Chankillo (also spelt 'Chanquillo') archaeological complex, 300 km (186 miles) north of Lima, contains the oldest and best-preserved astronomical observatory in the Americas.
It is located in the Casma Valley in Ancash Province, in Peru's coastal desert, where the climate is ideal for agriculture, with present-day produce including cotton, corn, avocado, mango and passionfruit.
Archaeologists estimate that Chankillo was occupied from the 4th Century B.C to 1st Century A.D, before being abandoned. Covering an area of some four square kilometres (1.5 square miles), the site includes a hilltop fort, gathering areas and storage facilities, along with ceremonial centres and a temple within the fort.
However, undoubtedly the most interesting feature of Chankillo is a series of 13 stone towers, built along a low hill, whose positions - about 5 m (16 ft) apart, running north to south, for 300 m (984 ft) - correspond very closely to the rising and setting positions of the Sun over the year. There are two lookout platforms, below the hill, one to the east (for watching the sun set) and one to the west (for watching the sun rise), from where the Chankillo inhabitants could determine the date, with an accuracy of two to three days, allowing them to regulate planting and harvest times, along with religious festivals.
By having multiple observation points, Chankillo is unique among ancient observatory sites. Similar sites elsewhere in Peru, and world-wide, contain only one point of astronomical alignment: this does not provide the measurements necessary to track the passage of time over a full year. But, although Chankillo's towers had been known of for centuries, it was only in 2007 that archaeologists Ivan Ghezzi and Clive Ruggles provided a full hypothesis of their use and importance, in which they concluded that sun worship existed in pre-Columbian Peru nearly 2,000 years before the well-known sun cult of the Inca Empire.
Still, very little is known about the Casma-Sechin Culture that created this remarkable astronomical calendar. But with archaeological research and restoration ongoing, with financial support from the World Monuments Fund, the British-Peruvian Cultural Institute and the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, among others, it is hoped that Chankillo will be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list, which should give a boost to interest in the site and its previous inhabitants.
If wishing to visit Chankillo, please contact us for details of how to do this. It is close to the PanAmerican Highway, so access is not difficult, but still few overseas visitors make the journey.