Archaeologists have made the surprising discovery of two ceremonial complexes in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the driest desert on Earth, which suggests that this location may have once been a very stable place thousands of years ago for the numerous people who would have lived here.
To survive life in the Atacama Desert, however, its ancient residents would have created eco-refuges, according to Live Science. These refuges would have been safe and relatively comfortable spaces that would have contained the necessary amounts of water, animals, and plants with which to sustain the humans who lived inside them.
Those who lived in these eco-refuges in the Atacama Desert are believed to have built two ceremonial complexes close by, according to professors Lautaro Nuñez from the Universidad Católica del Norte in Chile and Catherine Perlès from the Université Paris Nanterre.
During excavations that took place in 1985, the oldest of these sites, which dates back to 5,000 years ago, was first believed to have been a settlement. However, when Nuñez and Perlès went over the previous findings and studied the remains of this ancient site, they determined that rather than a settlement this area was almost certainly a special ceremonial complex that was most likely instigated by religious leaders at the time.
“At both sites, the structures are built with large vertical and capping slabs, up to 1.5m [5 feet] in height. A high proportion of the mortars and grinding stones from both sites are associated with deposits of red pigment.”
The second site discovered in the Atacama Desert was found to date back 3,200 years and was last studied in 2015. This location was found to have been particularly vibrant at one point after archaeologists uncovered the remains of 28 infant burials, enormous stone monuments, and a wide array of gold and other materials that would have been used as offerings at this complex, with many of these materials have traveled from the Amazonian and Pacific regions.
One burial here was discovered to have been suitably exotic after archaeologists unearthed a wooden vulture that was found covered in gold plating along with malachite to create its crest and eyes, and the new study noted that the remains of certain hallucinogens were also found here.
“Numerous mortars and grinding slabs attest to the intense preparation of pigments, foodstuffs and beverages, as well as hallucinogens from the seeds of cebil (Anadenanthera) and maize (Zea mays), both imported from the lowlands of north-east Argentina.”
While the two ancient ceremonial complexes found in the Atacama Desert in Chile would have certainly seen their fair share of rituals, as Perlès noted, she stressed that the area “is a prehistoric site [and] we have no texts to tell us what kind of ceremonies were taking place.”
The new study which describes the two ceremonial complexes discovered in the Atacama Desert has been published in Antiquity.