Chavin de Huantar was located in Peru and developed around 900 B.C. late in the Initial Period. At an elevation of 3,150 m., Chavin de Huantar was situated at the bottom of Cordillera Blancas eastern slopes, approximately halfway between tropical forests and coastal plains. At the intersection of major routes, Chavin de Huantar was in the position to control the routes, increase their exchange with others, and receive goods that were not natural to their area. Chavin de Huantar was an agricultural society, home to a fairly large population.
The Old Temple was built during the late Initial Period and it was the center of supernatural power and authority. It was a U-shaped platform opening to the east with a circular courtyard in the center. The Old Temple also consisted of numerous passageways and chambers underground called galleries. These galleries were used for storage chambers, religious rites, and possibly temporary or permanent living for small groups working with temple activities. The Lanzon Gallery is located at the very center of the Old Temple. It was where the sculpture of the Lanzon was found. The Lanzon, the supreme deity of Chavin de Huantar, is anthropomorphic. With its feline head and human body, it has intertwined the feline deity of Chavin de Huantar and the shaman of the pre-Chavin period.
For the pre-Chavin period, the object of worship was the feline, but this was gradually changed. By the time of Chavin de Huantar, it was anthropomorphic. During this time, it was believed that priests could become jaguars and interact with the supernatural forces. This was achieved by taking hallucinogenic drugs as part of rituals at the Old Temple. There are many sculptures that decorate the Old Temple depicting the transformation of the priests. There have been mortars, pestles, conch-shell trumpets, and many other items with anthropomorphic design found and thought to be associated with Chavin rituals.
The New Temple forms a continuum with the Old Temple. The same belief system continues and there is evidence of the same rituals. The New Temple also has galleries and plazas. The Lanzon, although in a different stance, continues to be a symbol of mediation and harmony. The right hand of the deity holds a Strombus shell, for male forces, and the left hand holds a Spondylus shell, for the female forces. The New Temple, however, did not replace the Old Temple. It seems as though the Old Temple and the Circular Plaza continued to be used. The Gallery of the Offerings also received much attention. It was evident, through the findings of broken pots and bones from food, that this gallery was a storage area for ritual items. Within this gallery, many human bones also were found, which brings about the assumption that there was ritual cannibalism being practiced.
Social stratification in Chavin de Huantar was discovered by comparing excavated burial sites. The elite class was very small, but their burial was elaborate. In their tombs, precious metals, colorful textiles, and other valuables were found. The majority, however, were found in shallow pits with only a simple cotton cloth and the tools they used in everyday life. Chavin style consisted of scrolls, simple curves, straight lines, and wild animals. Chavin sculpture is seen in the tenoned heads that decorated the Temples and the carved ashlars. The Lanzon and the Tello Obelisk are exceptional examples of sculpture that depict sacred images. Sculptures usually used white granite and black limestone. There have also been carved stone mortars and pestels, conch-shell trumpets, bone tubes and spatulas, and metal spatulas and spoons found that are decorated in Chavin style. Chavin designs have been seen on various kinds of tapestry and textiles as well. Ceramics also offered a wide variety of forms such as, bowls and bottles, with even more decorations and styles.
The Chavin civilization began to disappear around the third century B.C. In areas there was social instability and upheaval. Domestication of the land was also taking over. Many sites were completely and abruptly abandoned. Architecture was left unfinished and ceremonial places were demolished to make way for villages. A small village replaced the Circular Plaza and stone carvings were converted to house walls at Chavin de Huantar. Much of the architecture collapsed.
Burger, Richard L. Chavin and the origins of Andean civilization. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1992.
Kano, Chiaki. The origins of the Chavin culture. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Trustees for Harvard University, 1979.
Written by: April West
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