CHAVIN DE HUANTAR
A LEGACY DATING BACK TO 2000 B.C.
An exceptional trip to Ancash along the coast awaits visitors who wish to understand how some 4,700 years ago important settlements appeared in small valleys in the midst of one of our planet's driest deserts, such as that which, without any shadow of doubt, is one of the first cultural phenomena deserving the name of civilization in the Americas, Chavin de Huantar. In order to reach this wonder, our journey must start at Huaraz (3,050 meters above sea level), capital of the region and located 400 km from Lima and 200 from the coast (Paramonga). You get there along an excellent paved road. The best months to visit the area are June through August.
The Chavin de Huantar ceremonial center
The trip to the Chavin de Huantar archaeological site implies a stopover at Huaraz, capital of Ancash, in a region offering interesting adventure tourism, ecology tourism and mountaineering circuits.
The Chavin de Huantar center is located in the high valley of Mosna (3,150 meters above sea level), halfway between the coast and the jungle, and separated from each of these by two high cordilleras; today, Chavin de Huantar is a town hidden in a small valley at 3,177 meters above sea level, at the eastern foot of the "White Cordillera". The town is partially built over the archaeological site, which cover some 40 hectares. The remains are of an important ceremonial center dating from the first millennium BC that remained famous until de 16th and 17th centuries. In the twenties, the eminent Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello recognized their vital importance for the early history of Peru and the Americas, making them a keystone of his vision of the origin of early culture in Peru.
Excavations have shown that the complex had two well-defined temples; the first of these is the Templo Antiguo (Old Temple), probably built at the end of the second millennium BC. It is U-shaped, affording access at its central point to a cruciform gallery, whose center is occupied by an impressive image of a divinity, "El Lanzon", this being a hybridized figure with snakelike, human and feline features, under the gallery and access stairway runs a channel without a clear beginning or end, that takes us to a sunken circular "plaza".
This plaza contains stone slabs decorated with pairs of felines and mythical beings forming a procession up to the doorway. At its center quite likely originally stood the Tello Obelisk, representing the cosmos as a series of dragons bearing symbols alluding to the water cycle. It could also have functioned as a sundial. The iconography of the Tello Obelisk reflects the Chavin religious doctrine. In it we see two mythical lizards (crocodiles with birds' tails) of opposite sexes in the act of coupling, with body fluids represented by snakelike curls, emanating from their mouths, nostrils and sex organs. The hind legs of these deities are below ground level and their front legs are in the sky. Beside them stand the masculine Jaguar deity and the feminine fishing eagle deity, suggesting a division of power in the universe of the time (the jungle and the sea). This obelisk is a little smaller than the Lanzon. It measures 2.52 m high by 32 cm wide.
On the plaza platform there were two galleries, one containing a large number of seashells used in religious ritual, and the other, called "The Offering Gallery", contained hundreds of jars, stone objects and the remains of human and animal sacrifices (burnt offerings).
Another important detail is that of the "Cabezas Clavas" (Nail-Heads). These were stone heads adorning the outer fašade of the "Chavin de Huantar" complex. Currently only one of these remains as originally placed. Archaeologists have given them this strange name because their necks go through the walls in the manner of nails. These "Nail-Heads" are anthropomorphic but have feline attributes. They appear with open eyes and closed mouths.
These remains are evidence of ceremonies and the deeply rooted influence of religion in the population of the time. This ancient temple was dedicated to the "water cult" through a supra-regional oracle, consulted by the populations of the sierra and the north-central and central coastal areas.
The second, the Templo Nuevo (New Temple), is an extension o the right wing of th ancient temple, called "the castle". It is much larger than the ancient one, since it continues along platforms and culminates in a large, sunken square plaza. All the platforms had stone stairways. Unfortunately, little is known about the function of this complex, since we ignore the nature of the main divinity and the ritual procedures involved.
The famous Estela Raimondi (Raimondi Stele) represents the God of the Walking Sticks (a prototype of later images such as that on the Sun Doorway of the Tiahuanaco culture, frequently identified as the god Viracocha). It could be the same divinity, although its original location and context are unknown; it was named after the Italian naturalist and geographer Antonio Raimondi, who took it to Lima to study and preserve it. It is carved on a rectangular slab of granite measuring 1.98 m high by 74 cm wide and 17cm thick.
Chavin de Huantar was never cut off from the other cultures around it, some of them quite far away. This led Julio C. Tello to state that Chavin was the seat of Peruvian civilization and the blueprint for future cultures in our country. However, later research determined that although Chavin was not the cradle of Peruvian culture, it was, however, one of the most important manifestations of our civilization, since it heavily influenced all future cultures.
Chavin had proven links with a religious grouping located on the north coast and in the sierra of Peru. Recent excavations have clearly proved these links by unearthing Chavin ceramics in the surroundings of Puemape, in Cajamarca, together with ceramics of the Cupisnique culture.
The presence of Chavin culture was also important in the high forest, as evidenced by the ceramics found in the Amazonian region.