Buena Vista, Peru
Buena Vista is an 8 hectare (20 acre) archaeological site located in Peru about 25 miles inland in the Chillon River Valley and an hour's drive north of Lima. It is in the Santa Rosa de Quives District, Canta Province, in the foothills of the Andes. The site was first excavated by Frederic Engel (1987). He obtained radiocarbon dates of artifacts that pertained to the Early Preceramic Period (9700+/-200 uncalibrated radiocarbon years before present), and to the Early Intermediate Period (1960+/-80 uncalibrated radiocarbon years before present).
In June 2004, archaeologist Robert Benfer and his team discovered Buena Vista’s most significant feature—the Temple of the Fox. So named because of the mural flanking the temple entrance, which depicts a fox curled up inside a llama, the Temple of the Fox dates back approximately 4200 years to a civilization that occupied the area a few millennia before the Incas. These ancient peoples had no writing system, and thus their name was not preserved for our knowledge; they are considered a late pre-ceramic culture and are believed to have followed the Kotosh religious tradition. Many archaeologists refer to them as the Andeans.
The temple complex measures 33 feet tall and 55 feet long. It is most notable for the astronomical observatory at its top, which is the oldest of its kind in the Americas and predates records of similar artistic and scientific achievements of the region by 800 years. Large rocks placed on a ridge to the east of the observatory entrance served as a calendar. The most prominent rock marked the summer solstice—on that day each year, from the perspective of the temple, the sun would rise directly over the rock. And, in the hours just before dawn on the summer solstice, a particular constellation rose between two other large rocks on the same ridge. That constellation was the fox.
The temple’s reverence to the fox, apparent in both the entrance mural and its astrological orientation, may provide clues to the purpose of the temple. Among many indigenous peoples of South America, the fox is a symbol of water and cultivation. Benfer hypothesizes that the ancient inhabitants of Buena Vista used the Temple of the Fox to appeal to their gods for good harvests on the summer solstice, which would have been planting time for the civilization. This hypothesis is further supported by the remains of plants and vegetables inside the temple’s offering chamber.
The observatory is further distinguished by its sophisticated carvings, and a three-dimensional life-size sculpture of a musician, unique for a period known for two-dimensional reliefs in that region.
The Buena Vista site as a whole includes ruins from 10,000 years ago to less than 3,000 years ago. Besides the temple, the site encompasses a ceremonial center, stepped pyramids, and residences for the elites and for commoners. These buildings are from varying time periods, many of which were later than the heyday of the temple. Most of these structures have also been looted. The Temple of the Fox, because it was buried beneath several layers of earth, narrowly escaped looting.
- Anne Bolen, "The New World's Oldest Calendar: Research at a 4,200-year-old temple in Peru yields clues to an ancient people who may have clocked the heavens", Smithsonian Magazine, May 2007, accessed 2 Nov 2010
- Richard Lovett, "Oldest Observatory in Americas Discovered in Peru", National Geographic, May 2006, accessed 2 Nov 2010
- Maugh, Thomas H. (14 May 2006). "Celestial Find at Ancient Andes Site". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 Jun 2012.
- Benfer, R. A. (2006), "Were Constellation Alignments Used to Orient Early Peruvian Monumental Architecture?", 71st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology
- Benfer, R. A., Jr., Ojeda, B., Duncan, N. A., Ludeña, H., Vallejos, M., Adkins, L. R., Rojas, V., Ocas, A., Ventacilla, O., Villarreal, G. & Ramírez, M. (2006), "Los Alineamientos Astronómicos y esculturas más tempranos del Perú en el sitio de Buena Vista", V Simposio Internacional de Arqueología: Procesos y Expresiones de Poder, Identidad, y Orden Tempranos en Sudamérica