Chankillo was built as a fortified temple complex over 2,300 years ago in the coastal desert of Peru, near the Casma-Sechín river basin. The monumental complex was constructed from cut stone and includes a fortified temple, a plaza, and 13 towers, which are now thought to be an astronomical observatory. Excavations at Chankillo have indicated that the site was occupied sometime between the mid-fourth century B.C. and the early first century A.D. for a relatively short period of time and was subsequently abandoned, most likely due to violent conflict.
Chankillo was identified as an observatory in 2007, creating greater interest in the site. Strong winds, humidity, temperature fluctuations, and earthquakes have caused erosion, loss of mortar, and weakening of stone masonry to the historic elements of the site. As a result, stones have cracked and fallen out, causing structural instability and the gradual collapse of walls.
How We Helped
In addition to including Chankillo on the 2010 Watch, WMF is participating in the Chankillo Revalorization and Sustainable Development Project. WMF’s partners in this initiative are the Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas (IDARQ), in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of Peru, and with financial support from the ANTAMINA mining company, the British Peruvian Cultural Institute, and OHL, a transnational corporation renovating the Pan-American Highway that runs by the site. Financial support has also been pledged from the government of the Ancash region, where Chankillo is located.
Since 2011, the project team has been undertaking excavations to research and document the original foundations, construction process, and archaeological layers, as well as establishing the legal delimitation of the site for a potential nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 2012, CyArk carried out laser scanning and mapping to develop a detailed 3-D model of Chankillo. A social component, called “Public Archaeology,” is being implemented wherein community members and other stakeholders participate in workshops, polls, and focus groups to help determine long-term management and educational proposals.
In January 2013, Chankillo was included in Peru’s Tentative List for inscription on the World Heritage List.
Why It Matters
Archaeological evidence indicates that Chankillo may be the earliest known astronomical observatory in the Americas. Chankillo is unique because its 13 towers are situated between two observation platforms and these markers span the entire annual rising and setting arcs of the sun, which shift north and south along the horizon gradually over the course of a year. Similar ancient sites around the world only contain one point of astronomical alignment, which does not provide enough measurements to track the passage of time over a year. Research has indicated that the inhabitants of Chankillo would have been able to determine the date with an accuracy of two to three days by watching the sunrise or sunset from the correct observation platform. Using the site as an observatory would have allowed the inhabitants to regulate the occurrence of seasonal events, including planting and harvest times, as well as religious festivals. This also suggests that sun worship existed in the Andes some two millennia before the well-known sun cult of the Inca Empire.