Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex

Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex
Photo by Frédéric M.

The Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex is an archaeological site occupied between 500 and 200 BC and having ritual, astronomical, administrative and defensive functions.

The most outstanding construction is a series of 13 stone towers built on the crest of a hill, allowing the date to be known on any given day and to follow the movements of the sun throughout its annual cycle. It is believed to be the oldest astronomical complex in the Americas.

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Frédéric M

Canada - 18-May-22 -

Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex by Frédéric M

I visited Chankillo in February 2020. Although my visit was very similar to Lauren's, I believe this site deserves more than a single review. Like Lauren, I visited the site at sunrise, with the help of Aleka Tours.

Before 6am, they picked me up from my hotel in central Casma in a gleaming blue dune buggy perfect for driving through the desert of the Peruvian coast. I was guided by a Spanish-speaking archaeologist and an English-speaking guide. Although the presence of the two women made the tour more interactive and complete, my level of Spanish and the archaeologist's level of English would have allowed me to understand 95% of the tour. Please take note that the road leading to the site (AN-1306 / El Castillo on Google Maps) was closed by a chain and guarded by a man at the time of our visit (and this, despite the early hour!). My memory is hazy, but I think the guide was asked to pay a fee.

We started the tour at the ruins between the 13 towers and the concentric wall structure. A platform indicates where to stand to watch the sun rise and determine the time of year. The sky was clear during my visit and I could see the sun appearing between the towers. It is impressive to think that this site was built so long ago and that these people already had a fine mastery of astronomy. We then headed towards some stone walls, ruins of buildings at the foot of the ridge on which the towers are located, before climbing the ridge itself. Some of the towers (especially those at the ends) have been restored. The middle ones are essentially stone stacks without the square shape of the others. It is not allowed to climb any of the towers and sand bags blocked the way to restored ones on my visit. The ridge offers the best view of the ruined dwellings to the south-east of the ridge, as well as of the concentric buildings on the mountain to the north-west. Both these areas are still inaccessible.

In the end, this visit is short and this site is not the most impressive, but it is still very interesting! I was able to see some burrowing owls as I left the site. Also, Casma is an easy stop between the hotspots of Trujillo and Huaraz. Buses serve Trujillo (mostly Lima-Trujillo buses), while collectivos go up to Huarez when they are full. Hopping on a tuk-tuk will also take you to the archaeological site of Sechin Bajo, reputed to be one of the oldest on the continent, and home to some fascinating engravings. On a final note, like Lauren, I can also highly recommend the services of Aleka Tours for your visit to Chankillo.


Lauren

USA - 19-Nov-19 -

I made it a goal to visit all of the UNESCO sites in Peru and as many of the tentative sites as I could during a five-week trip in 2014.  Of all of the sites, Chankillo was by far the most challenging to visit because of the lack of infrastructure and information online.  When I saw that it's being put forward for a nomination in the near future, I figured it was time for a review.

Chankillo is an astronomical complex in western Peru, about half way between Trujillo and Lima.  It's claimed to be the oldest astronomical site in the Western hemisphere, at over 2000 years old.  There are some ruins of various buildings, but the highlight are 13 notched towers (with twelve spaces in between) that were used to measure the place where the sun rises and sets on the horizon to determine the approximate date of the year.  I highly recommend going at sunset or sunrise so you can see the phenomenon yourself.  (Although I went at dawn, it was a cloudy day, so I didn't actually get to see it myself.)

The site was not well marked, and so I went by a tour, which I'd highly recommend.  I'm not sure I could have even found the exact site in the desert with a rental car, and there was no signage or explanations available at the time.  Moreover, the tour was with a local company and with a local archeologist (details in the logistics section below), so I felt good about supporting the local economy.

Logistics:  The site is just outside the town of Casma.  Casma is on the main bus lines on the west coast from Lima to Trujillo, so getting there by one of the big bus companies that caters to tourists should not be difficult.

I organized a tour of the site through a local company in Casma that I found through TripAdvisor, Akela Tours.  They arranged an archeologist to give a tour in Spanish.  (They also offered a translator, but I speak enough Spanish to get by.)  The tour was at sunrise so you could see the sun rising over the site.  The company was very helpful overall and I would highly recommend!

Because I was trying to pack in a whole lot in a short period, I actually arranged form Akela tours to pick me up from the Lima airport, stop in Caral Supe on the way (only about an hour detour off the highway), leave me in Casma to overnight, and then take the sunrise tour of Chankillo the next morning.  After the tour of Chankillo, I hopped in a collectivo to go over the mountains to Huaraz, where I visited Huascaran National Park. The alternates would have been (1) to do a daytrip to Caral Supe from Lima and then head to Casma on an overnight bus or (2) to take two days to get to Caral Supe and then Casma by public transport.


Site Info

Full Name
Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex
Unesco ID
1624
Country
Peru
Inscribed
2021
Type
Cultural
Criteria
1 4
Categories
Archaeological site - Pre-Columbian
Link
By ID

Site History

2021 Name change

From "Chankillo Solar Observatory and ceremonial center" to “Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex” upon inscription (on the advice of ICOMOS).

2021 Inscribed

Locations

The site has 2 locations

Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex
Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex: Cerro Mucho Malo

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World Heritage Process