Massive Stone Monuments in Chile’s Atacama Desert Were 5,000-Year-Old Ceremonial Centers

Both complexes are located at a distance of only one kilometer apart.

Archaeologists from the Université Paris Nanterre, from France, and the Catholic University of the North, have presented the results of a study, in which they have concluded that two massive ceremonial complexes located in the Atacama Desert were used for religious and sacrificial purposes.

Both complexes are located at a distance of only one kilometer apart.

According to experts, it is believed that one of the complexes may date back as far as 5,000 years and archeologists are convinced that both sites were used for ceremonial purposes, according to archaeology professors Catherine Perlès, from the Université Paris Nanterre; and Lautaro Nuñez, from the Universidad Católica del Norte in Chile.

Ancient people inhabiting the Atacama Desert in distant times survived the harsh and arid conditions of the Atacama Desert by grouping together in so called eco-refuges, places that had just enough water, animal and plant life to support human existence.

And according to experts, these two recently excavated ceremonial complexes were built by people living in such eco-refuges.

Experts believed that the construction of both ceremonial centers was organized by religious leaders, thousands of years ago.

According to reports, one of the two ceremonial centers, Tulan-52, is believed to have thrived in the desert’s largest salt flat from around 1110-900BC until 550-360 BC.

Desert panorama of the highlands Atacama and location of the fertile eco-refuge of the Tulán creek. The arrow indicates the late archaic site Tulán-52. Image Credit: Gonzalo Pimentel
Desert panorama of the highlands Atacama and location of the fertile eco-refuge of the Tulán creek. The arrow indicates the late archaic site Tulán-52. Image Credit: Gonzalo Pimentel / Source

“Tulan-54 has all the diagnostic characteristics of a fully developed ceremonial center of the Early Formative in the Salar de Atacama region,” the researchers explain.

Archaeologists have excavated the remains of 28 infants, some of which were buried with exotic offerings.

Researchers recovered from one of the burials large golden artifacts. They found a gold-plated wooden vulture head, decorated with green malachite eyes and crest as well as an elaborate golden plaque.

“Numerous mortars and grinding slabs attest to the intense preparation of pigments, foodstuffs and beverages, as well as hallucinogens made from the seeds of cebil (Anadenanthera sp.) and maize (Zea mays), both imported from the lowlands of north-east Argentina,” Perlès and Nuñez wrote.

A stunning 5,000-year-old site

The second ceremonial complex, last excavated in 1985 was believed to have been a settlement. However, after careful analysis of data and after Perlès and Nuñez re-evaluated the archeological remains, the scientific duo concluded that rather than a settlement, the site served as a ceremonial and sacrificial center some 5,000 years ago.

To come to this conclusion Perlès and Nuñez observed the buildings on the site.

Their investigation revealed that none of the buildings at the site were used as houses and the architecture of the site is eerily similar to that of the other Atacama sight.

“At both sites, the structures are built with large vertical and capping slabs, up to 1.5m [5 feet] in height,” Perlès and Nuñez wrote. Additionally, “a high proportion of the mortars and grinding stones from both sites are associated with deposits of red pigment,” which would have had a ceremonial use, Perlès and Nuñez wrote.

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