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July 2, 2008 10:00:00 | in Chavín de Huantar

Do Peru’s Mysterious Chavín de Huantar Ruins Provide Hints As to Why Some Civilizations Disappear?

By Levi Novey
eco worldlyín de Huantar Ruins, Peru
© Levi T. Novey
My family recently visited a place in Peru that we had wanted to visit for a long time. While not as famous as Machu Picchu, the Chavín de Huantar Ruins are quite fascinating in their own right. Most visitors after reading their guidebooks want to see a carved stone obelisk that sits at the center of underground passages in the “Old Chavín Temple.” Known as the “Lanzón,” the obelisk has various animal features, and is thought to have been worshiped as something of a nature god, or treated as an oracle by the people using Chavín. The outside of the Chavín Temple was decorated with carved stone heads, that likewise were anthropomorphic.

All of these mysterious features and others have lead archaeologists to believe that this was an important religious site to the Chavín culture, and also that the culture’s influence was widespread during its heyday from approximately 850 to 200 B.C. What is unclear though, is why the Chavín culture disappeared. I’m no archaeologist, but I did once work as a park ranger at Mesa Verde National Park. My experiences there give me some guesses as to why the civilization and culture might have disappeared at Chavín de Huantar.

Could the People of Chavin Have Left for Environmental Reasons?

One of the theories as to why the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly known as the Anazazi) left the cliff dwellings you can see in Mesa Verde National Park and other places in their greater civilization like Chaco Canyon is that because in combination with sustained droughts, over time it is thought that these people had denuded the landscape of important natural resources like trees, effectively forcing them to leave and go elsewhere.

Could this be what happened to the people at Chavín? Located at an interesting mid-point along trade and travel routes in a valley of the Andes Mountains, Chavín was right in between Peru’s coast and Peru’s Amazon rainforests. From my understanding, the population around Chavín de Huantar grew as did the Temple’s influence: its ability to deal and exchange a variety of harder to find materials like obsidian and sea shells probably made it popular, archaeologists believe. It seems entirely possible to me that the landscape around the temple was denuded of vegetation and other important resources as more people came to live in the area. In fact, in one archaeological brief I was reading about the site, it was suggested that the people who might have constructed the original temple were from the rainforest region of what we now think of as Peru, and came to the area because they themselves had been displaced due to population pressure!

Of course, another possibility is that the frequent earthquakes in this area of the Peruvian highlands convinced people to leave. Chavín de Huantar, in fact, was constructed in a manner as to prevent damage from earthquakes. Nonetheless, despite these efforts, the ruins seem to have been damaged by earth movements over time– but probably they would have been damaged more so without prevention efforts.

But Aside from Environmental Reasons, What Might Be Another Theory As to Why the Chavin Disappeared?

One of the most common theories for why civilizations end, disappear, and/or move is one that involves power struggles. For example, archaeologists and historians believe that this might be a possibility for why both the Mesa Verde and Chavín civilizations came to an end. This seems entirely possible in both places, and perhaps could even work in tandem with the environmental theory above. As resources become more scarce, people tend to get more selfish with them.

Wait a Second! It Might Not Be Accurate to Say Either Culture “Disappeared”

Perhaps I am helping to perpetuate a myth. It is well known, for instance, that the Ancestral Puebloans who lived at places like Mesa Verde in the American Southwest are the ancestors of the Pueblo Tribes that now live in relatively nearby areas to the south like Taos and Hopi. And as for the people of Chavín, perhaps a portion of them migrated elsewhere, and the Chavín culture might have simply morphed into a new culture or cultures. Nonetheless, we do have to wonder why civilizations and cultures reach terminal points where they either end, or turn into something else.

So… What Does this All Mean for the Global Culture of Us?

While there is no way if knowing whether or not my hunch about Chavín de Huantar is correct, it still makes me think that there are numerous examples from the past where cultures and civilizations did not recognize the need for conservation of natural resources. If I’m right that the landscape was denuded around Chavín de Huantar, then this would be especially ironic, because the people of Chavín are thought to have worshipped nature gods, and in particular the jaguar. I suppose, however, that there are inconsistencies in all cultures. So what might this mean for us?

Not to go into too much detail, but it seems that our current challenges of global warming, deforestation, pollution, and energy consumption might bring an end to civilization as we know it. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about any doomsday scenario, but perhaps a fundamental change will occur in the way that we live our lives, out of necessity. I consider myself an environmentalist, and yet every day I am challenged to live my life in a way that seeks a middle ground between righteousness and not losing my mind. Maybe, despite our best intentions, this isn’t enough. And if a denuded international landscape results, where will we move to? That’s what I wonder.

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# Feliz Mosch says :
4 July, 2008 [ 01:59 ]

Muy interesante, pero mucha repeticion para tan poquita informacion.
La vida es muy corta y hay tantas cosas para aprender.

Very interesting, but repeticios, life is to short there are so many things to learn.

# Putukusi says :
7 July, 2008 [ 11:16 ]
We need to look at what is one of the prime identifiers of pre historic cultures.  Worldwide in regards to cultures that had no knowledge of writing we identify them by their artistic styles.  Architectural styles also help to identify a "culture."  Much of the artistic style was religious in nature, but as we see in the Moche, some scenes of daily life are depicted as well.

It is safe to say that a people that we now identify as the Chavin did not just simply disappear.  There really never was a Chavin culture but a Chavin cultural horizon.  The horizon can be described as a widespread style that lasts a relitively short amount of time.  It can also encompass people of various cultures or quite likely people of one culture but having a different religious belief.  For example, a person that is American in culture but having methodist religious beliefs.

The Chavin Horizon has been identified as religious with its central pilgramage site, Chavin de Huantar.  Animal motifs such as the cayman, condor, serpent, and jaguars are common as well as some supernatural snarling being that is probably the Chavin representation of the Andean Staff god.  Iconography shows this being holding the San Pedro cactus as though it were the "staff of power."  The staff is still an important symbol of power in the Andes (see the Varayocs in the Cusco area).

Something that we don't always take into account is that pre historic people probably weren't that much different than we are.  I'm sure that they had their fads and such.  We tend to way over analyze things to try and prove our intellegence to others, I believe that this often occurs in the scientific community.  I can say that people just don't dissappear in the absence of some cataclysmic event (I would consider deforrestation gradual and thus not cataclysmic).  The "Chavin" didn't just disappear from the face of the earth.  There could be a complex reason but it could also be more simple.  I'll put it in more recent terms.  If you lived during the 70's chances are you wore bell bottoms, chances are all of your friends wore bell bottoms.  Do you see a whole lot of bell bottoms today?  Some things just simply go out of style due to the next best thing.  Sometimes something bigger, better, and more believable comes along.

Sometimes, as suggested in the article, people identify a source of power and feel abused by that source.  A lot of that goes on today.  People just get sick of the regime and want change.  So they switched to something else.  The expansion of the Chavin Horizon was non-malitaristic so it didn't require a great rebellion to break free of.  It was more than likely run by sort of a religious sect and governed by its hierarchy.  It has been suggested that the use of hallucinogens could have aided this priesthood in the mind control of pilgrams to Chavin.  The same priesthood could have abused its followers by exacting large tributes and the people just got tired of it.

So, I offer two possible explanations for the decline of the Chavin Horizon.  Firstly, a simple change of style and taste in "fashion" towards the next big thing.  Second, the people could have identified a farce and in discontent, decided to quit believing. 
# johnsmith says :
23 July, 2008 [ 08:18 ]
thanks for the information regardin peru, i realy enjoyed while reading your blog thanks for vvvvgood...... information
# POOHBEAR says :
1 October, 2008 [ 10:12 ]

I admire you..... from a distance....

OF 50 FT

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