Friday 7 June 2024

Visiting some pretty old archaeological sites: Caral and Chavin de Huantar

I have to say it is amazing how rich Peru is in terms of its history. Before starting our trip, I mainly knew about the Incas. But now, I can see it's so much richer than that. In today's post, I will tell you a bit about our visit to the ancient towns of Chavin and Caral.

Caral and Chavin are pre-Inca sites and some of the first human settlements in South America.  Caral, in particular, is considered to be the start of all South American culture (from around 3,500 to 1,700 BCE),  a large cultural complex from 1,500 years before the first complex Mesoamerican Olmec culture. Caral was 60 hectares in total and populated by 10,000 people at its peak. Though no pottery or art has been found in Caral, its main achievement was in its architecture and construction. It had anti-seismic temples of large stepped, square topped pyramids and large sunken circular plazas. As well as Caral, the Norte Chico (or Caral) civilization constructed several sites along the Supe river, which we didn't visit but we were told that they are also impressive. The site was discovered in 1948 but only properly dated around 25 years ago!

From our visit to Caral, we saw the large sandstone temples/pyramids (pre dating the pyramids of Giza) and our guide told us that inside the walls, to prevent seismic collapse there are stones in bags made of totora reeds that move around during earthquakes. Some of the larger temples had sunken circular plazas with painted mud lathered over the stone.

The sites of Caral and Chavin are not contemporary as after the downfall of the Norte Chico civilization its population spread and wide becoming: the Chachapoyas, the Nazca, the Moche and eventually the Inca. They also became the Chavin culture who venerated the Puma and are even believed to have used blood letting and human sacrifice in their ceremonies!

And now a little bit about Chavin de Huantar. Chavin was the religious centre at its time and was located three days walk from the coast, three days walk from the Amazon, and positioned in the middle of the mountains making it an ideal meeting point. To make it even more central, Chavin was at the joining point of two rivers, the Mosna and the Huachecsa rivers and in the centre of the valley. Chavin was constructed as early as 1200 BC and was occupied until 400-500 BC. 

We thought that Chavin's architecture was amazing, especially if you think how old it was. What I really liked was that the main temple's design reflects the Andean belief of duality as one side of the plaza is made of black granite and the other white. This can also be seen in the portal of the falcons (or main entrance).

There were also several underground galleries we could enter. The most impressive was one where there was a huge stone in the shape of a dagger with carvings of a Chavin god on it. There were huge ventilation shafts leading out to give air to the chambers and underground canals bringing water into the temple.

I also found it funny that our guide used to live in Chavin before it gained the UNESCO World Heritage Site title. His dad was a guardian and he apparently played football in the main ceremonial plaza when he was a little boy. Imagine that?

We are making our way up to Cusco now and the Sacred Valley, for more hiking and more archaeological sites of my beloved Incas. Things will get even more exciting and I can't wait!

1 comment:

  1. thank you for another evocative post! You are learning so much, in so many areas of knowledge: history, geography, politics, nature. I wonder which appeals most to you. Lot of love, Sal