for National Geographic News
A 3,000-year-old temple featuring an image of a spider god may hold clues to little-known cultures in ancient Peru.
People of the Cupisnique culture, which thrived from roughly 1500 to 1000 B.C., built the temple in the Lambayeque valley on Peru's north coast.
The adobe temple, found this summer and called Collud, is the third discovered in the area in recent years. (Watch a video of the spider-god temple.)
The finds suggest that the three valley sites may have been part of a large capital for divine worship, said archaeologist Walter Alva, director of the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum.
Alva and colleagues started the dig in November 2007, when they discovered a 4,000-year-old temple and a mural painting at the Ventarrón site in the valley. Both the temple and mural were the oldest ever found in the Americas.
The entire religious complex houses every ancient Peruvian architectural style up to the Inca, Walter Alva said, one of only a few sites in Peru that spans so many cultures.
The spider-god image appears often in other sites created during Peru's Early Formative Period, 1200 to 400 B.C.
For instance, the Garagay temple in Lima and the Limón Carro site in northern Peru both include the imagery, according to Ignacio Alva, Walter Alva's son and colleague.
At the newfound Collud, the spider god carried several meanings, experts say.
The image combines a spider's neck and head, the mouth of a large cat, and a bird's beak, Ignacio Alva said.
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