Early Sites

The earliest presently known site in South America with clear astronomical properties is Cantogrande (77° 00' 00" W; 11°58' 20" S), between the Chillon and Rimac river valleys, and near Lima. Rosello (1997) reports on this remarkable site of the Early Formative (pre-ceramic) Period. The site has now been bulldozed by the inescapable advances first of irrigation farmers and later of builders. The site is a series of lines and more complex arrangements of boulders and smaller rocks, including trapezoids and a circle. Because many of the stones are large, the physical labor involved in creating the site must have been great.

Rosello thinks that the arrangements are purposeful and indicate solar and stellar alignments. The stellar alignments may be problematic, because the interpretation of which stars are involved prejudges the degree of precession required to make them fit. The solar alignments are less problematic and suggest both solsticial and equinoctial alignments, as well as a setting Sun alignment for the date of zenith passage.

His Line 41 (Rosello 1997, p. xviii) is associated with a shelter that Rosello thinks served as an observatory to lay out the lines. This had a 14C date of 2545 ± 70 b.c. Rosello asserts that the obliquity is represented in these alignments and that the measurements are adequate to distinguish lines dating 500 years apart. An angle involving Line 41 is said to match the angle of the obliquity, e = 23°.98 at ~2500 b.c. Rosello dates Line 56 of the site to ~3000 b.c., which would make it the earliest of these lines. Because the change in obliquity is only ~6' in 500 years, this would imply a precision of both layout and measurement of better then 3'. This seems improbable to us, but the lines appear to be sufficiently long to make it possible. The dates so determined for the site are archeologically reasonable but not demonstrable because of the scarcity of datable associated materials.

The most striking feature discussed by Rosello is a "circle," defined by surviving arcs, Unit 42 of his map, which is 11.5m in radius. His drawing suggests the former existence of five concentric circles defined by arc segments. The entire complex surrounds two nested squares, the sides and entrance of which define the E-W and thus the equinox directions. Southern and northern solstice set alignments are said to be defined by the edges of channels/canals and in the case of the southern alignment by an additional line of stones arising from within the inner square and extending nearly to the inner circle.

An important complex of the Cantogrande site is a trape-zoid defined by pairs of lines bisected by a pair of parallel lines of stones. Rosello suggests that this was used for initiation ceremonies by a group divided into two moieties.

Even more controversial is Rosello's belief that certain lines (e.g., 51) are deliberate corrections of earlier lines (e.g., 52), which to him implies that they had detected stellar precession. The people involved would have recognized that they were doing this well before 2000 b.c. We reserve judgment on the issue because the measurements have not been verified by others and the interpretations are not necessary, even if sufficient.

The best-known early site is Chavin de Huantar, on the eastern slopes of the Andes (extensively discussed by Burger 1992). The architecture of the site is largely of stone and impressively monumental. In its later stages, several thousand people may have lived in the near vicinity. The site is at the convergence point of two major passes crossing the snow-capped Cordillera Blanca, and lying between the Huachecsa and Mosna Rivers, which flow down to the Maranon River and ultimately to the Amazon. The earliest architecture of the site was the Old Temple, built between ~850 and 700 b.c. This was built on top of the earliest construction of the site—an aqueduct bringing water from west to east. A stairway led up to a cruciform chamber inside a major temple. Where the arms of the cross met, the builders put a now famous monument called the Lanzon (Figure 14.5), which still stands today and is still bathed in light at the rising of the Sun at the December (summer) solstice.

In ancient times, when the structure was intact, the monument would have remained in darkness the rest of the year. The Lanzon is a depiction of an anthropomorphic figure with snakes as hair and a fanged mouth. The deity has been identified as a sky god or as a prototype of the Inca deity

Figure 14.5. The Lanzon at Chavin de Huantar: In a cruciform chamber in a large temple, this monument was illuminated by the Sun at the December solstice. Drawing by Sean Goldsmith.

Viracocha4 (Burger 1992, p. 150), not necessarily contradictory views.

The path of the aqueduct comes from the direction of the setting summer solstice Sun and goes to the direction of its rise. In accordance with later views, widespread in the Andes and in the Andean tropical forest, the aqueduct could symbolize the underground river, along which the Sun traveled to be born again in the East. This river was regarded as the continuation of the Milky Way. In a larger sense, the aqueduct might have symbolized the Pacific Ocean, to the west, where the Sun sank.

Chavin remained a major pilgrimage center for Andean groups until the Spanish conquest and even, to a certain extent, during the colonial period. Artistic motifs related to Chavin cult designs were widespread through Andean culture, and it was long supposed that these had been spread by Chavin "missionaries," creating a very early "Chavin horizon." We now know that monumental architecture, both in the highlands and on the coastal plain, predated Chavin by about 2000 years and that there are antecedents for some

4 Among the Quechua, Viracocha is normally distinguished from the god Thunder, but the Quechua name Tunapa Viracocha identifies Viracocha with Thunupa, which is the Aymara name for the god of thunder and storms.

Figure 14.5. The Lanzon at Chavin de Huantar: In a cruciform chamber in a large temple, this monument was illuminated by the Sun at the December solstice. Drawing by Sean Goldsmith.

Table 14.4. Chronology of the Andean region.

Agriculture: Cotton, gourds Monumental architecture: Some corn Terracing

Weaving, irrigation

Clay friezes; stone sculpture

Llamas, alpacas, guinea pigs domesticated



Hammered gold

Hammered copper

Developed metallurgy Major aqueducts

Metal agricultural tools

650 a.d.: End of world age? Jupiter-Saturn grand conjunction;Quipus Major fortifications;Chimu Pachacamac

Experimental crop-growing and breeding

Cantogrande: Equinox and solstice alignments: Asterisms aligned?


Chavin: Old Temple—Lanzón, light effect Star Woman and Caymans, Dec. solstice Moro de Eten: Light effect, Dec. solstice Moche I, Nazca I

Moche II, Nazca II, "Paracas" textile;eclipse calculation??

Moche III, Nazca III, figures of asterisms and alignments Moche IV, Nazca IV Moche V, Nazca V

Wari, Tiahuanaco, Akapana equinoctial alignments Pacaritampo: equinoxes, solstices, light play Pachakuti Inca

Rumicucho, Ecuador;ceques, equinoxes, solstices, S. major standstill of moon of the cult imagery on the coast. See Table 14.4 for a chart of the chronology. The Chavin cult included frequent representations of Jaguar, Anaconda, Harpy Eagle, and Cayman as well as occasional monkeys, all tropical forest animals. This led Donald Lathrap (1973, 1977) to postulate that the population of Chavin were ultimately of Amazonian derivation. However, there are also frequent representations of the Strombus (conch shell) and Spondylus (spiny oyster), and actual specimens were found in quantity in one of the galleries at Chavin. The nearest source for these is the Ecuadorean coast, and it can be obtained in quantity only by diving. The offering of conch shells as an item of tribute was of major importance right up to the time of the Spanish conquest. Conch shell trumpets were associated with major ceremonies, especially those involving the rulers. The Chavin cult seems to have involved ideas of the transformation of men into jaguars through the use of hallucinogens, especially the San Pedro cactus (containing mescaline), which is represented in Chavin art and in many later Andean cultures. A series of giant heads formerly tenoned into the walls of the Old Temple illustrate the transformation (Burger 1992, pp. 156-159). Given the solar alignment of the Old Temple, it does not seem too venturesome to suggest that the widespread later identification of the Sun as a jaguar was already present in Chavin belief. This association is further bolstered by the circumstance that a sound resembling both the roar of a (nocturnal) jaguar and thunder would have been produced by controlling the water running through the aqueduct in connection with air vents (Lumbreras, Gonzalez and Lietaer 1976). The roar would be an impressive component of a ceremony.

The Tello obelisk represents two great crocodilians or two aspects of a single supernatural (probably the Black

Cayman). These have been defined at length by Lathrap (1973, 1977), who associates this cult with the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) and postulates that the gourd, cotton, various social practices, and the crocodilian cult arrived from Africa by sea in the late Pleistocene and spread throughout Amazonia, thence to Mesoamerica and the Andean region. Although this bold series of hypotheses has not been fully adopted by any one else, his application of Amazonian ideas to the Tello obelisk has been cited more favorably (Burger 1992, pp. 151-152). Specifically, Lathrap describes Cayman B as the Sky Cayman, female, associated on the monument with the origin of domesticated aji (peppers) and the bottle gourd. Both of these are house garden crops and above-ground plants. There are also two harpy eagles and a fish below one of them. The Sky Cayman, whom Lathrap refers to in his title as "Our Mother the Gourd," is responsible for rainfall. Cayman A, depicted as a male, is identified by Lathrap as "Our Father the Cayman," and associated by him with the underground and with surface water. Both a Strombus shell and a Spondylus are shown with Cayman A, who is depicted with probable peanuts and definite achira (Canna edulis) and manioc, the latter in front of his penis. These are all root crops and all field crops. It is noteworthy that like the cult animals, the crops are all from the tropical forest. Burger (1992) points out that the Trio tribe in Surinam say that agriculture was given to humans by a fish-woman, the wife of their culture hero and the daughter of a giant alligator, who got from him corn, sweet potatoes, cashew nuts, and manioc. The last was carried on his penis. The Trio are a long way in space and time from Chavin de Huantar, but the specificity of the comparison is striking. There is a widespread Amazonian myth that attributes the origins of agriculture to a star-woman

(sometimes specifically the planet Jupiter), who comes down from the sky and is hidden by her mortal husband in a gourd. There are also myths of the origin of agriculture from a tree, identified in turn as the Milky Way (Levi-Strauss 1969, pp. 168, 246, 250). This brings us back to the aqueduct and to the Strombus and Spondylus shells associated with Cayman A and with the gallery near the round plaza.

A number of Chavin sculptures show figures wearing decapitated human heads hanging on their belts. In the Gallery of the Offerings, the skull of a middle-aged woman was found, surrounded by a circle of 40 milk teeth. The Gallery had a long corridor and nine chambers, apparently with specialized contents. A total of 800 broken pottery vessels had once contained a variety of goods and drink. Among the food remains were human bones, mostly broken and burnt, suggesting ritual cannibalism (such remains were not found in ordinary garbage dumps).

The site shows a strong emphasis on numbers—a 13-stepped stair inside the Old Temple, 6 steps down from there to the terrace level, then another 7 to the level of the Sunken Plaza, making 27 levels, corresponding to a sidereal lunar month. Bas-relief sculptures of seven jaguars on each side of the stairway make 14. The nine chambers of the Offering Gallery in the context of the death and rebirth of the Sun and of possible lunar associations may represent nine lunar months (265-266 days), the closest lunar approximation to the period from the equinox in March to the solstice in December (about 274 days).

Another impressive site, described by Carlos Elera (1986, Fig. 117), stands looking out over the sea at Moro de Eten in the Lambayeque Valley on the north Peruvian coast. The site dates from ~400 to 200 b.c. An ancient road leads to a cliff above the sea, passing a nearby pyramid. During most of the year, the road seems purposeless, but at the December solstice, the light of the setting Sun, reflecting on the waters, makes a brilliant golden extension of the road into the Pacific to the western horizon. The pyramid, just to the south, shares the same orientation.

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