( dpa ) - A team of archeologists have discovered the ruins of the oldest known structures in Peru, erected 5,500 years ago, the Lima daily El Comercio reported.
The discovery is a sunken, circular plaza, situated in the coastal zone of Casma in the norther Ancash department, which according to 25 carbon-dating tests was first built around the year 3,500 BC. Nearly 2,000 years later, another structure measuring 180 by 120 metres was added onto it, the report said.
Peter Fuchs, director of the Sechin Bajo archeological project, said the discovery appeared to confirm the first societies in what is now Peru with ceremonial centres were in Casma, 300 kilometres north of Lima,
"Whoever built Sechin Bajo had advanced knowledge of architecture and construction. This is clearly seen in the handling given to the materials so that the buildings would be consistent," Fuchs said. The prime material was stone transported from nearby hills.
The original plaza served for meetings and socializing, the scientists said. A second stage included adjacent buildings, and the final stage resulted in the largest structure with various patios, curved corners and niched walls.
One of the most surprising findings was a high relief on one of the walls with the figure of an executioner that combined two basic elements of Andean religious belief - feline and serpent - which were previously thought to have derived from a more recent period.
"Peruvian archeology now finds itself for the first time with a representation of a figure that endured 3,000 years, until the end of the Moche culture, which is when the figure disappeared, although it almost certainly remained in the minds of the Andean peoples for a long time afterward," said Jesus Briceno, scientific advisor to the Sechin Bajo project.
The executioner holds a ceremonial knife in the right hand, and a serpent in the left.
"This relief surprised us very much, because it is a figure with feline teeth that would later become recurring in the Chavin iconography," Fuchs said.
The oldest previously discovered structures in Peru were those of a small temple dating to between 3,600 and 4,000 years, north of the Bahia Tortugas, also in Casma.