[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Plaza in Peru may be the America's Oldest Urban Site

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Thu Feb 28 22:45:12 EST 2008

Plaza in Peru may be the America's oldest urban site

A circular plaza unearthed at the ruins of Sechin Bajo, 230 miles north of 
Lima, may have been a site for gatherings and ceremonies, archaeologists 
The circular structure at the ruins of Sechin Bajo is about 5,500 years old, 
archaeologists report.

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 26, 2008

LIMA, PERU -- An ancient stone plaza unearthed in Peru dates back more than 
five millenniums and is the oldest known urban settlement in the Americas, 
according to experts here.

Archaeologists say the site, uncovered amid a complex of ruins known as 
Sechin Bajo, is a major discovery that could help reshape their 
understanding of the continent's pre-Columbian history.

Carbon dating by a German and Peruvian excavation team indicates that the 
circular plaza is at least 5,500 years old, dating to about 3,500 BC, said 
Cesar Perez, an archaeologist at Peru's National Institute of Culture who 
supervised the dig.

That would make it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Sechin Bajo, 230 miles north of the capital, Lima, thus eclipses the ancient 
Peruvian citadel of Caral, some 5,000 years old, as the New World's oldest 
known settlement.

"This has tremendous importance, both in Peru and internationally," Perez 
said by cellphone from the area. "We think it's the oldest urban site found 
in the Americas."

Word of the discovery was first published Sunday in the Peruvian daily El 

"The findings in Sechin Bajo, especially in the buried circular plaza, have 
demonstrated that there is construction from 5,500 years ago," Peter R. 
Fuchs, a German archaeologist who worked at the site, told the newspaper. 
"Whoever built Sechin Bajo had a good knowledge of architecture and 

Much of the hidden plaza was uncovered this year, and a great deal of 
excavation remains to be done, Perez said. Relatively little is known about 
the people who lived there.

The plaza, 33 to 39 feet across, may have been a site for gatherings, 
perhaps a kind of ceremonial center. It was built of rocks and adobe bricks.

Successive cultures lived in the area and built over the site.

Earlier finds in the Sechin Bajo area, in the Casma Valley of Peru's Ancash 
region, had been dated at more than 3,000 years old. But the circular plaza 
pushes the area's settlement date back considerably.

Peru is perhaps best known to outsiders as the cradle of the Inca empire, 
which stretched from modern-day Chile to Ecuador. But the Incas were 
relative latecomers in Peru's long history of human settlement, rising to 
prominence in the 15th century before being conquered by the Spanish in the 
early 16th century.

Before the Inca, Peru was home to various civilizations that left a rich 
legacy of ruins, pottery, tombs and artifacts. Teams of archaeologists are 
at work throughout the country, including the bustling capital.

Scientists say settlements were beginning to grow in Peru about the time of 
urbanization in such cradles of civilization as Mesopotamia, Egypt and 

patrick.mcdonnell at latimes.com 

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