Oldest Temple, Mural in the Americas Found in Peru

November 12, 2007

What may be the oldest documented mural in the Americas has been found inside a 4,000-year-old temple near the Peruvian coast, researchers reported yesterday.

The discovery, made by Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva in a looted site known as Ventarrón, is located in Peru's Lambayeque valley, some 500 miles (804 kilometers) from the capital, Lima.

"We have found what we believe is the oldest mural in the Americas," Alva, director of the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum, told National Geographic News in an interview.

At a Peruvian government conference this weekend, Alva announced that carbon dating conducted in the United States shows that the mural and temple are 4,000 years old. (See photos of the find.)

Ventarrón is located 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Sipán, the religious and political heart of the ancient Moche people, who flourished near Peru's northern coastlands from around A.D. 1 to A.D. 700.

(Related news: "Mummy of Tattooed Woman Discovered in Peru Pyramid" [May 16, 2006].)

Alva, who discovered that important archaeological site in the 1980s, said the Ventarrón mural and structures predate Sipán by nearly 2,000 years.

Sophisticated Artistry

The structures were made from "primitive" materials but were relatively sophisticated in some ways, he said.

His team found a wall painting—which depicts a deer caught in a net—after discovering a staircase leading up to a hidden altar.

Another red-and-white wall painting was also found.

The stairway caught their attention because it is an architectural oddity in that region, Alva said. Also strange, the temple was built from blocks of river sediment rather than adobe or stone, he said.

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