There were many advanced civilizations that existed in Peru before the Incas. One of these was the Chavín. This culture was dominant in Northern Peru during their time periods. Here we take a look back.
Although the Chavín were once thought to date from 900 to 200 BC, carbon dating at the principal archaeological site for the culture, Chavín de Huantar, has reveal Chavín style artifacts dating from around 1200 BC. The site may even have been inhabited earlier than that. The influence of the culture was widespread, from as far north on the coast of Peru as Piura down to as far south as Paracas. In the highlands, it ranged from Chavín in the North to Pucara in the south.
The people had advanced abilities in metallurgy and were able to refine gold. They domesticated llamas for working animals, for the wool and for eating. Trading llama jerky was a great part of the Chavín economy. They also cultivated crops, particularly quinoa and potatoes, using an irrigation system to aid in the growth of these foods. Guinea pigs, birds, deer, clams and shellfish were also part of their diet.
As with other early cultures in Peru,ceramica chavin this one is well known for its use of ceramics. The temples at Chavín de Huantar are decorated with pottery and sculptures, as well as with carvings. Among the animals depicted are not ones found locally but, rather, such creatures as eagles, jaguars and caimans. Felines, in particular, are important in the culture’s artwork. The inclusion of such exotic animals has led some to think that the people may have originally come from the jungle.
Among the deities of the people, the principal one is a fanged god with hair that is made from snakes. Also present are a flying caiman representing food, anacondas representing the god of the underworld and jaguars to represent the supernatural world in general.
A central theme of the culture’s religion is the idea of shape shifting, that is, the transformation of humans to animals or part animals through the use of hallucinogenic plants. A typical transformation involves the changing of the human head to that of a jaguar. The San Pedro cactus grows in the area surrounding the site and is used for ritual ceremonies for their hallucinogenic properties.
Shamans were highly respected and referred and accorded power due to their connection to the divine. It is believed that through the rites and ceremonies, these religious leaders could and did knowingly affect change in the civilization. It is not yet known if only the shamans took San Pedro or if the people in general did so as well.