Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Archaeological Complex of Sóndor

In history, at the time of the rise of the Inca, the area over a large expanse of the central Andes west of Cuzco was inhabited by a vast number of lower elevation settlements controlled by the Chanka. These Chanka (Chanca) people succeeded the Wari Empire, and were in the regions of Apuimac, Ayacucho and Lamas, and centered primarily in Andahuaylas in the Chumao Valley. The area ranges in altitude from 6,500 to 11,400 feet, and boasts a mild climate with summer temperatures of 77°F, making its land ideal for farming.
    In the past, Andahuaylas was considered the country’s most important potato-producing province. 23 miles to the south, Pampachiri is part of a series of villages that line the banks of the Chicha River in a wild land, with gusting winds, and inhabited by farmers and shepherds, who make up about 70%ofthre inhabitant of Andahuaylas, and live in wattle huts called chucllas, eating huatia, a hot, roasted tuber (a tradition that can be found within the Andes today). Here the shepherds spend their lives amidst open plains of yellowing ichu grass, home to foxes and partridges.
    The area is a watershed that forms part of a geological fault which divides the southern stretch of the departments of Apurímac and Ayacucho. Over the years, the torrent has carved out a beautiful valley about ten miles long, with the villages along the river linked by a long-running history.
Map of the Chanka region
At the peak of their expansion and intended conquest of Cuzco, both Pampachiri and Pomacocha (Apurímac) as well as Soras, Larcay and Lucanas (Ayacucho) made up the Chanka Confederacy. Before the Inca, the Chankas were divided into three groups: the Hanan (Parkos) Chankas, or the Upper Chankas, whose main settlement was Waman Karpa; the Urin Chankas, or the Lower Chankas, and the Villca, or Hancohuallos. The Hanan Chankas had their center in Andahuaylas, the Urin Chankas in Uranmarca, and the Villca in Vilcashuaman.
    An aggressive, warring and powerful people, the Chanka attacked the Cuzco valley, thinking so little of the Inca people, who were barely more than a small group of people and only one of many groups in the valley, the Chanka divided their army into three parts, one to attack the valley and two to head farther south.
    In 1438 AD a battle took place outside the city of Cuzco that changed the course of South American history. The Chanka, believing there were no people stronger than they were and feared no one, began an aggressive program of expansion. Conquering a host of smaller polities, their army had advanced well inside the territory of their traditional rival, the Inca. 
    In a series of unusual maneuvers, the Inca defeated the invading Chanka forces and became the most powerful people in the Andes. Many scholars believe that the defeat of the Chanka represents a defining moment in the history of South America as the Inca then continued to expand and establish the largest empire of the Americas. Despite its critical position in South American history, until recently the Chanka heartland remained unexplored and the cultural processes that led to their rapid development and subsequent defeat by the Inca had not been investigated.
Sóndor, the huge pyramid in the background, and the citadel in the foreground sitting on top of a four-level walled platform

One of the main bastions of the Chanka nation was located in and around Sóndor with its embellished mythical fortress, and huge, dominant pyramid. The Chanka during during the pre-Columbian era, covered almost all the central Andes. The complex was located among the mountains and valleys and consists of pyramids, many terraces, which also made up the pyramids as well, walls and several restored ancient buildings. The main structure is a colossal pyramid comprised of several stone platforms, with a huge staircase linking the various levels up to the top. At the foot of the pyramid are several stone buildings with thatched roofs.
Until recently, very little was known about the Chanka people, other than that they were an indigenous group who lived in the Andes. Evidence suggests that they were a formidable people, known for their warrior nature and defensive settlements. This strategic nature can be seen in the locations of their homes—circular stone houses scattered across the countryside. In times of peace, the Chanka could be found low down the mountainside, close to fields and water sourced, but during warring seasons, they moved higher into the mountains for protection.
    But with the collapse of the Wari, which preceded Chanka independence, the Chanka retreated to highly defensible hilltop locations in the Andes of between 12,000 and 13,000 feet. There, houses were built with battle in mind, with many featuring contained walls and defensive moats. Most of these settlements lacked sources of fresh water, and many had precipices on three sides. It must have been a difficult life for women, hours away from any spring or river; rainwater must have been conserved, reused and guarded as a precious thing. Disease and infections would have been common in these densely packed cities in the clouds.
The pyramid of Sóndor and the single entrance steps to the fortress on the top

While the Chanka are the best known to have lived in the area of Sóndor and within the city itself, it was a location they inherited, having been built before the Wari, who were preceded by the Moche, who date to 100 AD.
    Sitting high upon a hill, Sóndor is 3½ miles east and above Lake Pacuha, 11 miles northeast of Andahuaylas, 27 miles west of Abancay, and 80 miles west of Cuzco. The citadel has a stunning mountaintop setting, with verdant fields clinging to steep slopes below and mountains soaring beyond river valleys on either side. The site includes a massive pyramid, housing, and walls with trapezoidal niches like those found throughout the area.
    There are also unreconstructed walls that originally quite high, but now having fallen into disuse and many of the stones carried off to build current sites.
A pleasant stroll down the hill from Sóndor is Lake Pacucha, which is ringed by modest adobe settlements and fields. The temperature is pleasant and the turquoise waters of the lake are surrounded by trees, crop fields and totora reeds, which hide ducks, gulls, and flamingo.
    The lake is about ten miles from Andahuaylas and covers approximately 10 hectares. Based on the location and shape of its central pyramid and its strategic vision of Pacucha lagoon, Sóndor is believed to have been a place where there were religious activities. In addition, the site contains many unknowns whose answers may eventually explain the causes of the falling Chanka culture, and perhaps something of those who proceeded them at Sóndor.
    The name Sóndor is probably from the Quechu word “suntur,” which means congress, meeting. The main area of the site consists of a temple like structure thought to be used for religious and astronomical purposes. The imposing hilltop site long after it was first built, became the home of the Chanka people, who, at the height of their lengthy rise to power, were traditional enemies of the Inca. Evidence suggests the top of the impressive central pyramid in this extensive complex of ruins was an important religious sacrificial spot.
The famed Muyu Muyu promontory above Sóndor

One of the first discoveries was the Muyu Muyu, a sacred promontory high above Sóndor that has an impressive and lengthy perron. These 500 exterior steps pass up through the many terraces of the pyramid to the top of the promontory, which has an extensive panoramic view of the valley, hills and mountains around Sóndor. It is not a huge site, but well-kept and the surrounding mountains are breathtaking; when the clouds clear you have a spectacular view over the snow-capped Andes.
    It is interesting that those cultures of this valley and the Andes surrounding it are home to people who trace their origin to the same mythical-legend that do the peoples of Cuzco and the surrounding areas. It is alsos interesting that those of this valley to the west of Cuzco built their villages, towns and cities as defensive fortresses, high up on the hils as did those in the Cuzco area. That there was a long-standing relationship dating to their origins seem to be the same, and that they both feared constant attacks from the south.

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