Chavin de Huantar: The
Conspiracy of the Gods
"Of all of the ancient cultures I admire, that of Chavin amazes me the most. Actually, it has
been the inspiration behind most of my art" Pablo Picasso
Timoteo Espinoza was laboriously tilling the land one day about a century ago when he noticed that the point of his shovel had lodged itself in an enormous rock. Annoyed, he tried to remove it but realized that it was too large to do it alone. He asked some other farmers in the area to give him a hand and after digging for a good long while with their shovels, they were surprised to discover that rock was flat and measured over two meters long.
On its surface, there was an elaborate carved design which appeared to represent some strange god with an enormous head and the teeth of a feline. Timoteo brought the strange rock home where his industrious wife used it for years as a table for cooking: chopping onions, grinding garlic and cutting up chicken.
One day, a gringo arrived in town on a horse and - by coincidence - struck up a friendship with Timoteo who invited him home for dinner. Sitting at the stone table, the curious traveler passed his hand on the reverse side of the heavy object and noticed that it had designs in relief. He began asking what kind of table it was. Timoteo proudly held the stone up in a vertical position and showed it to him. The visitor was amazed, stupefied. Today, that "table" is on display at the National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology and it still carries the name of that the Italian traveler who rescued it. The "Estela Raimondi" stone is one of the most important pieces of the first High Culture of Chavin.
Magical-religious center of the most advanced civilization of the pre-Incan era, the stone temple of Chavin de Huantar is located at an altitude of 3,185 meters above sea level in Huari province of Ancash department and was constructed in 327 B.C. Inside its millenary walls, this stone structure brought together men and women of that time who possessed advanced knowledge of architecture, ceramics, sculpture, textiles, hydraulics and acoustics. Its mysterious pyramidal structures have motivated archaeologists and other academics to come up with a range of the most diverse theories in an attempt to explain the true nature of the temple which is known to people in the area as "The Castle."
Some experts, however, have theorized that rather than a castle or a fortress, the structure was a temple. Ernst Middendorf, a German historian who carried out studies in the zone a little over than a century ago, maintained this theory based on the form of the truncated pyramid of the edifice, a common architectural form of pre-Colombian temples in Peru. In his book "Peru: Observations and Studies of the Country and his inhabitants over 25 years," Middendorf mentioned other elements which he said gave credence to his theory: the manner in which the structure encloses a packed filling of and, the existence of an open stairway, the characteristic chamber in the platform and finally the presence of two idols. One of these idols, he said, was used for general worship and the other probably "for a secret cult" since only a few people could fit into the narrow underground passageways at any one time. For the visitor, the structure looks like an extensive network of passageways and interior rooms which make up a fascinating complex constructed entirely of stone. The interior is dominated by perpetual shadows altered only by geometric beams of light which burst forth through the strategic ducts which communicate with the world outside. Inside, everything is either marvelous or terrifying. But one of the most incredible things is that in these mysterious hallways it is possible to hear the voice of someone several miters away as if he were standing by your side.
It is in one of these ancestral corridors that a terrifying god of stone unnerves the unprepared visitor. The Lanzon Monotlith, a startling five-meters-high stone figure whose imposing face - ferocious divinities mixing men, birds, tigers and snakes - takes us in with bulging eyes.
The same terrible figure which once terrified a local child who had crawled into the structure through a crack in the stone and made him flee in terror.
That child was called Marino Gonzales Moreno. In 1940, he began to serve as a loyal assistant to the archaeologist Julio C. Tello in his painstaking and invaluable research into Chavin. Gonzales Moreno today is 84 years old, and is proud to say he has dedicated his entire life to the study and custody of this archaeological monument. Gonzales Moreno is rightly considered the "guardian angel" of Chavin and keeps in his prodigious memory, hundreds of truly surprising stories.
One says that in 1945, Chavin was on the point of disappearing due to a tremendous landslide caused by the collapse of a snow-capped mountain over a lake (similar to the one which 25 years later would devastate the mountain town of Yungay in the same department of Ancash). But that was not the worst part. The residents of the area, who had been left homeless, began to reconstruct their homes and several of them converted the ceremonial patio into a farm area. Tello and his loyal secretary Gonzales Moreno took it upon themselves to direct the recovery of the stones and the stairways of the structure in a titanic, solitary task which took several years.
Perhaps, the most unbelievable of Gonzales Moreno stories is the one about the man who one day appeared at the site showing property titles and insisting that his ancestors had paid 20,000 pesos for those lands and which therefore meant that Chavin belonged to him. Without a thought, that character began to divide up the area into plots with the aim of knocking down the stones and constructing a modern residential neighborhood. Gonzales Moreno, then 42 years old, immediately traveled to Lima to sound the alarm and handed a detailed report to the National Archaeology Society, denouncing the atrocity about to be carried out. A commission of specialists arrived just in time to detain an army of workers who, armed with ropes and bars, appeared set on not leaving a stone in place. Although on that occasion, the destruction of the site was avoided, it is also true that many of the most valuable stones have disappeared, either passing into the hands of strangers or being converted into round pebbles by nature's fury and carried away by the thundering force of river waters.
Nevertheless, the emblematic Lanzon Monolith survived. Some archaeologists prefer to call it just "Lanzon." Others have wanted to see in it a terrible punishing god, drinker of blood. Middendorf refers to a vessel found in the galleries "which appears to indicate that it had something to do with sacrifices." The container is flat, made of stone and rests on four thick legs, "and it is very possible that it was a vessel for collecting blood," he wrote. As far as the "Lanzon" is concerned, Hungarian investigator Tiberio Petro Leon provides what appears to be the most comprehensive interpretation. "The monolith of Chavin is a wanka which in quechua means "stone of power" and which has an eminently religious character. If we look closely, we note that it has the form of the eye tooth of either a jaguar, an orangutan or a tiger.
This image can also be seen elsewhere in the so-called Tello Obelisk, on the Tschudi palace walls of the fortress in the Chan Chan ruins at Trujillo.
"This monolith represents the anthropomorphic image of a child just born, or soon to be born, since its head is three times larger than its head," the Hungarian investigator said. According to Petro-Leon, this would suggest the attempt to represent a man who is not physical but who is ideal or spiritual.
But the mystery does not end there. The monolith or wanka brings together in its stone superficie three elements of the cosmic trilogy of Chavin: the eagle, serpent and the feline. Many have maintained that they are fierce, furiously repressive deities who punish men or who, as in the case of "carved heads," act as sentinels and drive out evil by showing their fierce teeth. On the other hand, Petro Leon says that it is a trilogy equivalent to the Holy Trinity of the world of Catholicism - that is, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But the interpretation is not that simple. The three elements of this trilogy could be associated in turn with the components of air, water and earth - that is, with the habitats of each of these animals . Associated with the divine presence, these elements help confirm the vocation of permanent harmony with the Cosmos which is reflected in the whole legacy of Chavin.
The puzzles persist and appear endless: What mystical necessities explain the strange coexistence of light and shadows which reign in the interior of this unfathomable temple? Is it true that the innumerable aqueducts and waterfalls which are found there, served to create, via a system of flood gates, an acoustic effect that resembles the roar of a giant jaguar which terrorizes the population? Were these gigantic rocks at one time the lifeless silent witnesses of human sacrifices carried out to placate the fury of the gods? Come, and experience the mystery of Chavin's millenary recesses. Slither, like a serpent, along its shadow-filled passageways. Open your eagle-like eyes, and prick your ears like a cat - there are many wonderful secrets to discover among the powerful stones of Chavin.
By Monica Vecco
Volume I/Issue 3, Page 58
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