I found these objects in the Larco museum and was fascinated by this culture. The Chavin were the first known pre-Columbian Andean civilization in the Andean highlands area of modern day Peru. They flourished from 900 (or 2000 BCE) to 200 BCE. They were likely refugees from the drought plagued coastal cities of the Norte Chico civilization in the Supe valley of Peru (3500-1800 BCE). Tenon-heads like these once hung high on exterior walls at Chavín, encircling the temple. They are thought to represent stages of a drug-induced human-to-feline shamanic transformation. The last tenon-head to remain embedded in place is located on the west wall of the New Temple. The feline figure is one of the most important motifs seen in Chavin art. It has an important religious meaning and is repeated on many carvings and sculptures. Eagles are also commonly seen throughout Chavin art. There are three important artifacts which are the major examples of Chavin art. These artifacts are the Tello Obelisk, tenon heads, and the Lanzón. The chief example of architecture is the Chavín de Huántar temple. The temple’s design shows complex innovation to adapt to the highland environments of Peru. To avoid the temple being flooded and destroyed during the rainy season, the Chavín people created a successful drainage system. Several canals built under the temple acted as drainage.
On May 8, 2009 officials in the Ancash region of Peru announced the discovery of stone tenon heads estimated to be 4,000 years old. The tenon heads were discovered in the Huaylas district at an archaeological site near the town of Chupacoto. This date suggests that the Chupacoto carvings are older than the tenon heads of the renowned archaeological site, Chavín de Huántar. Chavín de Huántar, also located in the Ancash region, represents the first widespread, recognizable artistic style and culture to extend its influence across the Andes to Bolivia.
Chavín culture dates to around 2000-200 B.C. (if not earlier based on 2009 studies), a period called the Early Horizon, when elaborate ceramics, textiles, and sculpted stone found in larger sites throughout much of the Central Andes (modern day Peru) demonstrate a certain level of stylistic unity. At first it was thought that this broad distribution of similar art was evidence for a strong state-like political leadership, but little evidence has been found for the unified, beaurocratic, and military organization typical of evolved states. At Chavín, power was legitimized through the belief in the small elite having a divine connection; shamans derived power and authority from their claim to a divine connection. The community believed in and had a desire to connect with the divine. Thus, the community was united through religion and art.
In ancient Andean societies, gold and silver arm bands, crowns, ponchos and more were the physical tools that kings and priests used to maintain political and religious control. The dazzling jewelry we appreciate today was used solely by leaders of the people, not commoners. Perhaps that is why the pieces have a certain mystique. Their cultures were so fundamentally different from ours that calling their ornamentation “pretty” is somewhat missing the point (in fact many pieces are not pretty but grotesquely attractive like the Chavín funerary crown with feline deity, above). These lavish objects command power. It is what they were crafted to do. Although information regarding their true meaning may have been lost over the centuries, the ferocity and “non-frivolity” of these necklaces is still felt. Chavin artists hammered gold sheets over wooden molds to make crowns and pectorals for the ruling elite. The bottom crown was cut down and repaired in antiquity, but it originally had two profile faces on the sides and two frontal images of the feline deity so often seen in Chavin art.
The Lanzón is the colloquial name for the most important statue of the central deity of the ancient Chavín culture of the central highlands of Peru. The Chavín religion was the first major religious and cultural movement in the Andes mountains, flourishing between 900 and 200 BCE. The Lanzón takes its name from the Spanish word for “lance,” an allusion to the shape of the sculpture. Possibly the most impressive artifact from Chavin de Huántar is the Lanzon. The Lanzon is a 4.53-meter-long, carved granite shaft displayed in the temple. The shaft extends through an entire floor of the structure and the ceiling. It is carved with an image of a fanged deity, the chief cult image of the Chavin people. The Lanzón is housed in the central cruciform chamber of a labyrinthine series of underground passages in the Old Temple of the ceremonial and religious center of Chavín de Huantar. Devotees would be led into the maze of pitch-black tunnels, eventually coming face to face with the sculpture’s snarling mouth and upturned eyes. The worshippers’ disorientation, in addition to the hallucinogenic effects of the San Pedro cactus they were given before entering, only heightened the visual and psychological impact of the sculpture.
This remarkable scholarship was performed by Doctor Peter J Roe in 2007. Dr. Roe studied Andean and coastal Peruvian archaeology, working on the textiles and monumental stone sculpture of the first civilization of Peru, Chavín (1,000-200 B.C.). There he also extended Lathrap’s analysis of jungle influences in that early art style via direct historical ethnographic analogy with Shipibo and related montaña mythology and cosmology. His first monograph, A Further Exploration of the Rowe Chavín Seriation and Its Implications for North Central Coast Chronology, was published by Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., in 1974. Together with his wife, Dr. Amy W. Roe, he continues to write on Chavín iconography and symbolism in ceramics, stone sculpture, architecture and archaeoastronomy. Tello Obelisk is a giant sculpted shaft which features images of plants and animals. It includes caymans, birds, crops, and human figures. The large artifact may portray a creation story.
I found this unusual object in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. This is identified as a Chavin object from 1000-200 BCE. It is in the Walters Art Museum, 2009, by gift.
The beautiful ceramics of the Chavin culture are boldly conceived with strong sculptural elements. Their burnished dark grey and brown surfaces are subtle, allowing the sophisticated artistry of the surface decoration to predominate. Chavin vessels vary widely in shape and ornamentation, illustrating the value placed on individual expression. This jar is covered with jaguars, powerful predators that appear frequently in the iconography of South American cultures. They were commonly associated with high status individuals such as warriors and priests, who would have used a finely made vessel such as this one for sharing of ceremonial beverages.
The extraordinary biodiversity of the Amazon and Andes regions of South America and the active trade networks between the regions provided a near endless source of natural subjects for artists. Plants and animals were common Chavin ceramic subjects; artists often abstracted or stylized natural forms to create elegant, tactile vessels. This pattern and form of this highly-textured spiny vessel may have been inspired by fruit such as cherimoya or guanaba.
This is an early Chavin blackware vessel, offered at Sotheby’s, from Tembladera (1409-1000 BCE) applied on each side with a stylized head of a mythical jaguar with fangs bared, raised pupil and scrolled brow.
Another rare early Chavin blackware vessel, offered at Sotheby’s. There are a lot of Peruvian treasures being sold on the Internet and major auction houses like Southeby’s. I wonder if at least some of them have been removed from Peru illegally. As always, please leave a comment.
Chavin National Museum: http://www.go2peru.com/peru_guide/huaraz/photo_chavin_museum.htm
Lanzón Monolith: http://fundacionartedelasamericas.org/?portfolio=lanzon-monolitico
Walters Art Museum: https://www.thewalters.org/
Minneapolis Art Museum: http://collections.artsmia.org/art/55187/vessel-chavin
Tellow Obelisk: http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/chavin/tello-obelisk.htm
Dr Peter J Roe: http://sites.udel.edu/roe/research/
David Bernstein: http://www.precolumbianart4sale.com/type/Metal/work/#!73