Rare Animal-Shaped Mounds Discovered in Peru

The El ParaĆ­so condor lines up with this stone sculpted to resemble a condor head. Stone condors are common in the Andes; this is the first one found on the coast. Viewed from the entrance to a 4,000 year old temple at the site, the sun rises over this pillar during the equinox.

For more than a century and a half, scientists and tourists have visited massive animal-shaped mounds, such as Serpent Mound in Ohio, created by the indigenous people of North America. But few animal effigy mounds had been found in South America until University of Missouri anthropology professor emeritus Robert Benfer 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.

“The mounds will draw tourists, one day,” Benfer said. “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.”

Benfer identified the mounds, which range from five meters (16.5 feet) to 400 meters (1,312 feet) long in each of the six valleys he surveyed in coastal Peru. The mounds pre-date ceramics and were probably built using woven baskets to carry and pile up rock and soil.

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.

“The finding of animal effigy mounds where there were none before changes our conception of early Peruvian prehistory,” Benfer said. “That they probably represent the Andean zodiac is also a new find. A controversial interpretation of some Nazca figures as representations of the zodiac is supported by these mounds.”

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