LIMA – The recent discovery of a 3,200-year-old mural has brought renewed attention to the impressive development and complex cosmovision of the pre-Columbian civilizations that lived in what is now Peru’s northern coastal region.
This “very ancient architectural jewel” was found almost by chance by archaeologist Regulo Franco, who was alerted to the ongoing destruction of an archaeological mound in a section of cropland in the Viru valley, located about 510 kilometers (315 miles) from Lima in the northwestern region of La Libertad.
“I received a call on Nov. 11 of last year from a friend who informed me that they’d destroyed a huaca (pre-Columbian adobe temple) inside a large mound, and that beautiful murals had been left exposed,” Franco told EFE.
“I went to the site and I saw it was a small building (built by) the Cupisnique culture … that we estimate dates back 3,200 years and has wall paintings,” he explained.
“Unfortunately they were destroyed by heavy machinery used by the owner of the crop field where the mound or huaca is located,” Franco said, adding that he gave the temple the name “Tomabalito” because of its proximity to the Castillo de Tomabal archaeological site associated with the Viru culture (200 BC – 500 AD).
Franco, with the assistance of fellow archaeologist Feren Castillo, decided to carry out an initial emergency three-month investigation aimed at discovering other murals that are likely located toward the west side of the mound.
“More representations remain to be found there, and obviously inside the ceremonial enclosure, which has curved corners that were one of the characteristics of the formative period, even before the Cupisnique occupation,” Franco said.
Despite his best intentions, that emergency intervention had to be put on hold due to the pandemic and lack of funding, but surveys conducted in the area made it possible to identify some defining characteristics of Cupisnique architecture.
“In its structure, in its construction and in the fillings we detected the presence of handmade conical adobes … that are very typical of this culture, which dates back more or less to 1,000 or 1,200 years B.C.,” Franco said.
The archaeologist informed La Libertad’s Decentralized Directorate of Culture that the archaeological find had been almost 60 percent destroyed by heavy machinery, prompting the launch of legal action to protect the monument.
An experienced archaeologist with decades of work on Peru’s northern coast, where he directs the famed El Brujo archaeological complex and the Cao Museum, Franco verified through old aerial photographs that the archaeological mound had once been more extensive but was destroyed by farmers wanting to expand their plantations.
“Many of those mounds were large architectural complexes and settlements that unfortunately were completely destroyed with machinery over the centuries” by farmers who initially planted cotton and now sugar cane, he said.
In fact, “Tomabalito” is not an isolated mound, but was probably associated “with a whole complex of public ceremonial structures that have been destroyed over time,” the archaeologist said.
He said the murals depict “images of supernatural beings linked to fertility, to water, to the rains,” which have always been “a vital element for all societies throughout time.”