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Engraved with fangs, ornate swirls, Peruvian monument lay hidden for 2,000 years

This image shows a close-up of one of the engravings on the monolith that was scanned and shown here in green contrast. The engraving appears circular with a hole in the center and lines radiating from the circle.
Here, a close-up of one of the engravings (in green contrast) in Peru that was scanned reveals a circular design with a hole in the center and lines radiating outward.
(Image: © Daniel Fernandez-Davila)

A sprawling, stone monument decorated with swirls, circular patterns and godly fangs has been hiding in a remote jungle in northern Peru for around 2,000 years. 

Though the locals knew of the monolith's existence — and a few explorers who visited the region had noted the structure — it wasn't until recently that researchers were able to investigate it in-depth. And now, they've created a highly detailed 3D scan of the stunning structure. 

The images and patterns are so abstract and ornate, they are hard to describe in words. However, the researchers said the two fangs engraved into the stone come from a deity that archaeologists call a "feline feathered figure."

Related: Photos: Ancient Circular Geoglyphs Etched into the Sand in Peru

Remote jungle treasure

The monolith is located in a remote jungle valley in northern Peru and traveling to the area is extremely difficult. This photo shows part of the journey.

The monolith is located in a remote jungle valley in northern Peru and traveling to the area is extremely difficult.  (Image credit: Exact Metrology)

Getting to the monolith was tricky, due to its location.

Setting off from the town of Leymebamba, "we hiked, ran, rode horses through jungles from 6,000 feet [1,800 meters] up to 13,000 feet [4,000 m] to this really remote village where literally nobody goes," said Jason Kleinhenz, an application engineer at Exact Metrology, who scanned the monolith. (The team brought school supplies to the village, something that is hard for local people to acquire given the remote location. Members of the team have engaged in humanitarian work in the area for years.) 

The team wanted to create a detailed record using an Artec 3D scanner, particularly because the monolith's carvings are in danger of being lost due to erosion from all the rain pelting the structure's surfaces. "We don't know if it's going to survive," said Daniel Fernandez-Davila, an archaeologist who had been traveling to the area for 21 years to deliver supplies. 

Related: In Photos: Moche Treasures Hidden in Peru Temple

Fernandez-Davila was concerned that when the team reached the monolith they would find its carvings completely eroded away. "It was like going to a vacation on an island, with everything booked, but maybe the island won't be there," he said. 

Instead, when the team arrived, they found that the engravings on the monolith were still visible. The 3D scanner was able to capture details that are hard to make out with the naked eye, such as the fangs from the "feline feathered figure." 

Image 1 of 12

A scan of the monolith is shown here in light green contrast. The contrast allows details to be seen that are harder to make out in the monolith's actual color.

A scan of the monolith is shown here in light green contrast. The contrast allows details to be seen that are harder to make out in the monolith's actual color. (Image credit: Exact Metrology)
Image 2 of 12

Another photo showing team members scanning the monolith. Rain is gradually eroding the rock and it's uncertain how long its carvings will be visible for.

Team members scan the monolith. Rain is gradually eroding the rock, and it's uncertain how long its carvings will remain visible. (Image credit: Exact Metrology)
Image 3 of 12

This photo shows team members scanning the monolith. Made of sedimentary rock it is about one ton in weight and 2.5 feet tall by 10 feet wide by 5 feet in length.

Team members scan the monolith, which is made of sedimentary rock; it weighs about a ton. (Image credit: Exact Metrology)
Image 4 of 12

This image shows a scan of the monolith contrasted in green. The green contrast allows for details to be made out that are harder to see in the monolith's actual color.

Here, a scan of the monolith contrasted in green. The green contrast allows for details to be made out that are harder to see in the monolith's actual color. (Image credit: Daniel Fernandez-Davila)
Image 5 of 12

This image shows a close-up of one of the engravings on the monolith that was scanned and shown here in green contrast. The engraving appears circular with a hole in the center and lines radiating from the circle.

This image shows a close-up of one of the engravings on the monolith that was scanned and shown here in green contrast. The engraving appears circular with a hole in the center and lines radiating from the circle. (Image credit: Daniel Fernandez-Davila)
Image 6 of 12

A scan of the monolith is shown here in the monolith's actual color. Dating back around 2,000 years the engravings on the monolith are intricate and hard to describe in words.

A scan of the monolith is shown here in the monolith's actual color. Dating back around 2,000 years, the engravings on the monolith are intricate and hard to describe in words. (Image credit: Exact Metrology)
Image 7 of 12

Another picture highlighting part of the monolith where the feline feathered figure is located.

Another picture highlighting part of the monolith where the feline feathered figure is located. (Image credit: Image courtesy Daniel Fernandez-Davila)
Image 8 of 12

A drawing of the feathered feline figure is shown here. It's an iconic deity that was particularly popular around 2,000 years ago.

A drawing of the feathered feline figure is shown here. It's an iconic deity that was particularly popular around 2,000 years ago. (Image credit: Image courtesy Daniel Fernandez-Davila)
Image 9 of 12

A feather that is part of the feline feathered figure is seen here.

A feather that is part of the feline feathered figure is seen here. (Image credit: Image courtesy Daniel Fernandez-Davila)
Image 10 of 12

A scan of part of the monolith showing the feline feathered figure. The design of the figure indicates that it was carved between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200.

A scan of part of the monolith showing the feline feathered figure. The design of the figure indicates that it was carved between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200. (Image credit: Image courtesy Daniel Fernandez-Davila)
Image 11 of 12

The part of the monolith where the feline feathered figure is located is shown here.

The part of the monolith where the feline feathered figure is located is shown here. (Image credit: Image courtesy Daniel Fernandez-Davila)
Image 12 of 12

The part of the monolith containing the feline feathered figure is shown here in this photograph. The figure is a deity that was worshiped in ancient Peru.

The part of the monolith containing the feline feathered figure is shown here in this photograph. The figure is a deity that was worshiped in ancient Peru. (Image credit: Image courtesy Daniel Fernandez-Davila)

Sacred place

The engraving of the "feline feathered figure" indicates that the carvings were created during what archaeologists call the "formative period," which occurred between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200. 

There was no writing in Peru during this period, but studies of other archaeological sites in Peru show that the feline feathered figure was popular at the time. 

"It's iconic … only people of that period can carve it the way that it is" shown on the monolith, said Fernandez-Davila, noting that the other carvings on the monolith may be associated with the deity. 

As such, the jungle valley where the monolith is located is "probably a very important and sacred place," Fernandez-Davila said. The monolith is made of a sedimentary rock that is not found locally and so would have been dragged into the jungle valley from elsewhere, he said. The weight of the monolith (about a ton) and its size (2.5 feet tall by 10 feet wide by 5 feet long, or 8.0 by 3 by 1.5 m) would have made dragging the rock through the jungle a difficult task requiring many people. 

"That itself was a tremendous effort, a communal effort definitely," Fernandez-Davila said.

The Inca, who flourished in the area during the 15th century A.D., also believed that the jungle valley was a sacred place, as they built two baths not far from where the monolith is located. 

With the team's work showing that the Artec 3D scanner can produce an accurate model of the monolith, and of other small artifacts that were scanned, Fernandez-Davila said he plans to conduct an archaeological expedition in the area in the future. Having a reliable method of recording complex ancient art and artifacts and the fact that the 3D scanner works makes an expedition easier to conduct. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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