Explore a 4000-year-old Peruvian monster from the comfort of your home

Late last month, anthropologist Robert Benfer announced that he and his team of researchers had discovered several enormous, earth-formed animal shapes in Peru, including the orca-shaped mound you see up top. Now, thanks to some clever folks over at Google Earth Blog, you can actually explore two of these mounds for yourself.

First, some background. The animal-shaped mounds we're talking about include a giant condor, an orca, a duck, and a crouching monster that Benfer says shares a likeness with rock carvings of caiman and puma that have been discovered throughout the coastal regions of Peru. Archaeological evidence suggests that some of them have stood for more than 4,000 years.

The effigies are pretty enormous, each one measuring anywhere from five to 400 meters in length, which may help explain how they managed to go unnoticed until now. Like the area's famous Nazca lines — a series of enormous ground-drawings located in Peru's Nazca desert — the animal-shaped mounds are best viewed from the sky. Benfer himself discovered them while examining satellite photos.

Of course, the other explanation for why these mounds have gone unnoticed for so long could be that they aren't animal representations whatsoever. After all, we humans have a knack for seeing things (like animals) that aren't really thereespecially in geological features; who's to say that the animal-mounds Benfer has spotted aren't just, well, mounds?

Explore a 4000-year-old Peruvian monster from the comfort of your home

For one thing, there are several of them. One mound in the shape of a duck (pictured left middle, click to enlarge) isn't enough evidence to say that these effigies were created intentionally; but four mounds, all in the shape of animals important to the region, all along the Peruvian Coast? That's a lot easier to believe.

Explore a 4000-year-old Peruvian monster from the comfort of your home

Perhaps the most compelling evidence yet, however, is where the mounds are located. Benfer describes the significance of the two mounds featured here (the condor and the crouching monster, pictured on the left and right, respectively):

Two mounds at El Paraíso as viewed from Google Earth Pro. Line A is from a temple whose central floor area was covered with charcoal to the 'eye of the condor', also made of ash and charcoal. The alignment is 33.6°, the extreme of the Milky Way. Line B is across two raised circular offering chambers to a sunken circular platform in the lower mound. It has an alignment of 63.3°, approximately the June solstice sunrise.

Explore a 4000-year-old Peruvian monster from the comfort of your home

Now, a reader over on Google Earth Blog has tracked down the exact coordinates of the crouching monster and condor mounds in Google Earth, so you can explore them (and their position relative to the temple mentioned by Benfer) for yourself. For those of you who don't already have it, Click here to download Google Earth, then click here to download the KML file, which will take you directly to the mounds.

So what say you? Are these massive, prehistoric effigies, created to resemble creatures important to 2000BC-inhabitants of South America? Or are they simply mounds of dirt?

Read more about Benfer's findings in Antiquity (no paywall).
All images via Benfer