The ruins of the ancient civilization of Chavín have stood for over 2500 years. How did this empire endure without the use of weapons and warfare? Was it a Utopian society? Or was it a warped experiment in mind control? Through secret tunnels deep within the ruins in the Amazon jungles to hallucinogenic rituals of the modern day Shamans. And another thing……..there really is a temple of doom. Intrigued? I know I am.
Perhaps one of the most ancient sacred idol and most important artifact in a country rich with archaeological treasures; it’s called the Tello Obelisk. It is currently housed in the Museo Nacional de Chavín (National Museum of Chavín).
Dr. Guillermo Cock, a leading expert on Peru’s archaeological past explains the crucial role the relic played in the ancient civilization of Chavín. He explains that the obelisk itself was viewed as a scared icon, where people would come before it and say prayers, make offerings, and really viewed the obelisk as a God standing before them.
Reigning from 1000-200 B.C., Chavín is one of the oldest and most mysterious cultures in Peru. The principle image on the obelisk is the cayman, the South American relative of the alligator. You’ll also notice several other familiar items such as peanuts, rattle snakes, and chili peppers. Chasing the historical origins of the sacred images on the relic, the first place to look is Chavín de Huántar. Chavín de Huántar, a site located 250 kilometers north of Lima, Peru, at an elevation of 3,200 meters, east of the Cordillera Blanca at the start of the Conchucos Valley, is one of the few sites that contains a tremendous amount of archaeological evidence that can help us piece the story together about the Chavín culture.
The modern people today still practice ancient traditions and also speak their old language; Quechua. They practice traditional agriculture and still wear very colorful clothing. Centered around a sprawling temple made of massive stone blocks, it rises 53 ft high and looks down on 15 acres of sweeping plazas. What’s interesting is that on site you will notice that there were no fortifications what so ever to protect these amazing structures from destruction. According to Rosa Rick, an archaeologist from Stanford University she said, ” Chavín was a major ceremonial center, this is where people from all over Andean area would come worship. People would travel hundreds of kilometers to get here. It’s a religious center.”
Archaeologists speculate that it was hypnotic mass rituals that took place on the main plaza with hundreds or even thousands of worshippers. The staging of the rituals was like a multi-media event. The priests have thought of every way to impress and amaze their followers. Traded from hundreds of miles away, special conch shells were blown like trumpets and music reverberated off the walls of the temple. Several years ago, the Stanford team found over 20 of these conch shells, all elaborately decorated with special carvings.
The power of the ceremony came from more than just music and dance though. So how did the priests hold so much power over the people? What captivated the worshippers besides the music and dancing? According to Rosa, there were canals underneath the stairs all around the temple complex that would continuously have water running. During the ceremonies the priests would stand over the stairs and speak, and the running water will cause a lot of sounds and create a powerful effect for the audience when the priests are speaking.
Over 2 miles of underground canals traversing around the entire temple complex. All to heighten the effect of the ceremonies. The sound was probably incredible!
This is one of the reasons why Chavín had to weapons, it was on sacred grounds. It’s protected cult status shielded it from being attacked. Archaeologists have found offerings that were brought from devotees from as far away as the coast.
The Chavín style of intricate design and strong animal imagery dominated the entire region. It was a cultural empire in Peru for 800 years, ruling through the persuasive force of it’s ideas. Rosa says that the priests used a unique method to maintain their dominance.
When correctly prepared, a San Pedro Cactus is a potent hallucinogen. In one of the carvings found in Peru, it depicts a priest with claws firmly gripping a San Pedro Cactus. This shows how important this cactus must be for the priest and his religion. It’s the key to his power and his control of thousands of devotees.
Christian Mesia, an archaeologist from Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Lima, indicated that on one of the many stone heads that once lied around the temple complex, was a very interesting thing that made stood out from the rest. The stone head shows mucus pouring from its nostrils.
In the photo to the right, you will see an example of a Tenon stone head. Unfortunately, this photo doesn’t depict it with the mucus but you can imagine what it would look like with the mucus coming from its nostrils.
I thought it was really weird that someone would add mucus to a stone head and so I found out that when a person consumes psychotropic drugs, mucus will tend to flow through the nostrils just like it was depicted on some of the stone heads. It’s like an image frozen in time only it’s carved in stone! This would suggest that psychotropic drugs may really have been used at Chavín.
Christian explains the appearance of the stone heads. He says the stone heads are half-human and half-feline. As you’ll notice from the image that the eyes are human and there are fangs coming from its mouth. But why did they depict the stone heads this way? Christian explains that “the divinities lived in another world and to get to that world, you will have to consume substances to enter that world.” And the reason why the stone heads are half-human and half-feline is because it’s depicting some sort of transformation from human to feline and in order to do this, they had to consume substances. Christian mentions an interesting find at the site, which I will discuss in further detail next time.
(To be continued……) Stay tuned for part 2!