Chavín de Huántar




Chavín de Huántar

Site Information

Country: Peru
State: Ancash
Location: 9° 35' 39" S - 77° 10' 39" W
Field Documentation Date(s): July 1st, 2005
Project Release Date(s): October 15th, 2006
Time Range: 1500 BCE - 300 BCE
Era: Initial Period, Chavin Cult, Early Horizon
Culture: Chavin Cult
Site Authority: Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Peru
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage List
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Animation of the Lanzón Stela depicting the principal deity of Chavín, created from laser scan data

Site Description

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The archaeological site of Chavín de Huántar sits at an elevation of 3,177m (10,425ft) above sea level in the Peruvian Andes and is located at the confluence of the Mosna and Wacheksa rivers. Chavín once intersected several major trade routes through the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, a strategic location for the capital of the Chavín civilization. The site is located near the Callejón de Huáyla Valley where the village of Chavín de Huántar is located. Chavín is now served by a recently-upgraded, asphalt roadway. Covering 12,000 sq m (129,167 sq ft), the site includes massive temple structures with significant interior and subterranean space, pyramidal platforms, courts, and sunken plaza spaces, most of which are aligned on a common axis. Over time, river floods have eroded much of this stone architecture; its mountainous location has also made it susceptible to destructive landslides (as recent as 1945) and earthquakes (as recent as 1970) over the centuries.
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History

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Chavín de Huántar was a ceremonial center of the Chavín, a pre-Inca culture. The center was situated at an unparalleled crossroads between the mountains, the jungle, and the sea; the influence of all these environments likely had a strong effect on their culture and iconography, as well as their economy. It was first inhabited around 1500 BCE, during the Initial Period; during this period, the Old Temple was constructed which was a U-shaped temple and platform, encompassing the Circular Plaza. This temple contained several subterranean galleries used for religious rites, storage and possibly living space for groups involved in rituals at the temple. The Lanzón Gallery was housed in the heart of the Old Temple.

The site's most illustrious era was during the Chavín Horizon (800 - 300 BCE). 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.

Social instability and upheaval at Chavín de Huántar occurred between 500 and 300 BCE, the same time that the Chavín civilization began to decline. Sometime after its abandonment, a small village occupied the Circular Plaza and some temples were salvaged for building materials.
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Project Narrative

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In July 2005, a group of students from the University of California, Berkeley traveled to Chavín de Huántar in Ancash, Peru for an archaeological 3D laser scan documentation project. The project's goal was to support and supplement the archaeological activities and research being conducted at the site by Stanford University. The intent was the new data would become the base data set for executing a conservation plan for the site. The students implemented HDS, panoramic photography, HR photography, traditional survey, time-lapse photography, and close-range 3D scanning. The subject of the project was all above-ground structures and selected subterranean galleries. The venture was funded jointly by Stanford University and the Kacyra Family Foundation.
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3D point cloud of the Black and White Staircase in the Plaza Mayor Terrace, created from laser scan data

Preservation

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Chavín's state of preservation is poor, but gradually improving. In 1998, Peru's National Institute for Culture (INC) asked for emergency assistance to stabilize and protect the site from the upcoming El Niño weather pattern. During the assistance, which improved drainage and stabilized the galleries, it was noted that the site had never been subject to a specific conservation or preservation effort and the state of conservation of the major structures was extremely poor as a result of climate, structural instability, topography, the materials used in construction, and badly managed tourism. A new access road was recently constructed, but before construction began, Stanford University performed excavations of the location known as "La Banda" in order to secure any archaeological remains and help assure the damage done by the road is minimal. UNESCO has urged Peru to develop a site management plan.

The new Chavín Conservation Partnership (CCP) is developing plans to protect the site from excessive tourism due to the construction of a highway to the remote, mountain-top area. The CCP trained a new conservation team in 2004/2005 and the team has begun working on the preparation of 600-800 artifacts for consolidation, conservation, cataloguing, and interpretation. Artifacts are also being prepared from the collections in the site museum and Lima's National Museum for the new National Museum of Chavín, slated for construction in 2006. Through support and donations a conservation lab and storage facility were purchased in 2004 and the development and enforcement of a site Master Plan is underway.
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Area Descriptions

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Building A
Black & White Portal
Doble Ménsula
Building B
Lanzón Gallery
Building C
Building D
Building E
Building F
Circular Plaza Terrace
Campamento
Circular Plaza Atrium
Plaza Mayor Terrace
Black & White Staircase
Plaza Mayor
Plaza Menor Terrace
Rocas

Building A

Building A Description:

Commonly known as the Castillo, this is the main temple of the site and contains the largest number of galleries. In fact, nearly one third of its volume is interior space. It is the location of the Black and White Portal, which created an axis for the rest of the site’s structures to align to. Interestingly, the temple is believed to have "roared" with the implementation of flushing water through a network of drains and vents.

Stone-carved tenoned heads once decorated the outside of Building A. They depict anthro-zoomorphic forms and are found in a wide range of styles; they may even depict shamanic transformations. Some seemingly have mucus coming from their noses, a possible reference to shamanic ceremonies where Amazonian plants such as Ayahuasca or local San Pedro Cactus were used as hallucinogens. Many of these heads have been relocated inside the temple to protect them from the elements, or have been sheltered by modern overhangs.

Unfortunately, much of the stonework on the north and west faces of Building A has been stripped away over the centuries, leaving up to five meters of exposed fill to erode in the face of the elements.


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 Black & White Portal

Black & White Portal Description:

Along the eastern face of Building A, this elaborate portal is constructed of black granite and white limestone columns, similar to the Black and White Staircase. The portal decorates the front of Building A (the Castillo) although no front entrance existed here. The columns and lintel of the portal are intricately decorated with carvings depicting anthro-zoomorphic figures, most likely with religious connotations. The southern granite column has a carved depiction of a feline-avian figure, possibly female, and the northern column depicts what may be its male counterpart. Representations of duality such as this are common, and a consistent undercurrent in Andean art.


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Doble Ménsula

Doble Ménsula Description:

Doble Ménsula is located in the south-central area of Building A's interior. The gallery was built in two separate stages, first being the construction of the lower gallery. Later, with the addition of the upper portion of the gallery, the lower portion had to be modified to accommodate the joining of the two parts. The modifications to the lower gallery would have required great skill, with double courses of corbels utilized in the lower gallery to support its ceiling.


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Building B

Building B Description:

Building B, constructed over three building phases, lies between Buildings A and C and west of the Circular Plaza Atrium. It contains five galleries including the Lanzón Gallery and connecting Gallery VIII. However, the top of the building, along with Gallery VIII and the top of the Circular Plaza Staircase, was destroyed in a 1945 alluvion.


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Lanzón Gallery

Lanzón Gallery Description:

Located at the center of Building B, the Lanzón Gallery is a subterranean gallery that houses the Lanzón Stela in a cruciform, internal chamber. The Lanzón Stela was the principal cult object of the original temple at Chavín de Huántar; it has been interpreted as the supreme deity of Chavín and is also called the “Smiling God”. The Lanzón could also have symbolized trade, fertility, dualism, and humankind’s interaction with nature.

The 4.5m (15 feet)-tall obelisk is intricately carved from a large piece of white granite in a roughly lance-like shape. It depicts a human-feline hybrid with claws, writhing snakes for hair and eyebrows, fangs curved sideways in a smile. Other carvings at Chavín de Huántar depict the Lanzón clutching a Strombus shell in one hand and a Spondylus shell in the other, which has been interpreted as a possible reference to fertility and the duality of the sexes.

The Lanzón Gallery was built over three or four construction episodes. Originally, the gallery was probably an open rectangular court with the Lanzón standing in the center. As the mound grew around it, the court was partially filled in to create spaces narrow enough to place lintel stones across as a roof. The Lanzón protrudes into a second chamber above, allowing one positioned at its edge to ‘speak’ for the Stela; however, most evidence for this was destroyed as a result of the landslide in 1945 that reburied much of the site.


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Building C

Building C Description:

The northernmost part of the Old Temple area, Building C was likely as tall as parts of Building A, yet during the 1945 alluvion much of the top of the structure was destroyed, including a modern-day chapel. Interestingly the galleries of Building C do not align to the galleries of the other buildings. The south wall of the building is also the north wall of the Circular Plaza Atrium.


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Building D

Building D Description:

Little is known about the construction of Building D as the building is dilapidated and little of the exterior walls remain. It is only known to house two galleries. It does not align to the "Black and White Axis" formed by the Black and White Portal which most other plazas and buildings align to; this suggests it was possibly built later or, more likely, earlier.


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Building E

Building E Description:

Located south of Plaza Mayor its two staircases align symmetrically to those of Building F directly across the plaza; Building F has three staircases which suggests that Building E also did when it was constructed. Building E has undergone considerable damage as a result of river floods in this past century; a temporary course change in the Mosna River eroded much of the building's eastern side and one of its two galleries. During Julio Tello's early excavation in 1919, the gallery in this area was 50m long, by 1934 erosion had reduced it to 24m. The top of the structure exhibits evidence of more galleries beneath. The building also appears to have been built over an older, smaller structure.


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Building F

Building F Description:

Located north of Plaza Mayor, Building F has three staircases that run up the building side from the plaza terrace. Its staircases are aligned symmetrically with those of Building E, which is located directly across the Plaza Mayor Terrace. This building aligns to the Black and White Axis created by the Black and White Portal.


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Circular Plaza Terrace

Circular Plaza Terrace Description:

The Circular Plaza Terrace was built up around the Circular Plaza in order to make the plaza artificially sunken. Located within the Circular Plaza Atrium it appears that the terrace and the other components of the Atrium (the plaza, the terrace, a staircase, and three galleries) were constructed contemporarily.


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Campamento

Campamento Description:

The Campamento Gallery is located underneath the northeast side of the Circular Plaza Terrace. Its original entrance is unknown but it may have originally connected to the Caracolas Gallery; however, this is inconclusive as the Campamento is in poor condition. The gallery currently boasts modern supports and two segments are filled with collapsed materials. The stonework near the collapses suggests the gallery extends beyond them but its original length is unknown. The accessible portions of the gallery do not exhibit seams in the stonework which imply it was built in one phase of construction.


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Circular Plaza Atrium

Circular Plaza Atrium Description:

The area between the north wall of Building A, the south wall of Building C, and the east wall of Building B comprises the Circular Plaza Atrium. It includes the Circular Plaza, the Circular Plaza Terrace, three galleries, and the lower portion of the Circular Plaza Staircase. The Atrium and its individual components appear to have been constructed in the same phase.

The Tello Obelisk, which is 2.52m tall and carved from granite, would have originally stood in the center of this plaza. It was excavated by Julio Tello in the 1930s and is currently housed in the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History in Lima. A series of engraved stone plaques depicting jaguars and Chavín personages may have encircled the entire plaza. The remaining plaques are now protected under a thatch roof. All the galleries surrounding the Circular Plaza may have been sealed off shortly after construction as part of a dedication ceremony for the Circular Plaza and Atrium, but again the evidence for this is inconclusive.


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Plaza Mayor Terrace

Plaza Mayor Terrace Description:

Plaza Mayor Terrace is the location of the Plaza Mayor and the Black and White Staircase and is flanked by Buildings E, F, and G. The Altar of Choque Chinchay is also located on the Plaza Mayor Terrace, a 10-ton limestone slab with seven small circular pits that might represent the pattern of the Pleiades astronomical cluster. Below the terrace and the Plaza Mayor is the Rocas gallery system in which four drainage canals intersect. These subterranean drains and galleries indicate the terrace was built up from at least the floor level of Plaza Mayor.


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Black & White Staircase

Black & White Staircase Description:

Though heavily dismantled for building blocks in the centuries following abandonment of the Chavín-period structures, the Black and White Staircase is a prime example of Chavín engineering and the symbolism of the site. It once functioned as the stairway used to reach Building A and the Plaza Menor from the Plaza Mayor Terrace (the main plaza). It is constructed along the Black and White Axis of the site, in half black limestone and half white granite blocks, similar to the Black and White Portal.


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Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor Description:

The main square plaza is located below Building A, Building E, and Building F, and is 48 sq m (517 sq ft) in size. It aligns to the Black and White Axis of the site created by the Black and White Portal; the eastern staircase of the Plaza Mayor has a marker that aligns to the center of the Black and White Portal. The plaza's floor is the lowest formal level of Chavín de Huántar, and many of the Rocas (tunnels that were used for drainage and other purposes) run either into or under the Plaza Mayor.


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Plaza Menor Terrace

Plaza Menor Terrace Description:

From the Plaza Mayor Terrace, the Black and White Staircase leads to the elevated Plaza Menor Terrace. Within it, the smaller Plaza Menor is centered in front of the Black and White Portal and Building A (the Castillo). The top of Plaza Menor is level with the base of Building A and below the plaza's surface is a system of stone-lined drains and canals which are part of the Rocas Galleries. The best preserved section of the Plaza Menor is made of black limestone; it seems likely that the matching section to the south was of white granite, also reflecting the duality of Building A.


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Rocas

Rocas Description:

The Rocas Gallery comprises several subterranean canals that are believed to have been drains, although evidence now supports a more elaborate use. They are accompanied by a series of stone-lined vents which are thought to have produced the effect of Temple A 'roaring' as water cascaded under it. Some of the Rocas drains are small, however, several are large enough for a person to stand in and walk through; stairs have been found in one location that appear to have lead up to the Plaza Mayor. Located beneath the Plaza Mayor and the Plaza Mayor Terrace and extending west beneath Building A and as far east as the Mosna River, their construction would indicate they were built at the same time as the plaza and its terrace.


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References:

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  1. "Decision 28COM 15B.104." Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. 28 June - 7 July 2004. World Heritage Committee. 24 January 2006 <http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2005/whc05-29com-07BReve.pdf>.
  2. "Heritage Sites: Chaving de Huantar, Peru." Global Heritage Fund. 24 January 2006 <http://www.globalheritagefund.org/where/chavin_scroller.html>.
  3. "State of Conservation Report: 1998." Decisions of the 22nd Extraordinary Session of the Bureau of World Heritage Committee. 1998. World Heritage Committe. 24 January 2006 <http://whc.unesco.org/archive/repcom98a4.htm#sc330>.
  4. Darvill, T. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  5. ICOMOS. "World Heritage List, No 330." Advisory Body Evaluation. 23 August 1984. UNESCO World Heritage Center. 24 January 2006 <http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/330.pdf>.
  6. Kembel, S.R. "Architectural Sequence and Chronology at Chavin de Huantar, Peru." Diss. Stanford University, 2001.
  7. Kembel, S.R. and J.W. Rick. "Building Authority at Chavin de Huantar: Models of Social Organization and Development in the Initial Period and Early Horizon" in Andean Archaeology. W. Isbell and H. Silverman, eds. New York: Plenum, 2002.
  8. Moseley, M. The Incas and their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2001.

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Credits:

more     - Justin Barton
     - Nicole Medina
     - Laura Mezolf
     - Oliver Monson
     - John Ristevski
     - John Rick
CyArk
     - Anthony Fassero
     - John Mink
            Lead Researcher