was probably part of that sphere of interaction."




By Richard Moss      



Recent analysis of 4,000-year-old pots recovered during an excavation of two graves at Upper Largie, near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, has provided exciting evidence linking prehistoric Scotland with the Netherlands.


Analysis of the pots by Alison Sheridan, of National Museums Scotland, has revealed early international-style Beakers of the type found around the lower Rhine, which is the modern-day Netherlands and a strange hybrid of styles that suggest Irish and Yorkshire influences.


“These finds are very rare,” said Martin Cook, the AOC Archaeology Project Officer, who oversaw the excavations in 2005. “I think there are three or four other examples that early in Scotland. We initially didn’t realise how unusual they were, as it is so unusual to find three beaker ceramic vessels in the same feature.”


“The actual structure was very unusual, there’s only been one other grave excavated like that in Scotland – you just don’t get features like that generally.”


The excavations revealed two graves within a complex Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual landscape composed of monuments including an Early Neolithic cursus (long earthwork) and an Early Bronze Age timber circle.


Although no human remains were recovered in either grave – bone does not survive in the sand and gravel and the only other artefacts recovered from the earlier grave were two flint knives – Martin believes a human body had been laid in the pit.


The construction of the grave shows strong Dutch parallels suggesting that its occupant may have been a Dutch immigrant.


“The grave is so early and the style of ceramic is so rare for this period that it’s either an immigrant or a first or second generation descendant who still knows these techniques,” said Martin. “The pots are made from local material which certainly suggests an immigrant or a second generation person.”

a photo of a circular ribbed pot in situ in an archaeological pit   


A ring ditch surrounding the grave was about 5.5 metres in diameter, with posts standing in it. Just to the south lay an associated arc of four larger pits that also held posts.


At a later date a second grave was dug, in which was placed a food vessel bowl of unique design. Its upper part is of classic Irish style as current around 2150BC but the four feet at the bottom are a Yorkshire feature. This ‘polypod’ hybrid-design vessel is also rare and unique, and it neatly reflects some of the external contacts of the Kilmartin valley elite during the Early Bronze Age.


Travel at this time would have been difficult with few established tracks and thick forests covering much of the British Isles – much of it populated by some dangerous wild animals. Seaward travel to or from Yorkshire and Ireland to pick up these influences would have been the slightly easier option.


“I think it just re-emphasises the importance of Kilmartin as a centre during this time,” added Martin.


For more information about the work of AOC Archeology Group, see www.aocarchaeology.com



Roman site unearthed in Doune

Feb 22 2008

By Stephanie Black


DOUNE Primary School pupils have been discovering the hidden treasures of ancient Rome — right in the middle of their playground.


A new classroom is currently being built at Doune and because the site is home to a former Roman fort, professional archaeologists have been called in — just in case there are any historical artefacts uncovered.


Head teacher Jane McManus told the Stirling Observer: “The children have truly enjoyed this experience and have been asking the archaeologists lots of interesting questions.”


The three archaeologists from Headland Archeology have found simple pottery items and clay slingshots to the actual placement of the foundations of the Roman Fort.


Each class has been given a tour of the excavation site by the archaeologists and have been given in depth insight into the discoveries made.


“They’ve been delighted with what they’ve found so far,” added Mrs McManus.


This is not the first excavation to take place at Doune Primary School. Eight years ago a similar excavation took place in preparation for the new nursery.


The pieces found will now be taken back with the archaeologists and examined further with a report to be written on all items discovered at the Roman site.



Pierced skull and bones recovered


A worker dredging a river in Suffolk has discovered a skull and other human remains believed to date back to before the Middle Ages.


An examination revealed the skull had been penetrated by what could have been an iron arrow or spear.


This identified them as medieval, from between AD1066 and 1540, but they could even be Roman or Saxon, experts said.


The remains came from the River Lark at West Row near Mildenhall and the police were called in the first instance.


Ryan Ely, from the Environment Agency, said: "We had not expected to find any remains but had taken advice from Suffolk's archaeological service before we started dredging.


"Dragline operator, Simon Wenn, was on the alert and, after his grim discovery, we turned to the archaeological service once the police had given us the all-clear."


More bones, including those from a juvenile and a 14th century metal buckle were also recovered during the work.


The circumstances of the adult's death are unknown although there was a battle at Fornham in 1173, but this association is pure speculation.


There have been other finds from Suffolk rivers in the past but this is the first find from this area for several years.



Irish stone of eloquence may be just Blarney

Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:37am EST

By Andras Gergely


The millions who have made the pilgrimage to Blarney Castle in southern Ireland to kiss its "stone of eloquence" have put their lips on the wrong stone, according to a new book on the medieval fortress.


The term "Blarney talk" is thought to stem from Queen Elizabeth I who lost patience with the insolent excuses of a chieftain who refused to hand the castle to English forces and said: "Blarney, Blarney, I will hear no more of this Blarney!"


Anyone can try to gain Chieftain Cormac MacDermot Mor MacCarthy's gift for persuasive speech by climbing up to the battlements of one of Ireland's top tourist attractions, bending backwards over a long drop and kissing the "Blarney Stone".


But archaeologist Mark Samuel, co-author of a new book on the castle, says the stone which attracts 400,000 visitors a year cannot be "The" Blarney stone.


"The first mention of the stone in its current position is from 1888," Samuel told Reuters, adding that earlier sources referred to it being elsewhere in the castle.


"Blarney Castle: Its History, Development and Purpose" describes possible locations for the original stone, which according to one myth was known as "Jacob's Pillow" and brought back by crusaders from the Holy Land.


Another tradition holds that it is part of the Stone of Scone on which Scottish monarchs are crowned and was a gift from the 14th century King of Scots, Robert the Bruce.


Samuel and co-author Kate Hamlyn say the original stone may have been confused with a date stone marking the building of the third castle on the site in 1446.


That stone was notoriously inaccessible, hence the idea that anyone bold enough to reach it deserved a reward.


Another 19th century commentator, however, said the then object of pilgrimages was a stone inscribed with the date 1703.


Yet the real stone may also have been a third one, which pilgrims could only reach by being lowered eight feet (2.4 meters) by rope, head downward from the top of the castle.


"It was only after 1800 that either they moved the stone or else simply declared another stone the Blarney stone," Samuel said in a telephone interview.


John Fogarty of the castle's sales and marketing department dismissed Samuel's doubts, however.


"Once upon a time, visitors had to be held by the ankles and lowered head first over the battlements," he said. "Today, we are rather more cautious of the safety of our visitors. The stone itself is still set in the wall below the battlements. So you are still kissing the same stone just from a safer side."


Samuel said the castle was "reinvented" as a tourist destination in the 1820s when the author Walter Scott visited and readers of his historical romances bought into a craze for the past and the imaginary world of druids, witches and fairies.


Samuel said he was not looking to debunk the Blarney stone's long history, only to establish which was the original.


"Blarney Castle is such an interesting place and so well worth visiting for other reasons it's a pity people just go there to kiss the stone," he added.


"It's of particular interest because it was built not by British knights or barons but by the Gaelic Irish."


But wherever the real stone may lie, kissing the 'wrong' one clearly did little harm to one visitor: former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a Nobel prize winning author famed for his oratory and quick wit, visited the stone in 1912.




11:00 - 23 February 2008


Heritage campaigners are up in arms over plans to demolish an "atmospheric" pumping house designed by the great 19th-century engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.


Residents in Totnes have joined forces with the Save Britain's Heritage group to fight for the building to be listed and protected.


Campaigners believe the pumping house, which is on a site owned by Surrey-based milk company Dairy Crest, is one of only three left in the Westcountry. The others are at Starcross and Torquay.


Alan Langmaid, Totnes Museum administrator, said: "Many people are working behind the scenes to see the building listed and saved. It's causing a bit of stir in the town. Totnes is a historical town, which is not just a medieval town centre - history didn't stop here with the Normans. "This is a significant building which is 160 years old, and Brunel was an engineer of national importance."


The 1840s structure was part of Brunel's attempt to introduce a radical form of locomotion, with trains being pushed by air pressure from a pipe situated between the tracks. But trials between Exeter and Teignmouth were abandoned after a year because rats chewed through leather valves along the line.


Adam Wilkinson, national secretary of Save Britain's Heritage, said the system was ahead of its time, pre-empting the basic concept behind electrification. He said: "It is arguably the most interesting and unique stretch of railway in the UK. This extraordinary relic must be listed now. It is an incredible reminder of an era of amazing innovation and inventiveness. One could hardly imagine a railway company coming up with, and executing, an idea like this nowadays. It is hugely important both nationally and locally."


Campaigners have already filed a request to see the building listed. Their request was turned down but they have appealed against the decision and are now awaiting an answer from English Heritage.


Totnes town councillor Pruw Boswell said Brunel was a national icon who built the Great Western Railway, the Tamar Bridge and Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.


She said: "There's a lot of feeling in the town about this. There are only three buildings like that left which makes it a significant building not just for Totnes's history but also nationally.


"The country owes Brunel so much. We have been in contact with Dairy Crest about this." Mr Wilkinson said Save Britain's Heritage had appealed to Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.


A spokeswoman for Dairy Crest, which pulled out of the site last year, said the firm planned to demolish the building in preparation to sell the site.


The work will include removing quantities of brown and blue asbestos and demolishing the chimney because it is apparently not safe.


The spokeswoman said: "Local authority permission is currently being sought to demolish the buildings to the South-West of the mill leat.


"None of the buildings on the site at Station Yard, Totnes, is listed, and we expect to receive permission by mid-March to commence demolition of the remaining buildings."