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Early Horizon-Chavin, Paracas and Lima Cultures

Early Horizon – 800 – 200 BCE

Chavin: Great Astronomers

More than 3000 years ago an important civilization took place in Chavin de Huantar, southeast of the Cordillera Blanca. It stretched through the north and central highlands and along the coast. They built large temples, the largest early buildings in Peru, which allowed them to observe the stars and the movement of the sun and the moon therefore predicting climatic changes that benefited agriculture. Those in charge of the temples were priests also know as shamans. They occupied the top of the social hierarchy and became early astronomers who were venerated by locals as having special powers and connection with the gods.

The inhabitants in Chavin believed that these priests communicated with the gods and to honor them they built huge sculptures such as the Lanzon Monolith, Tello Obelisk, the Raymondi Stella and carved heads in their building walls. These sculptures represented a metaphor of the universe as the Chavin inhabitants understood it. They were also known for their artistic pottery. A common trait in the sculptures, ceramics, textile and metal work is the recurring themes such as feline faces, anacondas and flying caimans. These anthropomorphic figures represent how locals imagined their gods would be. The influence of the Chavin culture reached hundred of miles across northern Peru and it is believed that pilgrims made a long journey to visit its temples, acting as a link among different cultural groups.

Located west of Chavin in the Casma Valley lies the temple of Sechin. It is unclear the link with Chavin but archeologist believe that Sechin was a military base for the Chavin culture. The temple contains hundreds of stone monoliths carved with figures of warriors depicting  violent scenes.

Paracas: Amazing Weavers

This culture dates back to about 600 BC and expanded in the south coast Valley of Chincha in the department of Ica, 200 km south of Lima. They developed advanced agricultural techniques and one of their most important crops was cotton. Using cotton, vicuña and alpaca wool they weaved fine-looking multicolored tapestries and blankets and dyed their creations with natural dyes of which they created more than 190 different shades. The size of the textiles was on average 2.5 meters long and used geometric, anthropomorphous and animal designs such as birds and felines. Textiles were considered a symbol of status and wealth, many mummies have been found wrapped in many layers of the finest embroidered tapestries symbolizing a person of power in the Paracas society. Their textile is considered the finest produced in Pre-Columbian America.

The Paracas people were also known for their burial grounds as they venerated their dead. In the 1920s a burial ground was discovered with more than 400 mummies some of them wrapped in layers of fine alpaca wool blankets and tapestries and preserved in excellent condition because of the dryness of the desert and the lack of contact with oxygen.

The Paracas culture has two periods: Paracas Cavernas dating from 500 to 300 BCE and Paracas Necropolis from 300 to 100 BCE.

During Paracas Cavernas, mummies were buried in underground caverns or caves which were up to 6 meters in diameter. The mummies were wrapped in simple textile. Their ceramic represented deities such as jaguars and snakes and used bright colors to decorate them.

During the period of Paracas Necropolis the territory extended beyond the Pisco River up to Topara. Burial grounds evolved and contained large underground funerary chambers aligned horizontally. Adult Paracas mummies were buried in fetal position wrapped with different textiles and food such as maize and yucca. Bodies were distinguished by their social position; those belonging to a high class were wrapped in layers of fine textile, exuberant jewelry and religious objects. Many mummies found in the Necropolis period showed an elongated skull which is associated with a high social status and power. The Paracas culture is also well known for performing cranial surgery called cranial trepanation in which a doctor would drill a hole in the skull to treat a psychological disorder, headaches or a fracture covering it with a gold plate.  They probably used coca, hallucinogen herbs or alcohol as anesthetic.

During this period the production of their textile increased in size, complexity and quality meaning that they used a superior technique in their method of production. Their ceramic did not evolve as much as their textile and it became monochromatic using mostly yellow shades.

Lima: Divers

This pre-Hispanic civilization flourished between 100BC -500AD, its development overlaps with that of  the Moche and Nasca civilizations. Lima culture flourished in the territory of what is the current department of Lima, the capital city of Peru.  Seafood was the main source of food for the residents of the Lima culture. Their inhabitants became expert divers to be able extract mollusks from under the sea. They were so skilled that they were capable to collect snails (thais chocolata) from over 8 meters under sea level. Lima is located in the desert coastal strip where water is scarce and to cultivate the soil they needed to channel water from the few rivers that flow to Lima. In order to be able to irrigate their crops they built large aqueducts and canals, they were so large that even at the present time they confuse one of them for a river which they call Surco, which is really a large aqueduct for irrigation.

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