What may have been one of the oldest known murals in the Americas has been scorched by flames.
Local media are reporting that a fire recently damaged a mural dating back more than 4,000 years. The Sunday evening fire spread through a 4,000-year-old temple called Ventarrón in Peru's northern Lambayeque Valley and unleashed a scorch of destruction on the ancient site.
Director of the Royal Tombs Museum of Sipán Walter Alva told local outlets that nearly 95 percent of the site, including the mural and artifacts, were damaged by the flames.
Posting on his Facebook page, archaeologist Ignacio Alva Meneses, Walter's son, lamented the nearly 5,000 years' worth of history that had been engulfed by the destruction. Alva shot video at the scene that shows bright red flames intensely burning across the roofs covering the site.
Local news outlets reported that what started as a controlled burn for agriculture spread out of control. Agribusiness company Pomalco allegedly started the fire to burn a field of sugarcane. The practice is a common way to clear crops before a new planting season. Peru's ministry of culture will reportedly investigate the fire and the full extent of damage at Ventarrón.
Parts of the site were looted in the early 1990s, but looters were unable to find a staircase that led to the temple. When it was unearthed by archaeologists in 2007, it had been untouched for nearly four millennia. It's 12 miles away from a famous Peruvian archaeological site called Sipán that was once a major cultural hub for the Moche people. They lived from roughly the first century to the eighth along Peru's northern coast. (See the reconstructed face of a Moche mummy.)
Carbon dating, however, revealed that Ventarrón predated Sipán by about 2,000 years. In a 2007 interview with National Geographic, the senior Alva claimed the carbon dating made it the oldest known mural in the Americas.
Vibrant yellow, red, and blue pigments painted onto the mural's blocks of river sediment depict a deer caught in a net, archaeologists claimed.
When it was discovered, researchers commented that Ventarrón represented the formative stage of a society as more complex structures begin to form. It may have been an exchange point between societies forming along the coast and deeper within Peru. Skeletons from parrots and monkeys found at the site may have been the remains of a trading business for commerce or ceremonies.