The Ancient Religious Center of Peru
When you think of Peru you think of the Incas, but Chavin de Huantar is actually an archaeological site of the Chavin culture that pre-dates the Inca civilization. The Chavin civilization thrived long before the Incan empire dominated what is present-day Peru. Indeed, it was as long ago as 900 BC that the Chavin people created monuments of their culture, most notably Chavin de Huantar. The Chavin exerted influence until around 200 BC before the culture disappeared. Chavin de Huantar is the most well-known evidence of the Chavin people that tourists can still visit today.
This archaeological site, what appears to revolve around an ancient temple, perhaps holds more mystery than Machu Picchu. While more could certainly be known about Machu Picchu, tourists and people who have never been to Peru know about this most famous of Inca sites. We also have a lot more history and knowledge of the era in which the Incas thrived. The Chavin, meanwhile, are of course an ancient civilization before the Common Era about who we know some, but of course not as much as a recent civilization like the Incas. The Chavin people lived in the highlands of the Andes and gradually branched out from the high areas into the valleys below.
Chavin de Huantar, itself, is often referred to as a temple or even a fortress, but the ancient site held purposes more than just as a temple. Archaeologists have determined that, at this location, there was first a circular plaza which held some religious sifnificance as well as serving as a meeting place. There’s also a newer temple, constructed sometime after 500 BC, and an older temple. All of these structures are connected and intertwined. The location clearly served as a religious center, but people also lived and worked here. Sitting at the confluence of two rivers, the people cultivated the land in the lower and higher elevations near the temple complex. It served as a geographically significant hub for the Chavin people and while its solid walls and positioning at high altitude made it a naturally defensible place, most of the evidence points to the main pyramid serving first and foremost as a temple.
One of the most notable evidences of the religious significance of the location is the Lanzon, a monolith or obelisk with animal-like depictions thought to hold religious significance. Like most cultures of that time, animism dominated religious observance. The Lanzon statue has large eyes and combines many animal forms carved together to create a 15-foot monolith. To get to it, you have to navigate a maze of underground passages and deep in the heart of these passages the Lanzon takes on an imposing character.
So, while there’s plenty of art and artifacts pointing to the significance of the site as a temple, it was clearly an important place for the Chavin people, regardless. Animistic beliefs were definitely core to their culture and superstitions. If you visit Chavin de Huantar, you will find that the imposing pyramid and surrounding structures served as a place for meeting, worshipping and living.