A Guide To Casma

370 km (225 miles) north of Lima, along the Panamerican Highway, lies the sleepy town of Casma, in the Province of Ancash.

The nondescript nature of the town, at the confluence of the Casma and Sechin rivers, belies the huge archaeological significance of the area. Some of the largest prehistoric monuments in the world, and oldest in the Americas, are situated in the area.

Principal amongst these is the extensive site of Sechin, built by people for whom torture and death seem to have been a way of life. Here a small temple is surrounded on three sides by stone walls that are covered with carved reliefs of warriors eviscerating scores of prisoners. Because the walls are made of stone, the figures are much bolder than the eroded reliefs of the Moche and Chimu huacas further north.

Mojeque, or Pampa de las Llamas-Moxeke to give the full name, is a large site best known for a pyramid where many life-size painted sculptures were found by renowned Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello. Replicas of these are currently exhibited in the Museo de la Nacion in Lima.

The most interesting feature of Chankillo (or Chanquillo) is a series of 13 stone towers, which are thought to have been an astronomical observatory, by which the residents could calculate the date. The site also includes a hilltop fort, with temple inside; gathering areas and storage facilities: and ceremonial centres.

Pañamarca is a Moche ruin found further north, in the Nepeña River Valley. It has been dated to around 500 AD and notable for its paintings of warriors.

Las Aldas (or Las Haldas) differs from the above ruins in that it is located on the Pacific coast, about 20 km (12 miles) south of the Casma River. It has bemused archaeologists that such a large complex - dating from 1800-1000 BC - could exist without close access to a fresh water source and therefore without the ability to develop agriculture.

It is assumed that the people of Las Aldas were dependent upon the nearby maritime resources for subsistence, and that they traded fish, shellfish etc for agricultural produce from the towns located inland, along rivers, such as those of the Casma Valley and the Norte Chico civilization to the south.

Being only a little way inland from the Pacific Ocean, Casma also provides access to a number of beaches, such as Playa Tortugas, La Gramita, El Litro and Punta el Huaro.