A group of archaeologists has carried out a new investigation of a pyramidal structure known as “El Volcán” in the valley of Nepeña in Peru.
Evidence suggests that the pyramid, roughly 35 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter, was originally and deliberately built in the form of a volcano—a cone-shaped pyramid with a central pit.
Ever since its discovery, archaeologists have been left perplexed by the structure and its mysterious shape, modeled in ancient times to mimic the form of a Volcano.
It should be noted, however, that there are no volcanoes in the vicinity of El Volcán to serve as models, nor indeed are any other examples of volcano-shaped structures known from Peru or elsewhere.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and I have surveyed many coastal valleys in Peru. I know of no other example in the world,” said Bob Benfer, a professor emeritus of anthropology at MU.
But this volcano is artificial, a mound or pyramid built by human hands with a crater dug out of the top. And some archaeologists are trying to figure out what it was used for.
Scientists excavated a ditch in the volcano crater and discovered a collapsed ladder that descends under a layer of adobe to a plaster and mud floor – and a hearth containing charcoal and shell.
Furthermore, thanks to radiocarbon dating experts were able to reveal the unusual occurrence of four total solar eclipses at the site over the span of just 11 years, an indicator that the structure may have been used to celebrate the victory of the moon over the sun indicates the Daily Mail.
According to data published in the Journal Antiquity, it is not known exactly when the structure was built, but its proximity to the late Formative center of San Isidro—between 900BC-200BC—suggests that there may be a link to this period.
“The site is called ‘El Volcan,’ and the local people call it ‘Waka.’ Some local people think it’s a natural formation, and others think it was built to collect water, but mostly they don’t know its function. I believe it was a religious center because it can be seen from anywhere on the nearby mountain, which has a series of structures built in prehistoric times, and you would see ceremonies at the pyramid from every structure.”
Benfer and his team made a small excavation of the mysterious cone and found adobe bricks surrounding the inner part of the cone, adobe floors and benches, and even a rock hearth that was last used around 1563. Ceramics Benfer’s team unearthed suggests the site was constructed two thousand years ago.
Through his research, Benfer also discovered there had been a cluster of solar eclipses that he thinks might be linked to religious ceremonies at the site.
They also found a fireplace at the bottom of the stairwell, full of bits of charcoal and shell. Archaeologists can determine the age of such organic material using radiocarbon dating. A sample of burned material from the hearth showed that the last fire was lit sometime between A.D. 1492 and 1602.
Benfer believes this date range is important. During the 16th century, there would have been four total solar eclipses, visible from El Volcán, in short order: in A.D. 1521, 1538, 1539, and 1543. This would have been a rare occurrence. “The chances that four solar eclipses could occur during the probability distribution of the radiocarbon date of the hearth is less than 0.0003,” Benfer told Live Science. (That’s less than a 0.3 percent chance of occurring.)
In their paper, the researchers wrote that “the people of the northern and central coasts, the Yungas, unlike the later Incas, greeted eclipse[s] of the sun with joy, not fear.” Benfer speculated that the fire might be all that’s left of a ceremony linked to one of these eclipses.
The researchers are not sure when the mound was first built. It’s possible that the original structure might be much older than the hearth. The nearby archaeological site at San Isidro was active during the Late Formative period (900 B.C.to 200 B.C.).
The meaning behind the mound’s shape is also still unclear. Benfer noted that there are no volcanoes around El Volcán that would have served as models for its construction if it was indeed meant to look like a volcano, and no other structures like it have been found in Peru
Historical records confirm that the Yungas, peoples of the coast, unlike the later Incas, greeted the solar eclipse with joy instead of fear.
Lunar eclipses were more troublesome for the Yungas because the radiocarbon date of 1563 falls just after the cluster of eclipses and the researcher believes a closing ceremony (evidence in the hearth) might have been linked to one or more of the eclipses.
So why was this pyramid constructed?
“Possibly the El Volcan hearth was a place celebrating the victory of the moon over the sun,” he says. “It seems to have marked the final use of this unique structure.”
“It could mark a burial site for a very important person since deeply buried tombs are known from this area, but without extens