Pre-Inca Civilization

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 clever metalwork.

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 and work.

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.

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