Chankillo, Dogs, and Cerro Sechin

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Today I got to visit Chankillo, one of the top spots on my Peruvian must-see list, even though it gets little attention in the guide books. I’d seen it on a Brian Cox programme on TV and decided that it was a must……

Chankillo is billed as the oldest solar observatory in the Americas. Stonehenge is older, though I personally don’t think it’s the same at all (the observatory at Chankillo clearly has one purpose and one purpose alone, whereas the purpose of the European henges seems to be a bit more vague). Chankillo dates back to around 400BC.

Chankillo is a series of 13 rectangular stone towers built along a ridge with observatories on the East and West sides (though only the Western observatory, which uses sunrise, seems to be mentioned in books; the Eastern observatory works just as well but uses sunset).

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The 13 towers vary considerably in height from the tallest on the far left in the photo (tower 1) to the smallest on the far right in the photo (tower 13).
At the June solstice, the sun rises just to the left of tower 1; on the December solstice it rises just to the right of tower 13, and at the equinoxes it rises between towers 6 and 7. Intermediate points could of course be identified using the position of the sun relative to the other towers. Cool!

On the Western side, the remains of some buildings can be seen. This was apparently an important religious/cult site, and pilgrims would have been housed in the larger buildings to the left (evidenced by remains of lots of utilitarian pottery, remains of molluscs etc – I can confirm that there were certainly lots of pottery shards).

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Further the right was the house of the governor / priest / astronomer (one person held all the power). A corridor down one side of this building leads to the point known as the “astronomer’s seat” which is the point the towers need to be viewed from at sunrise (and the point I took the first photo from).

Each of the towers has steps leading up to the top of it, which were presumably for use in rituals at particular times of the year. Only tower 1 has received any archaeological attention, and here they found an Inca-period metal figure associated with the Inca June solstice rituals – evidence that the Incas must have performed some kind of ritual there almost 2000 years after the tower was first built.

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On the next hill to the West are the remains of a huge fortified temple from the same period. It has three almost circular perimeter walls, inside which were the rectangular main temple and two round storehouses.

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The defensive arrangements are quite impressive. The outer wall has 5 gates, the middle wall 4 and the inner wall 3, none of which are in line with each other. On going through a gate you would be faced with a wall and could go either right or left. Either way, you’d go round a corner and be faced with another closed gate. Only the original gate had a roof over it (the wooden lintels are original); the part behind was open, allowing defenders to attack you from above.

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There is evidence that the fortified temple was successfully attacked and destroyed around 100AD (so the “piles of rubble” look isn’t due to the ravages of time).

My second destination for the day was Cerro Sechin, which is from a much earlier period (1800-1400BC) – the earliest I’ve come across so far. I’d seen photos of the stone wall at Cerro Sechin (the latest part of the construction) in my book before coming away, and had imagined the overall site to be much bigger than it actually is.

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Going back in time a bit, when I visited Pachacamac on my first day in Peru, I saw three dogs running around. I felt a bit sorry for them as they really were the ugliest dogs I’d ever seen in my life. I was a bit surprised later that all of the mutts I’ve seen on the streets as I’ve travelled around have been pretty cute. Anyway, today I saw two more of the ugly dogs at Cerro Sechin and found out what they are. They’re Peruvian hairless dogs, an ancient breed. A few years ago they were in danger of dying out and were declared part of the national heritage. As a result, by law all museums have to keep them.

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Anyway, back to Cerro Sechin. The carved stone surrounding wall shows a procession of warriors and victims – mainly severed heads but also some arms and other body parts. For those bored of all the ritual sacrifice, the good news is that no actual evidence of sacrifice has been found here, just the iconography on the wall. Again, this culture ended with an El Nino event (in this case around 1000BC), this one causing flooding. Pretty much the entire river valley was abandoned (it was later resettled, resulting in Chankillo and other later constructions). Here are some pics of the wall (The guy with the sceptre is at the front of the procession. Dead people have their eyes closed. You can tell the difference between blood and hair in that if it has a nail-shaped ending, it’s blood not hair. Plenty of the heads have blood coming out of them):

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