iconography at chavin de huantar

Show how the iconography at Chavin de Huantar can be understood and what it can tell us about the Early Horizon ceremonialism in the Andean Highlands. The Chavin iconography is expressed in a number of media and over a large area, having its focal point in central highland Peru and spreading to south to the river valleys, flood plains and the beaches of the Pacific Ocean coast. The famous examples include the stone sculptures from ancient ceremonial centre in highlands, which comprised the Old Temple and, later, the New Temple with adjacent Plaza.

There were also found many portable objects bearing Chavin iconography, like ceramics, vessels, metalwork and textiles, many of which were recovered in coastal areas. The Chavin iconography usually presents scenes with human- animal beings that seem to perform ritual activities and tend to carry objects of significance, which all would have been vibrantly colored in red , white and yellow plaster (Rodriguez Kembel and Rick 2004, 62).

These scenes are very exceptional as they are lacking in explicit political content, which puts Chavin art in sharp contrast with the socio-political content of the Peruvian art style of the Early Intermediate Period (Burger 1988, 123). What is more, this peculiar religious art is based ultimately on analogy and metaphor , which makes the end product almost incomprehensible for the viewer, yet, simultaneously, evoking the sensation of being in the presence of something extraordinary (Burger 1988, 130). This is achieved by the means of special canons, such as the use of “kennings” -metaphorical substitutes for body parts e. . hair in form of snakes, repetition of design elements to form complex motifs, symmetry and anatropic organization that allows a picture to be inverted yet still present upright images (Wilson 1999, 376). Thus, not without a reason, the Chavin artistry was considered by Alfred Kroeber to be the pinnacle of prehistoric South American art (Kroeber, cited by Burger 1988, 130) and it has been presumed to be the work of professionals wholly dedicated to the creation of the appropriate artistic style that would express the power of Chavin religious ideology.

Like all religions, Chavin religion would have had the principal deity, of which the main depiction is in form of a carved, 4. 53m tall stone placed in one of the subterranean passageway complexes of the Old Temple built in Urubarriu phase (2800-2500 BP). Because of the lance-like shape the stone was called Lanzon and presented quite a ferocious portrait of anthropomorphic deity (see Fig. 1). It clearly presents a male with human limbs, ears and hands, wearing jewelry and a short skirt.

His non-human features, most importantly, include the large upper incisors or fangs emerging from snarling mouth , which have been variously interpreted as expressing associations with carnivores, like cayman or anaconda, or being indicators of supernatural strength and ferocity (Burger 1995, 150) . Other features comprise the bat – like nose, the eyebrows and hair in form of snakes and a headdress made of fanged feline heads.

All this makes up for a picture of a dangerous and powerful god, yet in a passive pose that implies him being in a process of maintaining the balance of the cosmos that would ensure the stability of Chavin society and fertility of crops and animals (Burger 1995, 150). Lanzon’s importance is also emphasized by its location as it is in the central place of the temple with restricted access, which suggests that the designers of the chamber desired full control over the experience of visiting the deity (Rodriguez Kembel and Rick 2004, 67).

The function of the god remains unknown, however, ethnographic analogies imply celestial associations and Rowe interpreted Lanzon as a sky god, whereas Tello identified it with Wira – Kocha , the creator god worshipped by the Incas (Burger 1995, 150). Two more important depictions of supreme deity were curved five centuries later in Chakinani phase (2500- 2400 BP), when the Old Temple was enlarged to become the New Temple. The deity represented on a small bas-relief that decorated patio of the temple is very similar to Lanzon, shown frontally with large canines and snake hair and conveying the same message of maintaining harmony.

However, unlike Lanzon, the god holds a Strombus shell, which, in ancient Andean ritual is associated with male forces ; and Spondylus shell that represents female forces. These shells are a metaphor for god’s role in balancing male and female forces in the universe bearing additional message of the temple’s ability to acquire non-local material as suchshells come from coastal Equador (Burger 1995, 174). The least similar to Lanzon is the depiction of the deity on Raimondi Stone (see Fig. 2), on which only one-third of space is devoted to the full face and nearly two-thirds is occupied by a stylized representation of the deity’s headdress.

The deity holds two elaborate vara, one grant staff in each hand, thereby uniting the ideal sphere of Andean society and cosmos. Here, after 500 years of evolution the deity becomes the “Staff God”, which will resonate through the Andes over long period of time (Moseley 2001, 167) . Many of Staff God representations were found on the decorated in Chavin style textiles from Karwa, the site on south coast of Peru. The most critical is the frequent depiction of the Staff Deity as female with breasts in form of eyes and vagina presented as a set of teeth and crossed fangs, presenting the theme of “vagina dentata”(see Fig. ). As the goddess is sometimes shown with cotton balls emerging from her headdress and staffs it has been suggested that she is the patron and/or donor of cotton, the crucial coastal cultigen (Burger 1988, 121). The Staff God also appeared as the central figure over the Gateway of the Sun at Tiwanaku site in Bolivia and later, in Middle Horizon he appeared as a prominent deity in the iconography of the Wari culture, centered in the south-central highlands of Peru (Wilson 1999, 380).

The appearance of Staff Gods and Staff Goddesses in other sites emphasizes the power and popularity of this deity as well as implies that the Chavin religious imagery widely spread to other parts of Peru and beyond it (Bruhns 1994, 168). The other important deity in Chavin iconography is the creature shown on the Tello Obelisk, 2. 5 m tall granite shaft, carved in relief on all four sides (see Fig. 4). The creature has been interpreted as amaru , which, according to ethnographic literature, is a hybrid monster made of parts of different animals (Urton 1996, 241).

Thus, the obelisk presents two amarus that are composed of juxtaposed animal body parts, represented within the framework of the bodies of two caymans. The organization of these compositions give us information about Chavin structural relations and imply that certain animals are related to each other through an association of juxtaposition and that, through metaphorical comparisons , these same animals are compared to certain classes of body parts ; for example , elbows and knees are often presented by similar animals (jaguars), as are wrists and ankles (serpents) (Urton 1996, 241).

Besides the significance of joints it is worth pointing the role of the orifices of the obelisk creature. The nose is a distinguished feature as it relates to the practice of snorting hallucinogenic powders, and the mouth with large canines that represents here the link between humans and jaguars, being therefore the marker of boundaries and transformations, like joints and orifices (Urton 1996, 247). Additionally, the amarus appear to be delivering the gift of cultivated plants (manioc, gourd, peppers, achira), which mainly extrude from orifices of animals appended to the amarus.

For example, manioc is extruding from the mouth of the jaguar, which is itself in the position of the penis of the amaru and this bore the powerful message for the tropical – forest horticulturalists: “Manioc is the semen of the Great Cayman” (Lathrap, cited by Urton 1996, 244). Another important feature is the central tooth that may represent the “egg tooth” of a baby cayman, which is supposed to allow the cayman to make the transition from inside the egg out into the world, which, simultaneously, links the cayman with the jaguar, the animal of transition (Urton 1996, 252).

Thus, Urton concludes, the Tello Obelisk amarus display the complex message “built up around the topic of the body and organized according to the themes of mediation, transition and transaction; of boundaries and the rupture of boundaries; of fertility, reproduction and birth ; and the complexities of individual and social identity and alterity”(Urton 1996, 253). The Tello Obelisk was also interpreted as presenting dual aspects of a single deity : Cayman of Underworld with the raptorial bird in front of its mouth and Cayman of the Sky with Spondylus shell in front (Lathrap , cited by Burger 1995, 151).

The majority of iconographic depictions at Chavin de Huantar are dedicated to secondary supernaturals, of which very prominent is the raptorial bird interpreted as a harpy eagle, judging from the beak (Wilson 1999, 376). Each of the two carved columns of the Black and White Portal of the New Tempe depict such anthropomorphized bird shown with a series of snake heads representing hair, the profile of a cayman emanating from the head to both sides and the heads of jaguar along both sides. However, the two birds have many dissimilarities as one of them is a female bearing water associations and another one is a hawk with sky associations.

Being able to fly, these birds were interpreted as attendants and messengers of celestial deity , rather than deities themselves (Rowe, cited by Burger 1995, 152). Another lesser supernatural is snake, possibly anaconda, which usually appears as a secondary element (e. g. in form of hair) in larger figures and may represent germinating powers and fertilizing waters (Burger 1995, 153). The last and final animal is a jaguar, of which features are depicted in the felines shown on the sculptures of The Old Temple and which will be discussed later on.

It is important to stress the cosmopolitan nature of Chavin iconography as majority of depicted flora and fauna is not native to the highlands. All aformentioned predators as well as domesticated crops like manioc, achira and hot peppers visible on the Tello Obelisk originate in the Amazonian tropical forest (Von Hagen, Adriana and Moris 1998, 69). Other foreign iconographic features include shells and San Pedro cactus that were associated with coastal areas so the sculptors apparently fused the sacred imagery from the coast and Amazonian cosmology from the tropical lowlands into their stone carvings (Von Hagen, Adriana and Moris 1998, 70).

Chavin iconography also provides the evidence for taking psychotropic drugs as part of the rituals performed by priests. The tenoned heads gazed outwards from the parament of the Old Temple represent different stages through which the drug-induced transformation of priests into their jaguar or eagle alter egos (see Fig. 5), of which the end result is shown as face with jaguar’s jaws with large canines, eccentric- pupil eyes and often mucus dripping down from the nostrils (Wilson 1999, 379). Possibly, religious leaders employed hallucinogens to rise beyond material world and speak to the gods about issues of concern to the Chavin pilgrims.

Another depiction suggestive of drug taking is an anthropomorphic figure with fangs and feline paws holding the psychotropic San Pedro cactus , which is carved on the stone frieze in the Circular Plaza. Moreover, there were many portable objects recovered that bear iconography and shape indicative of their usage in preparation of hallucinogens. Small mortars , some carved in the form of a bird or a feline and the pestles in the shape of serpent, were probably used for grinding seeds of vilca (Burger 1988, 124).

Other prominent artifacts were snuff spoons (see Fig. 6) of gold and silver decorated with carvings of animals associated with shamanistic transformation, of which an interesting example is the golden spoon with a handle depicting a seated individual with a condor head on his back, blowing on a silver conch shell that he holds in his gold hands (Lothrop 1951, 233). Although Chavin iconography does not tell much about religion itself , it reveals a lot about the nature of the Early Horizon ceremonialism in the Andean highlands.

The ferocious depictions of feline creatures would have certainly raised respect and fear in ordinary people, being powerful devices of manipulation, yet expressing the theme of the maintenance of harmony. They would have played an important role in the temple cult, which, besides the trade and agriculture, was the basis for the growth and prosperity of Chavin population by helping establish ties with more distant regions unrelated to Chavin and extracting tribute from travelers and supplicants (Burger 1995, 181).

This would also have increased the power of full time religious practitioners who managed the temple activities and the priesthood who performed various rituals, such as divination , celestial observation , calendrical calculations and healing (Encyclopedia of prehistory 2002), which, consequently resulted in social stratification as some religious ceremonies and parts of the temple would have been accessible only to the elite.

It is also possible that the branch of oracles were established in the highlands and elsewhere, housing the brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of the principal deity (Encyclopedia of prehistory 2002). Thus, iconography illustrates how colossal influence religion and ceremonialism would have had on spiritual, social and economic aspects on societies of the Early Horizon in Andean highlands.

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