In Peru, Archaeology Students Rediscovered Lost Pre-Hispanic Mural in Excellent Condition

In November 2022, in a village in Lambayeque in northern Peru, Swiss archaeologist Sâm Ghavami, helped by Peruvian students, discovered a pre-Hispanic fresco. Surprisingly, the wall painting was already known by the archaeological community since it was first visible on a series of black and white photographs (Figure 1) taken by German ethnologist Hans Heinrich Brüning in 1916 (Schaedel 1978 and Farrant 2022). However, these pictures, only rediscovered in 1976, did not get the archaeologists’ attention because they believed that the site had already been destroyed (Whiddington 2022)… until Ghavami decided to excavate it after reading an article containing the black and white pictures.

Figure 1: Black and white photograph of the Huaca Pintada mural from Brüning (1916) (Archaeology)

The mural is part of the Huaca Pintada temple, which was built by the Moche civilization that flourished between the 1st and 8th centuries. It depicts mythological scenes, in particular a bird-like god with Moche warriors, and may represent the Moche “worldview”, organized around veneration of the ancestors, of nature, and of the Moon (Whiddington 2022). In fact, the Moon goddess was the most powerful deity for the Moche since she could appear at night and during the day, and thus was seen as even more powerful than the Sun (Dreffs 2020).

Moreover, as Sâm Ghavami said: “It’s an exceptional discovery because it is rare to unearth wall paintings of such quality in pre-Colombian archeology” (Farrant 2022). In fact, the mural is exceptionally well-preserved: the blue, brown, red, white and yellow paint colors are still visible, even after 1000 years (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Visible colors on the mural (2022) (AFP)

This discovery is exciting because it has a deeper meaning. It is indicative of the development of an ancient Peruvian cultural phenomenon (Farrant 2022). In fact, on top of the Moche, we can also see elements of another pre-Incan culture, the Lambayeque (who lived in northern Peru between 900 and 1350 AD). Ghavami aims to further decrypt the message conveyed by the wall as part of his research, and hopes to be able to understand the social, political and cultural changes that affected the region and its societies (Whiddington 2022). As he said, perhaps it “could be interpreted as a metaphorical image of the political and religious order of the region’s ancient inhabitants” (Farrant 2022). This approach echoes the “traditionalist archaeological explanations of change in the past” approach that focuses on the notions of diffusion and migration. This is the idea that “changes in one group must have been caused either by the influence or influx of a neighboring and superior group” (Renfrew 2018). However, it will surely be difficult to try to get information about the relationship between pre-Incan societies (Moche, Lambayeque…) from this mythological painting.

Further Reading:


1) Farrant, Theo. December 02, 2022. “Archaeology students uncover long-lost pre-Hispanic mural in Peru.” Euronews.

2) Whiddington, Richard. December 02, 2022. “A Pre-Hispanic Mural Depicting Moche Warriors Has Been Rediscovered in Northern Peru After Being Lost for More Than a Century.” Artnet.

3) Dreffs, Melissa. October 26, 2020. “Moche Civilization: Northern Peru’s Ancient Artisans.” Peru for Less.

4) Schaedel, Richard. February 1978. “The Huaca Pintada of Illimo.” Archaeology.

5) Renfrew, Colin & Bahn, Paul. November 26, 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Chapter 10:277. Thames & Hudson, 4th edition.

“Roundels” : an example of prehistoric architecture in Europe

In September 2022, near Prague in the Czech Republic, archaeologists discovered the remains of a 7,000-year-old round structure, which is older than Stonehenge (Killgrove 2022). This type of circular building, commonly called a “roundel”, measures more than 50 meters in diameter. It is not the first time such remains have been excavated: the earliest roundel yet discovered, known as the Goseck Circle, was found in Germany in 1991 and measures 75 meters in diameter. A few hundreds of these types of structures have been discovered throughout Europe, especially in Central Europe where many farming communities gathered and built villages between 4900 B.C.E. and 4400 B.C.E, such as the people of the Stroked Pottery culture (Killgrove 2022).

This archaeological finding is representative of the progress of archaeological techniques over the past decades, with the popularization of drones and aerial photography. This type of archaeological survey is made up of two parts : first, data collection (drones are used to take aerial photographs of archaeological sites), and then data analysis (the images are analyzed and interpreted) (Renfrew 2018:70). In this case, from the sky, archaeologists observed that roundels consist of round ditches and concentric rings of holes, usually pierced by gates (Figure 1). Then, these features can be interpreted.

Figure 1: An aerial picture of the Prague roundel. (Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

According to archaeologists and researchers, the true function of these roundels is still unknown. As for the Goseck Circle, the placement of the gates seems important : since two of them correspond with “sunrise and sunset during the winter and summer solstices” (Killgrove 2022), they thought that it was an observatory just like Stonehenge (Biehl 2012). However, this is only a theory. Others are not as certain, preferring to say it had several purposes : it could have been serving as a trade center, or as a religious center where rituals were performed from time to time (Jacobs 2022). As for the Prague roundel, the researchers and Miroslav Kraus (director of the excavations) expressed their hope of actually discovering hints about the function of the building. Excavations are still underway, in order to understand its vertical stratification (Figure 2), which represents changes through times.

Figure 2: Stratigraphy of the excavation. (Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

With this process of excavation, archaeologists hope to find clues about the precise date of the construction of the mysterious structure and its purpose. Moreover, archaeologists also expect to find potential graves or tools that could give us more information about the people who built these buildings : since they only had wood and stones as tools, these roundels are surprising. However, although it sounds pessimistic, it is “unlikely since none of the previously researched roundels have revealed such information”, Miroslav Kraus said (Archaeology 2022).

Further Reading:


1) Biehl, Peter. April 16, 2012. “Meanings and Functions of Enclosed Places in the European Neolithic: A Contextual Approach to Cult, Ritual, and Religion.” Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association. Volume 21, Issue 1: 130-146.

2) Jacobs, Harrison. September 23, 2022. “Archaeologists Discovered 7,000-Year-Old Structure Older Than Stonehenge or Pyramids of Giza.” ARTnews.

4) September 12, 2022. “Footprint of a Prehistoric Structure Uncovered Near Prague.” Archaeology.

5) Renfrew, Colin & Bahn, Paul. November 26, 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Chapter 3:70. Thames & Hudson, 4th edition.