Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/The Chavin
Introduction[edit | edit source]
The Chavín culture developed and dominated the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 1500 BCE to 200 BCE.
The most well-known archaeological site of the Chavín era is Chavín de Huántar, located in the Andean highlands north of Lima. It is believed to have been built around 900 BCE and was the religious and political center of the Chavín culture. In 1985, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chavín de Huántar[edit | edit source]
Chavín de Huántar is an archaeological site of the Chavín culture. It was occupied from the beginning by 1200 BCE until around 400-500 BCE. The site is located 250 kilometers (160 miles) north of Lima, Peru, at an elevation of 3,180 meters (10,430 ft), east of the Cordillera Blanca.
Chavín de Huántar was the religious center and the capital of the Chavin culture.
Site Description[edit | edit source]
The temple is a massive flat-topped pyramid surrounded by lower platforms. Chavin de Huantar was constructed over many stages starting prior to 1200 BCE, with most major construction over by 750 BCE. The site continued in use as a ceremonial center until around 500 BCE, but prior to 400 BCE its primary religious function had ceased, and the site was occupied by casual residents of the highly distinct cultural tradition, Huaraz. During its heyday, Chavin de Hunatar was used as a religious center for ceremonies and events, perhaps a home for an oracle. The site contains a number of major structures, including Temples A, B, C and D, and areas and buildings designated as the Major Plaza, the Circular Plaza, the Old Temple and New Temple, although the latter two designations are no longer accurate in light of recent research advances.
Excavation of burial sites in the temple gave evidence of a small elite class whose tombs contained elaborate burial goods, consisting of precious metals, colorful textiles, and other valuables. Most burials were simpler, with bodies interred in shallow pits with cotton clothing and a simple tool kit.
Artifacts found at the site include scrolls, carved stone mortars and pestles, conch-shell trumpets, bone tubes and spatulas, and metal spatulas and spoons; as well as various textiles including tapestries. Pottery was found in a wide variety of forms, including bottles and bowls, decorated with a wider range of distinctive elements.
Importance[edit | edit source]
This site holds a large amount of geographical and religious significance which may be one of the reasons why the location was used as a large ceremonial center and a center of power for the Chavín culture. Chavín de Huántar is located at the merging of two rivers: the Mosna river and the Huanchecsa river. As a result this site allows for easy transportation and, at the same time, limited access to outsiders. Chavín de Huántar itself is located on a lowland valley where the two rivers merge and high altitude valleys are located nearby. Consequently, the people at Chavín de Huántar were able to cultivate lowland crops such as maize and high altitude crops such as potatoes. The people were also domesticating llamas in the high altitude areas for food and as a means to carrying heavy loads on the steep slopes of the hills.
The religious significance of Chavín de Huántar also depends upon the geography of the site. The merging of two large rivers has shown religious significance in past cultures, and thus it makes sense that the location of Chavín de Huántar was utilized as a religious ceremonial center. The convergence of two rivers is referred to as tinkuy, which can be defined as the harmonious meeting of opposing forces.
Art[edit | edit source]
The Chavín culture, represents the first widespread, recognizable artistic style in the Andes. Stylistically, Chavín art forms make extensive use of the technique of contour rivalry. The art is intentionally difficult to interpret and understand, since it was intended only to be read by high priests of the Chavín cult, who could understand the intricately complex and sacred designs. The Raimondi Stela is one of the major examples of this technique.
Chavin designs depict exotic creatures, such as jaguars and eagles, rather than local plants and animals. The feline figure is one of the most important motifs seen in Chavin art. It has an important religious meaning and is repeated on many carvings and sculptures. Eagles are also commonly seen throughout Chavin art.
There are three important artifacts which are the major examples of Chavin art. These artifacts are the Tello Obelisk, tenon heads, and the Lanzon.
- The Tello Obelisk is a giant sculpted shaft which features images of plants and animals. It includes caymans, birds, crops, and human figures. The large artifact may portray a creation story.
- Tenon heads are found throughout Chavin de Huántar and are one of the most well-known images associated with the Chavin civilization. Tenon heads are massive stone carvings of fanged jaguar heads which project from the tops of the interior walls.
- Possibly the most impressive artifact from Chavin de Huántar is the Lanzon. The Lanzon is a 4.53-meter-long, carved granite shaft displayed in the temple. The shaft extends through an entire floor of the structure and the ceiling. It is carved with an image of a fanged deity, the chief cult image of the Chavin people.
Religion[edit | edit source]
Chavín culture had a polytheistic religion. The nature-based iconography of anthropomorphic figures is one of the broad and characteristic traits of Chavín culture. Images of these deities are expressed in the ceramics, metal work, textiles, and architectural sculptures.
The main deity is characterized by long fangs and long hair made of snakes. This is the god that is believed to be responsible for balancing opposing forces.
Several other deities have been identified such as: a deity for food represented through flying cayman; the deity of the underworld, represented as anacondas; and the deity of the supernatural world in general, represented through jaguars.
Chavín de Huántar is clearly a large ceremonial center for religious purposes. Carvings at Chavin de Huantar show how religious activity involved elaborate costumes and music. The Chavin religion was possibly led by or involved priestly roles. A carving shows two identical shaman figures walking in a procession towards stairs. This carving possibly depicts a Chavin ceremony. Chavin religious ceremonies also included ritual burnings. Several rooms in the temple have small fire pits, with remains of food, animals, and pottery, suggesting sacrificial offerings.
Chavin religion involved human transformation or shape shifting, aided by the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Many sculptures have been recovered showing the transformation from a human head to a jaguar head. Carvings depict similar images. The archeological record indirectly supports the culture's use of psychotropic drugs for religious purposes. San Pedro cacti exist in the area and are known to have hallucinogenic effects. The cactus is frequently depicted in the iconography, particularly of the staff god, who is shown holding the cactus as a staff.
Another indirect sign that psychotropic drugs may have been used are small mortars, possibly used to grind vilca (a hallucinogenic snuff). With them have been bone tubes and spoons decorated with wild animals, which may be associated with shamanistic transformations. Artwork at Chavín de Huantar show figures with mucus streaming from their nostrils (a side effect of vilca use) and holding what is interpreted to be San Pedro cacti.
Achievements[edit | edit source]
The Chavín culture adapted to the highland environments of Peru. The chief example of their most innovative achievements is the Chavín de Huántar temple, which was equipped with a highly developed drainage system.
The Chavín people domesticated camelids, such as llamas. Camelids were used for pack animals, for fiber, and for meat. The Chavin produced ch'arki, or llama jerky, a product commonly traded by camelid herders and was the main economic source of the Chavin people. Chavin people also successfully cultivated several crops, including potatoes, quinoa, and maize. They developed an irrigation system to assist the growth of these crops.
The Chavin civilization also demonstrated advanced skills and knowledge in metallurgy, soldering, and temperature control. They used early techniques to develop refined gold work.
Attribution[edit | edit source]
"The Chavin Culture" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chav%C3%ADn_culture