Year In Review. Technology Management. Sponsored Research. Instruction & Public Service. MU Research.

Archaeologist Discovers Oldest Observatory in the Americas

Robert Benfer, an emeritus professor of anthropology at MU, has spent the past 30 years patiently piecing together clues to the nature of early civilization in the Americas. His most recent find could be his biggest yet.

Last summer, working in Peru on a project funded in part by the National Geographic Society and the UM Research Board, Benfer unearthed a 4,000-year-old temple and an assortment of carefully arranged mud-plaster sculptures. The positioning of these artifacts, he says, allowed ancient star gazers to track the movement of constellations and thus to predict the beginning and the end of flooding cycles that bracket the area's growing seasons.

The "celestial calendar" pre-dates any similar finds by almost 1,000 years. "It's also significant," Benfer told the MU News Bureau, "because it suggests people organized their lives around Andean constellations and the sun and provides evidence of the beginning of flood-plain agriculture."

In addition to its astronomical riches, the site has also yielded a number of other interesting finds, including a sculpture in the round depicting a musician playing a shell instrument. Until now, no other three-dimensional work of similar antiquity has been discovered in the New World.

"We were in no way prepared for finding this kind of stuff," Benfer recently told National Geographic magazine. "It was absolutely unexpected."

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