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Section 3: The Ancient Andes

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    The Caral Civilization

    The Caral civilization flourished in the Andean region between the 30th and 18th centuries BCE. This peaceful, urban center yielded several major discoveries, including a method of keeping records known as quipu.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Describe the significance of the Caral civilization of the Andes

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • The Caral civilization (also known as Caral-Supe) was part of the Norte Chico civilization complex, in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru.
    • The urban complex of Caral takes up more than 150 acres, and contains plazas, dwellings, and a 28-meters-high temple.
    • Some scholars have suggested that Norte Chico was founded on seafood and maritime resources, rather than development of agricultural cereal and crop surpluses.
    • One of the artifacts found at Caral is a knotted textile piece, called a quipu, which archaeologists believe was a method of keeping records.
    • Evidence of warfare has not been found in Caral.
    • A geoglyph of a human with long hair and open mouth was discovered in 2000 by Marco Machacuay and Rocio Aramburu just west of Caral.
    • At its peak, approximately 3,000 people are believed to have lived in Caral.
    • Norte Chico civilizations are pre-ceramic cultures of the pre-Columbian Late Archaic; they completely lacked ceramics, and apparently had almost no art. The most impressive achievement of these civilizations was its monumental architecture.

    Key Terms

    • geoglyph: A large design produced on the ground, typically formed by rocks, stones, trees, gravel, or earth.
    • quipu: A knotted textile piece found at the Caral site, believed to be used for record-keeping.
    • Caral civilization: A complex pre-Columbian society that included as many as 30 major population centers, in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru.

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    Caral: The remains of the Caral site in Peru

    The Caral civilization (also known as the Norte Chico civilization and as Caral-Supe) was a complex pre-Columbian society, located  in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru, near Supe, Barranca province, Peru (200 km north of Lima). Its location allowed it to take advantage of three rivers: the Fortaleza, the Pativilca, and the Supe. It has been established as the oldest known civilization in the Americas, and as one of the six sites where civilization separately originated in the ancient world.

    The Caral flourished between the 30th and 18th centuries BCE. This complex society arose a millennium after Sumer in Mesopotamia, was contemporaneous with the Egyptian pyramids, and predated the Mesoamerican Olmec by nearly two millennia.

    Caral was discovered by Paul Kosok in 1948, and further studied by archaeologist Ruth Shady. The urban complex of Caral takes up more than 150 acres, and holds plazas, dwellings, and a 28-meters-high temple. Its urban plan was used by Andean civilizations for the next four thousand years. One of the artifacts found at Caral is a knotted textile piece named a quipu, which archaeologists believe was a method of keeping records. Other pieces found include flutes made of condor and pelican bones, and cornetts made of deer and llama bones. Evidence of warfare has not been found. A geoglyph was discovered in 2000 by Marco Machacuay and Rocio Aramburu just west of Caral. The lines of the etching form a human face with long hair and an open mouth. At its peak, approximately 3,000 people are believed to have lived in Caral.

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    Caral Temple: A view of the Caral temple

    The Norte-Chico Region

    In archaeological nomenclature, Norte Chico civilizations are pre-ceramic cultures of the pre-Columbian Late Archaic; they completely lacked ceramics and apparently had almost no art. The most impressive achievement of these civilizations was its monumental architecture, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas. Archaeological evidence suggests use of textile technology and, possibly, the worship of common god symbols, both of which recur in pre-Columbian Andean cultures. Sophisticated government is assumed to have been required to manage the ancient Norte Chico. Questions remain over its organization, particularly the political influence of food resources. Some scholars have suggested that Norte Chico was founded on seafood and maritime resources, as opposed to the development of agricultural cereal and crop surpluses, which have been considered essential to the rise of other ancient civilizations.

    The Chavín Civilization

    The Chavín civilization, which lasted from 900-250 BCE in Peru, featured ingenious art and architecture, and had widespread influence on other local cultures.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Describe the significance of the Chavín civilization

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    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.

    Key Terms

    • Tello Obelisk: A huge sculpted shaft depicting a Chavín creation myth.
    • ch’arki: Llama jerky.
    • axis mundi: A pivot point linking heaven, earth and the underworld.
    • 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.
    • Lanzón: A stone stela found in the Chavín de Huántar temple.
    • camelids: A mammal of the camel family (Camelidae).
    • psychotropic drugs: A chemical substance that changes brain function and results in alterations in perception, mood, or consciousness.
    • Jarabarriu: A stage of development in the Chavín civilization from 400-250 BCE.
    • Chakinani: A stage of development in the Chavín civilization from 500-400 BCE.
    • Urabarriu: A stage of development in the Chavín civilization from 900-500 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.

    The map shows the extent of the Chavín Civilization, which stretched along the Peruvian coast, from Cajamarca to the north to Pachacamac, an archaelogical site 40 km southeast of Lima, to the south. The map also shows the extent of Chavín influence, which stretched further north along the coast to the modern-day border of Peru and Ecuador and further south along the coast to Nazca.

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    The Valdivia Culture

    The Valdivia culture of Ecuador (3500-1800 BCE) is one of the oldest settled cultures recorded in the Americas. They were a sedentary, egalitarian people, known for their early use of pottery, and feminine ceramic figures.

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    Describe the significance of the Valdivia culture

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

    • The Valdivia culture of Ecuador (3500-1800 BCE) is one of the oldest settled cultures recorded in the Americas.
    • The Valdivia lived in a community that built its houses in a circle or oval around a central plaza and were sedentary, egalitarian people.
    • Valdivian pottery (bowls, jars, and feminine figures) are the oldest in the Americas, dating to 2700 BCE.
    • Valdivians created rafts with sails, and built a maritime trade network with tribes in the Andes and Amazon.
    • A main trading item was the red shell of the thorny oyster, called Spondylus.

    Key Terms

    • Spondylus: A genus of bivalve mollusks, also known as thorny oysters.
    • cassava: The starchy tuberous root of a tropical tree.
    • egalitarian: Believing in the principle that all people are equal.

    The Valdivia culture is one of the oldest settled cultures recorded in the Americas. It emerged from the earlier Las Vegas culture, and thrived on the Santa Elena peninsula near the modern-day town of Valdivia, Ecuador, between 3500-1800 BCE.

    The map shows Ecuador, with the location of the Valdivia culture circled.

    Map of Valdivian Culture: Shown here is the location of the Valdivia culture.

    Life Among the Valdivians

    The Valdivia lived in a community that built its houses in a circle or oval around a central plaza. They were sedentary, egalitarian people who lived off farming and fishing, and occasional deer hunting. From the remains that have been found, it has been determined that Valdivians cultivated maize, kidney beans, squash, cassava, chili peppers, and cotton plants, the latter of which was used to make clothing.

    Pottery

    Valdivian pottery, which has been dated to 2700 BCE, was initially rough and practical, but over time became splendid, delicate, and large. Bowls, jars, and female statues were used in daily life and religious ceremonies. They generally used the colors red and gray, and polished dark red pottery is characteristic of the Valdivia period. In their ceramics and stone works, the Valdivia culture showed a progression from the most simple, to much more complicated works. Valdivians were the first Americans to use pottery.

    The photograph shows 13 fragments of pottery.

    Valdivian Pottery: Valdivian pottery is the oldest in America, on display in this image at the Museo de La Plata in Argentina.

    The trademark Valdivia pottery piece is the “Venus” of Valdivia: feminine ceramic figures. The “Venus” of Valdivia likely represented actual people;  each figurine is individualand unique, as can be seen in the hairstyles. They were made by joining two rollsof clay, leaving the lower portion separated as legs and forming the body andhead from the top portion. The arms were usually very short, and in most caseswere bent towards the chest, holding the breasts or chin.

    Trade

    Valdivians created rafts with sails, and built a maritime trade network with tribes in the Andes and Amazon. A main trading item was the red shell of the thorny oyster, called Spondylus, which were often made into ornaments, and were considered more valuable than gold or silver.

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