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4.4: The Chavín Civilization

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    72238
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    Learning Objective

    • Describe the significance of the Chavín civilization

    Key Points

    • The Chavín civilization developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru between 900-250 BCE.
    •  There were three stages of development: Urabarriu (900-500 BCE), Chakinani (500-400 BCE), and Jarabarriu (400-250 BCE).
    • Chavín had a small, powerful elite that was legitimized through a claim to divine authority.
    • The chief example of Chavín architecture is the Chavín de Huántar temple, the design of which displays a complex and innovative adaptation to the highland environment of Peru.
    • The Chavín people showed advanced knowledge of acoustics, metallurgy, soldering, and temperature control. One of their main economic resources was ch’arki, or llama jerky.
    • Chavín art represents the first widespread, recognizable artistic style in the Andes, and can be divided into two phases: the first phase corresponds to the construction of the “Old Temple” at Chavín de Huántar (c. 900-500 BCE); the second phase corresponds to the construction of Chavín de Huántar’s “New Temple” (c. 500-200 BCE).
    • Significant pieces of art include the Lanzón, Tello Obelisk, and tenon heads.

    Terms

    camelids

    A mammal of the camel family (Camelidae).

    Lanzón

    A stone stela found in the Chavín de Huántar temple.

    Tello Obelisk

    A huge sculpted shaft depicting a Chavín creation myth.

    ch’arki

    Llama jerky.

    Chavín civilization

    A civilization in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 900-250 BCE, known for their construction of temples and their advancements in engineering and metallurgy.

    axis mundi

    A pivot point linking heaven, earth and the underworld.

    psychotropic drugs

    A chemical substance that changes brain function and results in alterations in perception, mood, or consciousness.

    Urabarriu

    A stage of development in the Chavín civilization from 900-500 BCE.

    Chakinani

    A stage of development in the Chavín civilization from 500-400 BCE.

    Jarabarriu

    A stage of development in the Chavín civilization from 400-250 BCE.

    The Chavín civilization developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru between 900-250 BCE. Their influence extended to other civilizations along the coast. The Chavín civilization was located in the Mosna Valley, where the Mosna and Huachecsa rivers merge. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    image
    Map Showing Location of the Chavín. This map shows the location of the Chavín culture, as well as the areas the Chavín influenced.

    Stages of Development

    Urabarriu lasted from 900-500 BCE, and just a few hundred people lived at Chavín de Huantar. Ceramics were influenced by other cultures, and the people grew some maize and potatoes. Chakinani, from 500-400 BCE, was a transitional time, when residents migrated to the ceremonial center. From 400-250 BCE, Jarabarriu saw a dramatic increase in population, with an urban/suburban pattern of settlement.

    Society

    Chavín had a small, powerful elite that was legitimized through a claim to divine authority. These shamans were able to control and influence local citizens (probably partially through the use of psychotropic drugs), and were able to plan and carry out construction of temples and stone-walled galleries.

    Architecture

    The chief example of Chavín architecture is the Chavín de Huántar temple. The temple’s design shows complex innovation to adapt to the highland environment of Peru. To avoid flooding and the destruction of the temple during the rainy season, the Chavín people created a successful drainage system with canals under the temple structure; the rushing water during the rainy season sounds like one of the Chavín’s sacred animals, the jaguar.

    Economic Activity

    The Chavín people showed advanced knowledge of acoustics, metallurgy, soldering, and temperature control to accommodate the rainy season. The Chavín were also skilled in developing refined goldwork, and used early techniques of melting metal and soldering.

    The Chavín people domesticated camelids, such as llamas, which were used as pack animals, and for fiber and meat. The Chavin produced ch’arki, or llama jerky, which was commonly traded by camelid herders and was the main economic resource for the Chavín people. They also successfully cultivated several crops, including potatoes, quinoa, and maize. They developed an irrigation system to assist the growth of these crops.

    Art

    Chavín art represents the first widespread, recognizable artistic style in the Andes, and can be divided into two phases: the first phase corresponds to the construction of the “Old Temple” at Chavín de Huántar (c. 900-500 BCE); the second phase corresponds to the construction of Chavín de Huántar’s “New Temple” (c. 500-200 BCE). The Old Temple featured the Lanzón, which was housed in a central cruciform chamber in a labyrinth of underground passages. The Lanzón functions as axis mundi, or a pivot point linking the heavens, earth, and underworld.

    image
    The Lanzón at Chavín. Shown here is the most important stela statue of the central deity of the Chavín, called the Lanzón.

    Chavín art decorated the walls of the temple and includes carvings, sculptures and pottery. Artists depicted exotic creatures found in other regions, such as jaguars and eagles, rather than local plants and animals. The feline figure is one of the most important motifs seen in Chavín art. It has an important religious meaning and is repeated on many carvings and sculptures. Eagles are also commonly seen throughout Chavín art. It was intentionally difficult to interpret and understand, as it was meant to be read by the high priests alone.

    image
    Incised Strombus-Shell Trumpet. This shell trumpet was likely used in ceremonies. The incised designs show a person of high rank playing a shell trumpet, surrounded by snakes.

    The Tello Obelisk is a huge sculpted shaft decorated with images of plants, animals, including caymans and birds, and humans, which may be portraying a creation myth. Tenon heads are massive stone carvings of fanged jaguar heads, found at the tops of interior walls in Chavín de Huantar.

    Influence

    Chavín had wide-ranging influence, with its art and architecture styles spreading for miles around. There is little evidence of warfare in Chavín relics; instead, local citizens were likely controlled by a combination of religious pressure and environmental conditions.

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