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Peruvian archeologists have discovered a temple believed to be about 5,000 years old at the ancient El Paraiso archeological site in a valley just north of Lima, the Culture Ministry said Tuesday.
If the date is confirmed, it would be among the oldest sites in the world, comparable to the ancient city of Caral, a coastal city some 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the north.
The discovery, dubbed the Temple of Fire, was found in one of the wings of El Paraiso's main pyramid. It includes a hearth that experts believe was used to burn ceremonial offerings.
"The smoke allowed the priests to connect with the gods," said Marco Guillen, who led the team of researchers who made the find.
Archeologists found the hearth in mid-January as they were carrying out conservation work at a set of 4,000-year-old ruins known as El Paraiso, located some 40 kilometers northeast of Lima in the Chillon River Valley.
The discovery shows "that the Lima region was a focus of civilizations in the Andean territory," Deputy Culture Minister Rafael Varon told reporters.
Archeologists believe the ancient coastal civilizations raised crops including cotton, which they traded with coastal fishermen for food.
El Paraiso, spread across 50 hectares (125 acres), has 10 buildings and is one of the largest ancient sites in central Peru.