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article imageStudy: Incan idol that escaped Conquistadors' destruction is real

By Karen Graham     Jan 16, 2020 in Science
Lima - A tall wooden idol that allegedly escaped destruction by the Spanish conquistadors is real — but it may not be quite what people suspected. The statue is even older than thought and may have been worshipped by the people who came before the Inca.
Pachacamac is the name of the 15th-16th century Inca sanctuary and archaeology site located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Lima, Peru in the Valley of the Lurín River. The site was first settled around A.D. 200 by people of the Lima culture and was named after the "Earth Maker" creator god Pacha Kamaq.
The Huari culture, around 600-800 CE constructed the city and developed it, probably using it as an administrative center. After the collapse of the Huari culture, Pachacamac continued to grow as a religious center. The majority of the common architecture and temples were built during this stage (c. 800-1450 CE).
All cultures in what is now Peru at some point brought offerings to the holy ground at Pacha Kamaq (Pachacamac) to worship their gods. Sadly, less than 100 years after the Incas took over the site (around 1450 AD), the great monumental center met its demise at the hands of the Spanish.
The temple of the sun god at Pachacamac. Image dated November 8  2012.
The temple of the sun god at Pachacamac. Image dated November 8, 2012.
Museo de Sitio de Pachacamac
Finding the Pachacamac idol
In 1938, an archaeologist found a 7.6-foot-long (2.34 meters) idol, which has a diameter of 5.1 inches (13 centimeters), at the Painted Temple, one of three of the most famous pyramids found in the "sacred sector" at the archaeological site.
The idol is said to have allegedly been destroyed on conquistador Hernando Pizarro's orders in 1533. The people were told to "undo the vault where the idol was and break him in front of everyone," according to historical sources.
The thing is this - After finding the carved wooden idol, archaeologists still weren't sure if this was the famed Pachacamac idol or something else, according to Live Science. Additionally, the researchers wondered if the carved wooden idol was painted, like many artifacts from antiquity such as Greek temples and statues. History suggests the conquistadors said the idol was red, possibly from the blood of sacrifices.
These questions got the attention of Marcela Sepúlveda of the University of Tarapacá, Chile, and her colleagues. They wanted to unravel the mystery behind Pachacamac and the carved wooden idol. They presented their findings on January 15 in the open-access journal Plos One.
The red arrows indicate where red pigments containing mercury were found  a sure sign this was cinna...
The red arrows indicate where red pigments containing mercury were found, a sure sign this was cinnabar,
Marcela Sepúlveda et. al.
The proof is in the paint
Sepúlveda and her colleagues obtained a wood sample from the Pachacamac Idol for chemical analysis. Using Carbon-dating, they were able to determine the wood was cut and carved between 760-876 AD, during the Middle Horizon. This means the statue was worshipped for nearly 700 years before the Spanish Conquest, according to
A non-destructive analysis also determined the statue had chemical traces of three pigments that would have conferred red, yellow, and white coloration to the idol. This analysis not only confirms that pigments were used to color the idol, but that it was polychromatic, displaying at least three colors.
X-Ray fluorescence revealed the idol was once painted in three colors  red  yellow  and white.
X-Ray fluorescence revealed the idol was once painted in three colors, red, yellow, and white.
Marcela Sepúlveda
Another interesting thing about the pigments used on the statue was that the red pigment was cinnabar, a mercury mineral occurs naturally high in the Andes about 250 miles (400 km) from Pachacamac. The researchers say this demonstrates the economic and symbolic implications for coloring the statue.
"We were excited to observe that traces of colors were preserved," Sepúlveda said. The idol's teeth had once been painted white while parts of its headdress had yellow pigment.
"Further analyses could help clarify the sources of these materials, but this is an excellent starting point for understanding the origins of this important idol, which was worshipped for hundreds of years before the Spanish Conquest at one of Peru's most important early oracle sites," said Patrick Ryan Williams, a curator, professor and head of anthropology at The Field Museum in Chicago, who wasn't involved in the study.
More about Archaeology, Pachacamac Idol, wooden idol, mineral pigments, Incas
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