Home Archeology History 4,750-Year-Old Monumental Stone Plaza Discovered in Peru

4,750-Year-Old Monumental Stone Plaza Discovered in Peru

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4,750-Year-Old Monumental Stone Plaza Discovered in Peru

A team of anthropologists from the University of Wyoming, the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of New Hampshire has discovered a 4,750-year-old megalithic circular plaza measuring 18 m (60 feet) in diameter at Callacpuma in the Cajamarca basin of Peru. This is one of the earliest known monumental and megalithic structures in the northern Peruvian Andes and one of the earliest examples in the western hemisphere.

The 4,750-year-old circular plaza is at center with the modern city of Cajamarca in the background. Image credit: Toohey et al., doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adl0572.

Monumental architecture is central to many aspects of human social organization and the development of social complexity, yet the drivers of its origins remain poorly understood.

This form of architecture is purposefully constructed to be larger and sometimes more elaborate than is needed given its intended function.

The world’s earliest ceremonial monumental architecture, whether represented by alignments of megalithic stones, large platforms and buildings, or bounded plazas, were the results of communal or corporate action, by groups larger than immediate households and often larger than the population of the local area.

Early, well-known examples of ceremonial architecture of this kind include Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, Stonehenge in England, and the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt, which were constructed by 9,000 BCE, 2900 BCE, and 2650 BCE, respectively.

Gobekli Tepe is particularly important here as it was constructed during the Pre-pottery Neolithic by hunting-gathering-foraging peoples on the cusp of sedentary life and food production.

Early examples of monumentality in the western hemisphere include Watson Brake and Poverty Point dating to 3400 BCE and 1700 BCE, respectively.

The newly-discovered megalithic plaza was constructed during the Late Preceramic period, as early as 2850 BCE.

The structure is located at the archaeological site of Callacpuma in the Cajamarca basin of the northern Peruvian Andes and is built with large free-standing and vertically placed megalithic stones.

This construction method has never before been reported in the Andes and is distinct from other monumental circular plazas in the region.

“This structure was built approximately 100 years before the Great Pyramids of Egypt and around the same time as Stonehenge,” said Dr. Jason Toohey, an anthropologist at the University of Wyoming.

“It was probably a gathering place and ceremonial location for some of the earliest people living in this part of the Cajamarca Valley.”

“These people were living a primarily hunting-and-gathering lifestyle and probably had only recently begun growing crops and domesticating animals.”

The Callacpuma plaza is formed by two concentric walls and measures about 18 m in diameter.

“The Late Preceramic, during which the Callacpuma plaza was constructed, was a time of socioeconomic transition in the Andes,” the researchers said.

“On the central coast, the communities that came together to create the massive mounds at sites like Caral were not yet full-time farmers but engaged in complex exchange systems with coastal fishing communities.”

“Inland communities grew some food and industrial crops but also depended on hunting and exchanged marine products.”

“In the northern highlands of Peru, the people that built the plaza at Callacpuma may have begun to experiment with food production, but they were also probably still relatively mobile hunter-gatherers.”

“As at Nanchoc centuries earlier, Cajamarca groups may have engaged in the corporate construction of the plaza at Callacpuma and then repeatedly negotiated group identities there through integrating events and possibly feasting.”

“As with the case of early monumental collective architecture outside Andean South America, for instance at Gobekli Tepe, the construction of monumental ritual architecture in the Late Preceramic of the coastal and highland central Andes represented a shifting social world perhaps involving a change from small group-related belief systems to more collective and regionally focused belief and action.”

The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.

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Jason L. Toohey et al. 2024. A monumental stone plaza at 4750 B.P. in the Cajamarca Valley of Peru. Science Advances 10 (7); doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adl0572

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