Friday, July 26, 2013

What Chavin de Huantar Shows Us

Located at 10,500 feet, Chavín de Huántar lies about 250 kilometers north of Lima. Discovered in the late 1800s and mostly buried again by a mudslide in 1945, it is a temple complex built by one of the oldest known civilizations in South America, the Chavín.
The original site of Chavin de Huantar’s circular plaza before excavation. At first glance, it looked like anything but a place worth digging, but below the rubble, dirt and grass lay an unknown treasure of great archaeological significance
Today, the village with which the Chavín site shares its name is home to about 1,000 people, mostly farmers. A single paved street runs through the middle. Horses and donkeys are frequently tethered on the main drag, and pigs shuffle about on the dirt side streets. The town abuts the site of the ruins, which attract slow but steady tourist traffic. Middle-aged women and young girls sell soft drinks and snacks outside the main gate. A short walk over a small hill brings you within sight of the ruins—though there isn’t a lot to see at first glance.
In the distance is the grassy Square Plaza. Closer to the entrance are the seven massive mounds that have been found at Chavín, including old and newer temple arrangements built over a span of 500 to 1,000 years. Impressive, crumbling walls are visible, along with what’s left of a staircase that led up to what was originally a four-story-high structure.
Less than a dozen years ago, the site was relatively unknown. Mapping and dating Chavín’s various structures had proven challenging because later inhabitants had built on top of the original Chavín architecture, often using similar materials. However, beneath the temples lies a labyrinth of dim, narrow and exotically named passageways—Gallery of the Madman, Gallery of the Bats, Gallery of the Offerings.
The Excavated Site of the circular plaza at Chavin de Huantar. Note the square hole in the center which leads down to tunnels and a large gallery below
They have discovered burial platforms and ceremonial plazas and expanded the excavation of an intriguing maze of underground galleries reached through a stairwell leading down to them. Obviously, Chavín de Huántar’s role as a cultural and religious center of influence that predates the Incas by more than two millennia, was an area of great importance. Some archaeologists compare Chavín to Sumer in Mesopotamia because of its profound influence on later civilizations, and Chavín are considered instrumental in the development of complex societies in South America.
The Chavin were expert stonemasons. Its appearance is striking, with the complex of terraces and squares, surrounded by structures of dressed stone, and the mainly zoomorphic ornamentation
Visited on a regular basis by travelers during the 19th century, Chavín was excavated from 1919 by the Peruvian archaeologist, Julio C. Tello, whose work contributed to the site's international reputation. In 1945, a good many of the monuments were covered up by a disastrous landslide, then a an earthquake struck the site in 1970.
In 1980, the  'Archaeological project of Chavín', began and has been the focus of joint efforts on the part of Federico Villareal University and the Volkswagen Foundation, which has made possible the resumption of excavation as well as putting a safeguard plan for the site in place under the supervision of the Instituto Nacionale de Cultura.
The site consists of a number of terraces and squares having constructions of bonded stones. The prevailing ceremonial and cultural nature of the entire Chavín complex is very clear. It characterizes the architecture of the 'Lanzon temple', the 'Tello pyramid' which are both built upon a complex network of galleries, and the sculpted decor of the immense ornate megaliths.
This research has yielded important findings. Earlier archaeologists had determined Chavín’s beginnings between 800 B.C. and 200 B.C., but thanks to more recent studies and dating methods, Chavín is now believed to have been built over several hundred years in 15 stages, beginning in 1,200 B.C. or earlier.
It is believed that the subterranean hallways hold the key to understanding what happened at Chavín. According to researchers, “The galleries are a fascinating mystery—complex and costly construction with no obvious function.” But they are beginning to give up their secrets. Excavations have yielded massive offerings in some of the chambers, and ceremonial objects like the Strombus trumpets in others. The Lanzon, a 16-foot monolith of white granite depicting a feline head with a human body sits at the crossing of passages in one gallery system.
Beneath the Temple at Chavin de Huantar are numerous subterranean corridors and galleries that were so constructed as to allow lights to shine inward in a fascinating manner
While the fairly large population was based on an agricultural economy, of course, the city's location at the headwaters of the Marañón River, at an unparalleled crossroads between the mountains, the jungle, and the sea, brought an influence of all these environments most likely had a strong effect on their culture and iconography, as well as their economy, and made it an ideal location for the dissemination and collection of both ideas and material goods. This archeological site served as a gathering place for people of the region to come together and worship. The transformation of the center into a valley-dominating monument had a complex effect; it became a pan-regional place of importance, where people attended and participated in rituals, consult an oracle, or enter a cult. The site's most illustrious era was during the Chavín Horizon during the latter part of the first millennium B.C. Similar belief systems and rituals were carried out during this new era, but the entire center was enlarged with new constructions. The site of the Old Temple was expanded to include the New Temple, which also had galleries and plaza spaces. The Old Temple is believed to have still functioned after the completion of the New Temple.
Just as revealing are the presence of shined coal “mirrors” commonly found in the excavations and the positioning of drainage canals that maximized the auditory impact of rushing water. Taken together, the evidence seems convincing to some researchers that Chavín de Huántar was designed for an evangelical purpose: to convert the uninitiated.
The Circular Plaza seems to have served a yet-to-be-understood ceremonial role. Of course, there are many things not yet understood. But the certainty that this early culture knew how to build, do stonework expertly, and construct underground galleries suggests a high level of ability. This was not just an agrarian society who were developing from a hunter-gatherer people. The Chavin culture, one of the oldest in the Americas, knew and understood how to develop a well-functioning society and build a city of magnificent proportions and structures.

No comments:

Post a Comment