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Solar eclipses are rare and spectacular events. As anyone who saw last month’s eclipse can attest, there’s just nothing else like it. So it’s not surprising that many societies have regarded eclipses as either sacred or scary. They held special ceremonies to celebrate an eclipse or to chase it away. And in some cases, they built special structures to host those ceremonies.
One possible example is near the Pacific coast of Peru. A monument there is like no other in that part of the world: It looks like a small volcano. It’s a cone that’s 50 feet tall, with a crater at its summit.
Researchers say that four total solar eclipses were visible from that spot in a span of just 22 years — from 1521 to 1543. And a recent study says the site was last occupied around that same time.
Archaeologists dug into the structure. They found a buried staircase leading to a small chamber a few feet below the surface. Carbon dating shows that a hearth in that chamber was last used around 1563, give or take half a century. And the cone is easily visible from the nearby mountains, where the people of that area built platforms for recording the motions of the Sun along the horizon.
That culture considered a solar eclipse a good omen. So it’s possible that it built the structure to celebrate one or more of the eclipses. The last ceremony then took place around the time of the final eclipse — a time to celebrate the clockwork motion of the heavens.
Script by Damond Benningfield