Zaña Valley is an archaeological area in northern Peru that contains the earliest known canals in South America. These constructions belong to preceramic period. The valley is located southeast of the city of Chiclayo. Zana river is currently dry most of the year, but occasionally it has torrential flows.
These were small stone-lined canals that drew water from uphill streams in the Andes Mountains region. Archaeologists believe that the canals were used 4,500 years ago and as early as 6,700 years ago. Accelerator Mass Spectrometer dating of aggregate flecks of charcoal from the oldest canal dated to 6705 + 75 14C. The canals were more or less u-shaped, symmetrical and shallow. Stones were found along the sides of the canals which are thought to have been used to protect against erosion. The placement and slope of the canals demonstrates engineering planning. The upkeep for these canals also reveal social organization of labor.
Although Tom Dillehay and his team from Vanderbilt University discovered the canals in 1989, the importance of them has been uncovered only in the most recent field study. These canals are confirmed to be around 5,400 years old. They range in size but all are built downwards, relying on gravity to draw water from an upper canal to the lower crops. The construction and maintenance of these canals required a lot of work from the entire community. This allowed for a connection and communication within the community, as the responsibilities were shared amongst everyone. Dillehay states that he does not believe there was a central leader in the building of these canals as it was in the very early stages of the Andean Society. The surrounding areas also show no signs of their being any sort of hierarchy. Dillehay also states that these canals, much like the ones in Pharaonic Egypt or the kingdoms of Mesopotamia, compare to early canals in the Old World in the sense that they rely on gravity to draw water over short distances, where it could be easily managed.
Though the small town of Zaña might seem like it’s a deserted ghost town, it actually comes from a time of rich history. Zaña and the Zaña Valley have been occupied by humans for thousands years, but the events of tragedy in the Colonial Period are what lead to the current state of this area.
Zaña is located roughly 50 kilometers from the Pacific shore to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east. Because of the location, it was a flourishing community full of Spanish elites. Since there was a lot of work to be done maintaining the canals, the Spanish imported African slaves to increase the pool of labor workers used for the economy. Gold and silver mining were also big sources of income for Zaña in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Zaña was on its way to become a very important city in Peru, perhaps even the new world. A little over 100 years after the founding of the city, word began to spread of the wealth of Zaña. In 1686, Edward Davis – a pirate – led a raid resulting in all possible forms of wealth and trade goods being taken. Many more pirate attacks followed into the 1700s.
On the path to recovery, Mother Nature brought torrential rains in the early 1720s that led to the rising of the Zaña River and eventually the flooding that destroyed the entire city of Zaña on the 15th of March of the same year!
Once the rains stopped, all that was left were the skeletal remains of the churches and convents surrounding it. The Spanish left and never came back, but left the African slaves out on their own.
Now many of the residents who live in Zaña have African heritage and can trace their family line back to the destruction of the city.
- Dillehay, Tom D.; Eling Jr., Herbert H.; Rossen, Jack (2005). "Preceramic Irrigation Canals in the Peruvian Andes". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. National Academy of Sciences. 102 (47): 17241–44. doi:10.1073/pnas.0508583102. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 1288011. PMID 16284247.
- "Peruvian Canals Most Ancient in New World". LiveScience.com. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
- "Zaña, Peru: The Town That Almost Was". National Geographic (blogs). Retrieved 2016-03-08.