Oldest Solar Observatory in the Americas

Yesterday I wrote about a new column that will appear in the New York Times, Across the Universe, and the anticipation of some very interesting discoveries by astrophysics about stars and galaxies, and what’s out there. Then today, in the same newspaper comes a story (that had been released on NPR earlier in the month) that the oldest solar observatory in the Americas may have been found in Peru.

According to a study reported in Science, archeologists have uncovered what they think are the oldest astronomical observatory in the Americas—older than the one found associated with the Incas. The image below shows the towers at Chankillo, and they mark the progress of the sun across the sky.

These are the towers built in Peru—they were built in the fourth century, B.C. at Chankillo

Here is how the scientists think the towers work. The towers were uncovered at a site in Peru at Chankillo. The scientist in charge of the work (Ivan Ghezzi) reported that one could align sunrise with the first tower, as shown below. Ghezzi showed that the tower device was used to keep track of the movement of the sun, and as Ghezzi points out, a way to keep track of time.

This finding is interesting from another standpoint. Several weeks ago, I purchased, and have started reading a book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann.

The world that Columbus came to had a much greater and more astonishing history than we have learned in school. One example is the Aztec capitol of Tenochtitlan was an amazing city with running water, and extremely clean streets, and was much larger than any contemporary European city. The Americas, according to Mann and the researchers that he reports on, might have been more populated than thought, and more advanced. This finding in Peru seems to support Mann’s view of the world.