Ancient Ruins of South America...
The continent's top archaeological legacy
Beginning around 9,000 years ago - long before the first Europeans reached its shores - several civilizations flourished in South America. Evidence of their passage is scattered all over the continent, whether in the form of gold jewelery, pottery, textiles or magnificent architecture and works of art of all types we can only enjoy in museums nowadays.
Despite de advent of the conquistadores - they managed to rob or destroy as much as they could through three centuries of domination - South America still holds a treasure of ancient sites and cultures yet to be understood and thoroughly comprehended.
True, some of them, like the Incas for instance, presented human sacrifices to their blood-thirsty Gods in the 1500s - and that may sound brutal by today's standard - but at this very moment in History we read in the paper that a bunch of fanatics in the name of some God or ancient religion feel right to behead people for their religious believes and to destroy millenary monuments without blinking an eye.
Others find humorous - and profitable - to ridicule someone else's God and religious believes. That in turn triggers more hate, division and killings as a consequence, while world leaders quickly get together to rally against barbarians of some sort.
Unfortunately, many governments and institutions still find very appealing to practice the old adage divide and conquer. And if that is not good enough, create some foreign wars to support a decayed state of affairs at the home front.
Have we learnt something or transformed ourselves into a more evolutioned specie over the last five hundred years or so?
With all due respect, I doubt it very much.
We are in desperate need of a better distribution of wealth on the Planet - and leaders the size of Mahatma Gandhi - for instance. Same old, same old it is not appealing to anyone anymore, irrelevant of skin color.
Today, human sacrifices are not done in the drastic way the Incas practiced during the Inti Raymi celebration, using the ceremonial knife known as tumi. We have managed to condemn the vast majority of the world's population to a slow death by lack of opportunities, health, food, water and, ultimately, any chance of survival.
Under the magnifying glass of today's reality, I can hardly think that the Incas were so brutal after all. They built an empire that looked after its people, crops and all, which cannot be said for many governments and politicians, more concerned about their own re-election than living up to the responsibilities handed over to them by democratic societies through vote.
The number of ancient sites in South America is massive, some of them are already part of UNESCO's World Heritage List, others sit on the tentative list for the time being, and a good number has yet to be explored and placed in the right perspective within South America's history and evolution.
The following list doesn't pretend to be exhaustive by any means, it only attempts to bring some insight regarding relevant archaeological sites worth to be explored if you're fond of cultural tourism, history and archaeology. It's accompanied by a small photo gallery to give you a visual perspective of the remnants as they stand today.
Rapa Nui is - apart from the most isolated and inhabited island in the world - home to gigantic moai statues carved from the volcanic rock of Ranu Raraku. A fantastic open-air museum, it was discovered by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter sunday of 1722, who named it Paasch-Eyland: Easter Island
Chavin de Huantar:
The archaeological site of Chavin gave its name to the culture that developed between the XV and the V century BC in this high valley of the Peruvian Andes, province of Huari, department of Ancash. Chavin de Huantar is one of the earliest and best known pre-Columbian sites in the continent.
Kuelap: Kuelap was the political center of the Chachapoya civilization, a pre-Columbian culture that flourished from about 900 to 1400 AD in northern Peru. It consists of a walled city with massive exterior stone walls surrounding more than four hundred buildings. It is roughly 600 meters in length and 110 meters in width and was abandoned in the early colonial period.
Also known as Teyuna and Buritaca, the ancient Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is located at Colombia's Sierra Nevada. It is believed to have been founded about 800 AD, some 650 years earlier than Machu Picchu. It consists of a series of 169 terraces carved into the mountainside, a net of tiled roads and several small circular plazas.
Considered by archaeologists to be one of the most significant ancient places in Latin America, San Augustin is a collection of ceremonial and burial sites scattered over an area of 250 square miles with more than 500 statues - the largest is 7m high. The San Agustín Archaeological Park lies in the southern Colombian Department of Huila.
Located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain, some 400 km south of Lima, the geoglyphs of Nasca and the pampas of Jumana cover about 450 km2 .The geoglyphs depict living creatures, stylized plants and imaginary beings, as well as geometric figures several kilometres long. Commonly known as the Nazca Lines, they conform the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world.
Machu Picchu: Machu Picchu doesn't need much of an introduction, does it? It is one of the best known archaeological sites in the world. The "Old Mountain" , in Quechua language, lies about 7,000 feet above sea level overlooking the deep canyon of the Urubamba river, in the Department of Cuzco, Peru.
Second-most important archaeological site in Colombia (after San Agustín), Tierradentro is remarkable for its elaborate underground tombs dating from VI to the X century. It is located in the south-western of Colombia in Andean's central cordillera, in the municipality of Inzá, department of Cauca.
Cueva de las Manos / Rio Pinturas:Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for Cave of Hands) is famous for - and gets its name from - the paintings of hands, rock painting dating from13,000 to 9,000 years ago. The caves located in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina, 163 km (101 mi) south of the town of Perito Moreno.
The Sacred City of Caral-Supe is located 200km North of Lima, Peru. Dating to 2600 BC, Caral is considered to be the oldest town in the New World. This 626-hectare archaeological site has pyramids, contemporary with the Egyptian Pyramid Era.
One of the most remote Inca settlements in the Andes, Choquequirao (Chuqik'iraw) is provably the most challenging trek in Peru as well. Standing at 3,050 meters, it is located in the Willkapampa mountain range in the La Convención Province of the Cusco Region above the valley of river Apurímac.
In the Amapa State of Brazil, Amazon Stonehenge - Calçoene megalithic observatory - it's composed by 127 blocks of granite, each up to 4 meters tall, standing upright in a circle measuring over 30 meters in diameter. Archaeologists believe that this site was built for astronomical, ceremonial, or burial purposes. The age of this megalithic culture is not known yet.
The archaeological site of Samaipata consists of two parts: the hill with its many carvings, believed to have been the ceremonial centre of the old town (XIV - XVI centuries), and the area to the south of the hill, which formed the administratutive and residential district. It is located in the Province of Florida, Department of Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
Known as Purgatorio by local people, Tucume is a pre-Hispanic site in Peru - 33km north from the city of Chiclayo. It covers an area of over 540 acres (220 ha), encompassing 26 adobe pyramids and mounds. Constructed by the Lambayeque in 1000 AD, they were conquered by the Chimu in 1375 and incorporated into the Inca Empire in 1470.
The archaeological site of Llactapata (Llaqtapata) is about 5 km (3.1 mi) west of Machu Picchu, in the Cuzco region, Peru. Discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1912, archaelogical studies suggested that it was an important rest stop and roadside shrine on the journey to Machu Picchu.
Serra da Capivara:
Serra da Capivara National Park is located in the south east of the Piauí State - Northeastern Brazil - and contains the oldest prehistoric rock paintings in the Americas, some of them dating back to 25,000 years. Other top attraction is the Pedra Furada - Pierced Rock.
Located in northern Peru near de coastal city of Trujillo, Chan Chan was de capital of the Chimú civilization. Around 600 years ago, it the was the largest city in the Americas and the largest adobe city on Earth.
The fortress of Sacsayhuaman (Saqsaywaman) is a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. Located at an altitud of just over 3,700 meters, it was originally built by the Killke culture and later expanded by the Incas from the XIII century.