Chavín

02
  • Environment and Geography

    The Chavín culture is named after the archaeological site Chavín de Huántar, located in a fertile valley in the north-central Andes of Peru, at an altitude of 3135 meters (10,285 feet) above sea level.

  • Economy and Technology

    The Chavín economy was based on agriculture. Although it is not known how sophisticated their irrigation systems were, the variety of domesticated plants (maize, beans, squash, potatoes, quinoa, etc) they grew shows their deep knowledge of agricultural techniques. They complemented their farming activities with fishing, hunting, and gathering marine resources on the coast, and hunting animals in the highlands. Judging by the remains of their waste middens, llamas seem to have played an important role in both their diet and mode of transport.

  • Art

    The word ‘Chavín’ also refers to an artistic style characterized by the use of symmetry, repetition, curved lines, metaphorical imagery, and motifs such as crossed fangs, the “eccentric eye”, dilated nostrils, and claws. Much of the intricate, stylized imagery employed in the Chavín style was inspired by the flora and fauna of the Amazon rainforest, such as crocodiles, felines, snakes, eagles, and plants. This style was expressed in different media and generally with a high degree of complexity. It reached its highest expression in Chavín’ stonework, such as enormous temples and sculpted standing stones and obelisks with figures that are half man, half feline, including the Lanzón, the Estela Raimondi, and the Obelisco Tello. This preference for working in stone is also reflected in Chavín pottery, which is unmistakably stone-like in appearance, grayish in color and decorated by incision. Like the stonework, Chavín’ ceramics are remarkable for their outstanding technical quality, as well as an emphasis on shaped decorations and, in a few exceptional pieces, the application of colored pigments. Types of vessels include fruit-shaped bottles with stirrup handles, bowls, and simple bottles.

  • Social Organization

    Although there is still some debate regarding Chavín social organization, it is believed that this was a ‘mother culture’; the first in the Andes to develop, with no outside influence. It is certain that Chavín’ society was based on kinship bonds, bloodlines and clans, the status of which was linked to their closeness to a common ancestor, possibly mythological in origin. Individuals may have been skilled in particular tasks, but activities were organized by priests in this theocratic society, in which religious rituals endowed rulers with the privilege and prestige necessary to wield political control.

  • Beliefs and Funerary Practices

    Chavín beliefs seem to have spread throughout the Central Andes as a system of worship centered on some principal deities. The feline is a central figure in this belief system, and its presence is seen in human forms that hold scepters adorned with large curved fangs. These individuals also appear with serpents wound around their heads and waists and sporting the claws of birds of prey, giving snakes and eagles their place among the animals that lent their powers to these divinities. The hallucinogenic plants that appear in Chavín iconography suggest that shamanism played a significant role in their religious beliefs and ritual practices. The forms of burial the Chavín practiced range from simple trenches containing skeletons, either laid out or bent over, to more elaborate graves covered over with stones.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The increase in population during this period is reflected in the villages spread throughout the coastal and highland valleys, and especially in the mountains. These settlements generally consisted of 20 to 30 dwellings usually made of perishable materials, less foten of adobe or stones cemented with mud. The shape of these dwellings varied by region, but they were generally rectangular or semicircular. Ceramic models have been found depicting houses with pitched roofs–possibly a style used in the mountains, as the low rainfall on the coast would have made such roofs unnecessary. Villages were similar to those of the previous period, but had areas set aside for special activities and districts differentiated by the social status of their inhabitants. The great innovation in this period was the monumental architecture of the Chavín ceremonial centers, which consisted of building complexes or temple pyramids consisting of superimposed platforms made of stone and/or conical adobe bricks. An outstanding example is the great ceremonial center at Chavín de Huántar, which features several temples, passageways, plazas, sunken patios, and underground galleries with unusual acoustics. Some of the constructions found here were aligned with astronomical orientations.

  • History

    The Chavín culture represents the consolidation of several long-term cultural processes in the Andes, such as the invention of ceramics and of agriculture, village life, and monumental architecture. The dissemination of the Chavín artistic style, mainly through textiles and ceramics, followed the spread of their influential religious ideas, and extended from Chongoyape in the north all the way to Ica and Ayacucho in the south. This tradition can be said to have provided the cultural foundation of many societies that arose in the Andes in later periods. Some authors maintain that Chavín de Huántar continued to function as a pilgrimage site until the arrival of the Spanish.

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