Chavin de Huantar

I arrived in Huaraz yesterday morning after another overnight bus trip and spent the rest of the day getting myself organised (washing, book exchange, organising trips for the next couple of days here, onward bus travel for Saturday etc). Not very exciting but these things have to be done.

Today I took a very long day trip to Chavin de Huantar. We stopped on the way to look at a glacial lake (Laguna de Querococha) at around 3800m before continuing up to a tunnel at 4500m then down the other side of the Cordillera on a slow unpaved road.


Chavin de Huantar was a major religious/cult centre from around 1300 to around 300BC. I’d seen some really good photos in my book before I came away, so really wanted to see it. What I hadn’t appreciated was how much of it remains to be excavated (it was last covered by a major mud slide in 1945).


The Chavin cult was apparently quite peaceful, growing by conversion rather than conquest (taking over from other cultures/cults when peoples lost faith following droughts, floods, poor harvests etc). They do seem to have used quite a bit of technology and special effects to keep the masses happy….


This stone, called the Choque Chinchay, has 7 depressions in it (supposedly in the shape of a crouching feline, though I can’t see it myself). The depressions would be filled with water and, at a certain time of the year, the Pleiades would be reflected. The priest would use the reflection to make a weather prediction for the coming growing season. The peasants would then scamper off either to get planting (good forecast) or to check how the food stores were looking (bad forecast). I know from my reading before I left that there is some serious discussion about whether this is complete hocus pocus or whether conditions in the upper atmosphere (which would affect the visibility of the stars) could in fact be related to el Nino-type weather patterns (i.e. Michael Fish could learn a thing or two….)

The whole area is full of man-made subterranean water channels. By controlling the flow of water, the priests could add rumbling noises (for the full Alton Towers experience) and apparently even imitate the growl of a big cat. It’s no wonder they ended up with so many followers. Here are some holes that could be left open or covered to change the pitch of the sound.


Inside, the temple is a labyrinth of stone tunnels….. The Lanzon monolitico is a 4.5m high piece of carved pink granite that is thought to have been put in place and the temple built around it (i.e. around 1300BC).



The other thing that Chavin de Huantar is famous for is the stone heads. There were originally more than 200 of these, all different. Their role was to act as guardians of the temple.


San Pedro cactus was big here too (and is still to be found growing around the site). Here they seem to have been into man-animal transformations, for the purposes of which a bit of cactus could no doubt come in handy (the stone heads depict such transformations. They all look reasonably human but with wide hallucinating eyes and some animal features). We saw some carved bone cactus-inhalers in the museum; apparently you get a much quicker and stronger effect if you snort it up your nose rather than swallowing it.

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