Wednesday, January 6

Before the Incas...

...there was the Chavín, one of the most influential cultures in the Andes. 

The 3,000 year old ruins of their central temple--Chavín de Huántar--was the highlight of our trip to Huaraz. 

After four hours of traversing the rugged Cordillera Blanca (13,500 at the road's highest), we arrived at the ruins' location within the Callejón de los Conchucos:

While when we think of Peru, we think of the Incas, their empire only dominated the Andes for a century before the Spanish arrival in 1526. The influential Chavín culture, on the other hand, touched Andean societies from Ecuador to southern Peru from 1200 to 300 BC--a whole 2,000 years before the Incas even appeared as a small tribe near Cuzco.

The ancient temple ruins tell the story of Chavín's encompassing reach. While various cultures existed before the Incas, few, if any, united them under one common spirituality like that represented at the temple. Between 460 and 390 BC, archaelogists believe Chavín de Huántar was a major center of pilgrimage. 

The most impressive piece was the Lanzón. We climbed down into one of the many tunnels that run through the temple to find a room with this white granite monolith with an anthropomorphic being--the "Smiling God"--carved into it.


The Lanzón was built into the floor and the ceiling, making many believe that the temple might have been built around it. Historical accounts says the monolith was an oracle. While I didn't get any special vibe, according to my guidebook, some people feel a special energy after seeing the stone. 

Shown below, the Raymondi Stone (named for it's "discoverer") depicts the second god at the temple--the Staff God. What I thought was interesting is the spiritual value of hallucinogens alluded to in the carving. Staff God is holding a San Pedro cactus which contains mescaline, a mind-altering drug which provokes multicolored visions. Andean shamans still use the drug. 


Who cares about really, really old stones with wild carvings? Archaeologist Brian Fagan explains the culture's artistic significance (found this in The Peru Reader). I'll leave you with this:
"Chavín ideology was born of both tropical forest and coastal beliefs, one so powerful that it spawned a lively, exotic art style that spread rapidly over a wide area of the highlands and arid coast. Chavín was the catalyst for many technological advances, among them the painting of textiles, many of which served as wall hangings with their ideological message writ large in vivid colors. These powerful images, in clay, wood, and gold, on textiles and in stone, drew together the institutions and achievements of increasingly sophisticated Andean societies. Such cosmic, shamanistic visions were Chavín's legacy to later Andean civilizations."

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