context, construction and ritual in the development of authority at chavín de huántar

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  • The goal of this contribution is to fill in gapsin our knowledge about the monumentalcenter of Chavn de Huntar (plate 1.1), based oninvestigations at the site over the last decade. Theaspects of the site mentioned here are just a fewof those we have researched, but I judge them tobe among the most important. My secondary goalis to relate these characteristics of the site to larg-er questions about the nature of the organizationof the center, how it related to surrounding com-munities and centers, and how and why Chavnchanged over time. I will make frequent referenceto the findings described in fellow team-memberKembels chapter 2 in this volume, which provideessential knowledge about construction, chronol-ogy, and strategy derived from the architecture ofthe center.

    Chavn de Huntar remains a surprisingly un-known site on quite a number of levels. The sitesmonumentality, striking setting, and easily identi-fiable iconic style led to its early recognition andimportance, and to the postulation that Chavnwas the place of origin, perhaps the center of, thefirst large-scale political entity in the central Andes(Tello 1929, 1960). Yet the fairly deep burial of thesite by unstable sediments, combined with thecomplexity of overlying post-Chavn occupationlayers and the very small amount of cultural ma-terial built up in the ceremonial precinct in Chavntimes, led early research to rely on rare and unrep-

    resentative pockets of cultural debris to under-stand site growth and the nature of Chavn occu-pation. The advent of radiocarbon dating did lit-tle to clarify the antiquity of the centers use, or itsduration (compare Burger 1981; Lumbreras 1989,1993). From the beginning the ceremonial centerwas uncooperative in producing traditional layer-cake stratigraphy that would aid in this process.Lumbreras (1977, 1989) was the first to have anysuccess in understanding the complex stratigraphyof the center itself, and like that of all investiga-tors, his work was hampered by not penetratingbelow the latest level of Chavn occupation.

    Two other interrelated and important figuresin the development of understanding aboutChavn are Marino Gonzles M. and John H.Rowe. Gonzles spent most of his life investigat-ing and primarily clearing and restoring the site,and I have recently argued that his vision of thesites development was literally built into the siteas he modified and influenced it (Rick and Rick2003). Gonzales chose which structures to revealand preserve, and based on Gonzless field notes,I believe that he originally observed the buildingseams and other site features that originated theOld Temple/New Temple distinction. Rowe, whospent two fairly brief seasons at Chavn in 1961and 1963, was highly influenced by Gonzlessideas of Chavns construction history. Rowe wasmost interested in the chronology of Chavn and


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    John W. Rick

  • built an initial intertwined chronology for the ar-chitecture and lithic art of the monument, takinga pattern of architectural growth as the basis forthe time sequence (Rowe 1962, 1967a). None-theless, the lack of any absolute dating, or any de-tailed ceramic association with the architecture,hampered specific and reliable chronological con-clusions. Burgers work (1984, 1998) beyond themonumental sites boundaries greatly increasedthe knowledge of ceramic chronology, not tomention the degree of residential developmentaround the center, but it intrinsically could not re-solve the persistent chronological problems relat-ed to the center itself.

    Chavns monumentality led to an emphasison clearing the structures, in work that varied be-tween rapid and indiscriminate removal of over-lying deposits, to careful consideration of post-Chavn layers. But most excavations, whatevertheir character, fortunately stopped upon reach-ing the carefully laid floors and walls of the latesttemple periods. While this was of great benefit inavoiding destruction of Chavn architecture, ithas until now forced the interpretation ofChavns history on a very flat, surficial perspec-tive, using what can be seen on the surface ofChavn as a laterally segmented but full represen-tation of whatever had been there. Such a per-spective would be preposterous for any majormonument whose later constructions fully ob-scure the earlier ones (as widely observed in thecentral Andes and Mesoamerica), and this view isprobably inappropriate at Chavn as well. Themonumental center must be understood on itsown terms and within a comprehension of themassive construction projects that it represents.Discovering the strategies and intentions behindthe evolution of the monumental architecture, itsadornments, and contents should be a major goalof investigations at the ceremonial center. Thegrowth of the site is likely to reflect the strategiesof a developing religious authority, and also thechallenge of construction and maintenance of thebuildings. If we can assume that Chavn was theresult of construction over many hundreds ofyears, it must span an important segment ofAndean prehistory, one in which the Andean pat-terns of strong authority were being developed.

    Like many monuments of its time, it should holdclues to the ways in which populations were mov-ing from relatively egalitarian and smaller-scalesocieties to much larger populations with increas-ingly differentiated power and privilege. Under-standing any part of those transitions is one of thegreatest perspectives that archaeology can pro-vide, and Chavn, properly read, has a great dealto contribute to this perspective.

    CHAVN FIELDWORK: 19952003

    Together with Kembels chapter 2 (this volume),this article is a preliminary synthesis of data fromnearly a decade of investigation at Chavns mon-umental center by a team of US and Peruvian in-vestigators, within the context of the numerousprevious investigations by earlier archaeologists.Chavn has been regularly subjected to excavationssince Tellos initial work in the 1920s, and due tothe catastrophic aluvin (debris flow) of 1945 thatre-covered much of the site, a great deal has beenexcavated twice! Our project, initially developed atStanford University, began as a simple mappingproject with the straightforward goal of produc-ing a reliable and precise, primarily two-dimen-sional plan of the site. This, however, underesti-mated the challenge of documenting this highlythree-dimensional site, and particularly ignoredthe value of graduating from the idea of maps asuseful representations of sites, to using three-di-mensional models as active tools in archaeologicalanalysis (Rick et al. 1998). Our initial aim was tomake use of the available architectural informa-tion that had been provided by the prior extensiveclearing and excavation activities.

    In 1995 and 1996 we undertook JulyAugustfield seasons with a modest-sized team devotedentirely to mapping, using a total station theodo-lite, controlled by computer and with real-timedisplay of the developing map on the computerscreen. In the first season it became clear thatother specialized technologies would be requiredfor accurate mapping of the extensive subter-ranean gallery system, and this task was undertak-en by Silvia Kembel, who provides details on thiswork and its implications in chapter 2 of this vol-ume (see also Kembel 2001). In 1998 we finished


  • mapping most of the exterior and gallery areas andcontinued a series of very small excavations, begunin 1996, that would allow us to clarify specific ar-chitectural issues that analytical work within ourevolving CAD model had pinpointed (Rick et al.1998). These excavations were primarily designedto reveal the presence or absence of exterior seamsdownward to wall foundations of Buildings A, B,or C (figure 1.1). As a secondary goal we attempt-ed to recover datable carbon materials for under-standing the age of layers at or above the local

    foundation level. Similar small units continued inour next major field season in 2000, along with ex-cavations aimed at new issues. Units on the westside of Buildings A and B had revealed deep filldeposits, leading to excavations to determine thesediment depth and nature of cultural features inthe West Field, an area west of the currentChavn-Catac road (figure 1.1). Also in 2000 itseemed likely that at very short notice the mod-ern road connecting Chavn with the Callejn deHuylas would be moved to the other side of the


    Figure 1.1. Map of Chavn de Huntar, showing location of excavations. Letters and text are designations ofbuildings and site features; numbers are excavation locations. 1 = West Field excavations 2000, 2001; 2 = north-ern and western facade excavations of Building A-B-C (1998, 2000); 3 = NEA excavation (1996), CaracolasGallery excavation (2001), and Circular Plaza excavation (2001, 2002); 4 = eastern facade excavations of BuildingA (1996); 5 = Plaza Mayor excavation (2001). Lateral scales in meters; arrow indicates true north.

  • Mosna River, leading us to initiate survey and ex-cavation within the projected roadbed area at LaBanda, east of the monumental center.

    In 2001 we turned to diverse excavations thatcould contribute to a series of issues:1. Exploration of what appeared to be an early

    Chavn residential deposit in the West Fieldarea explored in 2000.

    2. Excavation of late Chavn and post-Chavndeposits overlying the floor of the CircularPlaza, with an eye toward eventual conserva-tion work in this area.

    3. Exploration of the deposits contained in theCaracolas Gallery to see if intact gallery ma-terials remained.

    4. Excavations to investigate a strong ground-penetrating radar anomaly discovered in 1998in the exact center of the Plaza Mayor.

    5. Con