Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Development Along the Southern Coast of Peru

Recent archaeological discoveries on the south coast of Peru show that the Chincha and their earlier cultures constructed a complex set of geoglyphs to mark ceremonial and residential sites. Paracas and Chincha societies in this region built artificial landscape in an open desert to mediate periodic social events. Several of these architectural features were oriented to the sunset during the winter solstice.
    These data provide insight into the ways by which people in stateless societies organized their social, economic, and political life. Social units, labor, and astronomically significant periods mesh, attracting participants to cyclical events in the mid-valley zone.
    In fact, there turned out to be a complex landscape by constructing linear geoglyphs that converge on key settlements; with solstice marking one factor underlying the logic of geoglyph and platform construction and use in the Chincha Valley during the Paracas period (Charles Stanish, et. al, “A 2,300-year-old architectural and astronomical complex in the Chincha Valley, Peru,”
    Beginning at Lima and moving southward along the coast are a series of horizontal valleys, each cut ancient from rivers flowing down from the Andes to the coast. It is judged that there are 162 sites of interest, including the ancient Chincha sites at La Vuelta, Coyahuasi, Huancani, Minay, and Checas. The latter was a very large pueblo, its ancient ruins high up in the Andes where the condors fly and where the ravine narrows. There is also the succession of small district outposts in Quilmana, San Antonio, Flores, and Calango.”
Chincha settlements (in white) along the coast from Pisco to Lima

Huaca La Centinela was the main settlement of the Chincha (Chinchay or “ocelot”) Culture, who in turn descended from an unknown Pre-Chincha people, who are dated in the vally to around 800 BC, and likely descended from the Paracas Culture (Charles Stanish, et al, "A 2,300-year-old architectural and astronomical complex in the Chincha Valley, Peru," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 111, No.20, published by U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, 2014, p7218).
      These were the ancient forerunner of the later Curacazgo of Cuzco or first political development of the Inca culture that even later became the Inca Empire. The Chincha used plant, animal and marine resources thanks to the nutrient-rich and fish-plentiful Humboldt Current that was readily available just off the coast and were prosperous farmers, fishermen, artisans and merchants. Their culture developed in the wide and fertile valley that bears that name on the coast of Peru, 125 miles south from Lima. 
    Chincha established systems of architecture, agriculture and irrigation that came to dominate the whole valley. Their mummification of the dead was a high art, with the bodies wrapped in bright colored, highly decorated textiles which, thanks to the climate in the coastal desert sites have lasted over time and are excellent shape. Much of the jewelry and valuable artifacts buried with the dead have long since been looted, but the wealth can still be seen, and the imagery within the site shows much of the living conditions and areas of importance to the ancient culture.
    As for their architecture, at Le Centinela alone there are 11 well-defined pyramid structures and minor buildings with adobe walls decorated using the technique suited to the covering of relatively large areas called Champlevé, with a black and red on white geometric painting within the principal Inca building.
    In addition the Chincha merchants maintained trade routes by land with herds of camelids used as beasts of burden reaching the Collao area and Cuzco. Moreover, the Chincha learned seafaring skills; and new technologies such as raft construction with balsa logs, being the largest capable of carrying twenty people in addition to a large cargo, and the use of the sail, only known by some cultures of Ecuador and Peru in the Pre-Columbian era of the Americas; allowing the Chincha to have extensive maritime trade routes and thriving businesses.
The large pyramid at La Centinela
Of these structures, La Centinela was the biggest pyramid in the complex aqueológico, called "The Sentry" because of its stark rise over a relatively flat area and its 60-foot height which provides a wide horizon with view to the marine coast and the fields of cultivation of the surroundings.
    La Centinela was the capital of the Chincha kingdom. The archaeological site lies near the modern town of Chincha Baja and near the mouth of the Chincha valley. It consists of a group of impressive adobe compounds that were built during the period of the Chincha kingdom but continued to function until the period of the Inca domination centuries later.
    Surrounding Alto Chincha were numerous other Chincha settlements, with la Centinela one of the first archaeological sites in Peru to be investigated by archaeologists. The site covers more than 190 acres and consists of two large pyramids, La Centinela and Tambo de Mora, constructed of adobe and serving as the habitations of the leaders of the Chincha people. The surrounding residential area housed artisans of silver, textiles, wood, and ceramics, although, like most pre-Columbian monumental archaeological sites, the main purpose of La Centinela was probably ceremonial rather than residential or commercial.
    A network of roads radiated out from La Centinela, running in straight lines, as was the Andean custom, and are still visible. The roads extended east and south of la Centinela and led to outlying ceremonial centers and also facilitated the transportation of goods to the Paracas valley to the south and toward the highlands of the Andes which rise about 12 mi)les inland from La Centinela, which was probably part of a broader network of population centers and other kinds of sites in the Chincha valley. These were linked by a system of roads, one of which was later incorporated into the Inca network. The nearby sites of Tambo de Mora, near a Centinela, and La Cumbe, just south of Lima, were perhaps visualized as part of the same large complex during pre-Columbian times.
    According to an early Spanish chronicle, the population of Chincha consisted of 30,000 heads of households, among which were 12,000 agriculturalists, 10,000 fishermen, and 6,000 traders. The numbers suggest a total population of more than 100,000 people under Chincha control, likely in a larger area than the Chincha valley itself. The larger than normal number of fishermen and traders in the population illustrates the commercial nature of the Chincha state and the importance of the sea to their economy. The Chincha like the Chimor and some other Andean cultures used money for commerce.
The ancient construction of Calango using tapia stone and adobe bricks

Other sites, such as Calango to the north of La Centinela, was constructed of the coursed adobe known as tapia, and building walls of adobe bricks. The settlement contained a rectangular plaza and had the trapezoidal niches and doorways typical of Andean Peru. Alongside the buildings that appear to have served as a palace stood a pyramidal platform more reminiscent of earlier Chincha architecture even though it was constructed of adobe bricks and constituted a formal part of the compound of the dominant cities. Several of the compounds built of tapia had been modified with adobe bricks, in one case extensively, indicating later alteration of existing structures.
     Scholars suspect that these local compounds were related to Chincha social units and were the settings for important ceremonies and rituals, probably including initiation, marriage, and other rites of passage. Archaeological evidence of extensive manufacturing or other purely economic activities has not been found.
    Earlier research established the fact that Paracas materials were distributed throughout the Chinche Valley, located between the valleys of Cañete (on the north) and Nazca (on the south) in the rich valleys along the Peruvian coast. Ernst Middendorf, Max Uhl, and Kroeber were pioneers in archaeological studies in Chincha. Excavations were made on Paracas sites such as Huaca Alvarado, La Cumbe and Huaca Santa Rosa, all large monuments located in the lower valley. Surveys were done in th4e 1950s of Cerro del Gentil and later, in the 1980s, members of the Instituto Andino de Estudios Arqueológicos (INDEA), conducted an important research program in the valley (Charles Stnish, Architecture and urban planning of the Paracas period in the Chincha valley. Andean Archaeological Gazette vol.6, 1992, pp87–117).
Close up of the Chincha Valley

A number of monumental Late Paracas sites were located throughout the valley, characterized by stepped pyramidal platforms with sunken patios made with conical adobe bricks. Both the site of Cerro del Gentil and the cluster of sites known as El Mono (more properly referred to as Chococota) were investigated.
    It should be noted from all of this that between the time Nephi settled after escaping from his older brothers and the time Mosiah was led out of the City of Nephi to discover Zarahemla, almost 400 years had elapsed. In that time, the expanding Nephite nation would have grown considerably from a single settlement to scores of cities through the Land Southward.
    In 400 years, it would have been common for the Nephites to have spread to ever corner of the land controlled, an area clearly spelled out by Mormon in his insertion in Alma 22-27-34, and as Helaman later said, “They did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east” (Helaman 3:8).
    The development of ancient Andean South America certainly follows this pattern. Rather than development taking place in a general area, Peru was developed throughout the land over great distances, from earlier major cities to small, outlying settlements.

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