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What is Chavin De Huantar?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Chavin de Huantar is a ruined site in Peru. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1985. The ruins were the site of a major culture in the region before the ascension of the Inca, and although largely dilapidated, they are nonetheless a wonderful place to visit for those interested in Pre-Columbian sites of South America.

Chavin de Huantar was constructed by the Chavin people. The Chavin flourished in western Peru from roughly the 10th century BCE to the end of the 2nd century BCE. The Chavin were responsible for a great deal of the groundwork for later Peruvian cultures, including the Inca themselves. The Chavin were responsible for a number of innovations in the region. They domesticated llamas and used them as pack animals, set up elaborate trade networks, and created two distinct and ornate style of art.

Man with a backpack
Man with a backpack

Construction at Chavin de Huantar began in the early part of the Chavin culture’s rise in the region, at the beginning of the 9th century BCE. The style of Chavin de Huantar ranges over the course of the culture’s existence, and clear differences can be seen between the early stylings and that which came centuries later.

Chavin de Huantar originally functioned primarily as an agricultural community. As it developed, however, it used its position on the Maranon River to become a flourishing trading city. Both goods and culture were disseminated from Chavin de Huantar to the broader Chavin area and into neighboring territories as well.

Beginning sometime in the 5th century BCE the Chavin culture began to decline. Sites throughout the Chavin lands began to be abandoned, and new buildings failed to be built. At Chavin de Huantar, a short second period of more restrained construction took place, and it was in these structures that the descendents of the Chavin would continue to dwell long after the culture itself deteriorated. A village grew up on what had once been the site of the Circular Plaza of Chavin de Huantar, and this village appears to have remained constantly lived in until the mid-20th century.

The Old Temple is perhaps the most iconic of the structures at Chavin de Huantar. It contains various obelisks, decorated with ornate carvings of various humanoid animals, including jaguar forms and cayman forms. In the middle of the Old Temple is a sculpture of what is thought to have been the ruling god of Chavin de Huantar, Lanzon. Various other artifacts, including trumpets made of conch shells, and mortar and pestle sets, have also been uncovered in the Old Temple.

Centuries later, during the period associated with the decline of Chavin de Huantar, the New Temple was constructed. It is a somewhat simpler structure, but is similar in many ways to the Old Temple. The New Temple also contains a statue of Lanzon, as well as a number of sculptures of similar form to those in the Old Temple.

The Circular Plaza is the center of Chavin de Huantar. It is surrounded by three distinct temples, referred to simply as Temple A, Temple B, and Temple C. It is nearly a perfect circle, and the floor inlaid with beautiful black limestone and diatomite.

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