The power of the civilization, based on a theocracy, was centered in the Chavin
de Huantar temple, whose walls and galleries were filled with sculptures of
ferocious deities with feline features.
Chav n was probably more of a religious than political panAndean phenomenon.
It seems to have been a center for the missionary diffusion of priests who
transmitted a particular set of ideas, rituals, and art style throughout what is
now northcentral Peru. The apparent headquarters for this religious cult in all
likelihood was Chav n de Huantar in the Ancash highlands, whose elaborately
carved stone masonry buildings are among the oldest and most beautiful in South
America. The great, massive temple there, oriented to the cardinal points of the
solstice, was perceived by the people of Chav n to be the center of the world,
the most holy and revered place of the Chav n culture. This concept of God and
his elite tied to a geographical location at the center of the cosmos--the idea
of spatial mysticism--was fundamental to Inca and pre-Inca beliefs.
A fter the decline of the Chav n culture around the beginning of the
Christian millennium, a series of localized and specialized cultures rose and
fell, both on the coast and in the highlands, during the next thousand years. On
the coast, these included the Gallinazo, Mochica, Paracas, Nazca, and Chim
civilizations. Although each had their salient features, the Mochica and Chim
warrant special comment for their notable achievements.
The Paracas culture (700 BC) rose to power along the south coast, and was to
craft superb skills in textile weaving.
The north coast was dominated by the Mochica civilization (100 AD). The
culture was led by military authorities in the coastal valleys, such as the Lord
of Sipan. The Moche pots which featured portraits, and their iconography in
general were surprisingly detailed and showed great skill in design.
The Mochica occupied a 136-kilometer-long expanse of the coast from the R o
Moche Valley and reached its apogee toward the end of the first millennium A.D.
They built an impressive irrigation system that transformed kilometers of barren
desert into fertile and abundant fields capable of sustaining a population of
over 50,000. Without benefit of the wheel, the plough, or a developed writing
system, the Mochica nevertheless achieved a remarkable level of civilization, as
witnessed by their highly sophisticated ceramic pottery, lofty pyramids, and
In 1987 near Sip n, archaeologists unearthed an extraordinary cache of
Mochica artifacts from the tomb of a great Mochica lord, including finely
crafted gold and silver ornaments, large, gilded copper figurines, and
wonderfully decorated ceramic pottery. Indeed, the Mochica artisans portrayed
such a realistic and accurately detailed depiction of themselves and their
environment that we have a remarkably authentic picture of their everyday life
Whereas the Mochica were renowned for their realistic ceramic pottery, the
Chim were the great city-builders of pre-Inca civilization. As loose
confederation of cities scattered along the coast of northern Peru and southern
Ecuador, the Chim flourished from about 1150 to 1450. Their capital was at Chan
Chan outside of modern-day Trujillo. The largest pre-Hispanic city in South
America at the time, Chan Chan had 100,000 inhabitants. Its twenty square
kilometers of precisely symmetrical design was surrounded by a lush garden oasis
intricately irrigated from the R o Moche several kilometers away. The Chim
civilization lasted a comparatively short period of time, however. Like other
coastal states, its irrigation system, watered from sources in the high Andes,
was apparently vulnerable to cutoff or diversion by expanding highland polities.
The highlands saw the rise of the Tiahuanaco culture (200 AD), based in the
Collao region (which covered parts of modern-day Bolivia and Chile). The
Tiahuanaco were to bequeath a legacy of agricultural terracing and the
management of a variety of ecological zones.
The Nazca culture (300
AD) were able to tame the coastal desert by bringing water through underground
aqueducts. They carved out vast geometric and animal figures on the desert
floor, a series of symbols believed to form part of an agricultural calendar
which even today baffles researchers.
In the highlands, both the Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) culture, near Lake Titicaca in
Bolivia, and the Wari (Huari) culture, near the present-day city of Ayacucho,
developed large urban settlements and wide-ranging state systems between A.D.
500 and A.D. 1000. The Wari culture (600 AD) introduced urban settlements in the
Ayacucho area and expanded its influence across the Andes.
Each exhibited many of the aspects of the engineering ingenuity that later
appeared with the Incas, such as extensive road systems, store houses, and
architectural styles. Between A.D. 1000 and 1450, however, a period of
fragmentation shattered the previous unity achieved by the Tiahuanaco-Wari
stage. During this period, scores of different ethnic-based groups of varying
sizes dotted the Andean landscape.