Friday, April 14, 2017

Origins » Chavin Civilization › Viracocha › Wanka Civilization › Moundville » History

Characters and historical events ››

  1. Chavin Civilization
  2. Viracocha
  3. Wanka Civilization
  4. Moundville
  5. Cahokia
  6. Quipu
  7. Mictlantecuhtli

Ancient Origins ›› Its historical characters and places

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[ 1 ]

Chavin Civilization

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Chavin civilization flourished between 900 and 200 BCE in the northern and central Andes and was one the earliest pre-Inca cultures. The Chavin religious centre Chavin de Huantar became an important Andean pilgrimage site, and Chavin art was equally influential both with contemporary and later cultures from the Paracas to the Incas, helping to spread Chavin imagery and ideas and establish the first universal Andean belief system.

Chavin Religion

One of the most important Chavin gods was the Staff Deity, who is the most likely subject for the famous central figure on the Gateway of the Sun at Tiwanaku. Forerunner of the Andean creator god Viracocha, the Staff Deity was associated with agricultural fertility and usually holds a staff in each hand but is also represented in a statue from the New Temple at the Chavin cult site of Chavin de Huantar (see below). This half-metre figure represents male and female duality with one hand holding a spondylus shell and the other a strombus shell. Another celebrated representation from the same site is the Raimondi Stela, a two-metre high granite slab with the god incised in low relief as a non-gender specific figure with clawed feet, talons, and fangs in an image which can be read in two directions. A second important Chavin deity was the fanged jaguar god, also a popular subject in Chavin art.
Chavin religious ceremony involved multi-sensory spectacles which included blood-letting and sacrificial rituals.
Chavin religious ceremony involved multi-sensory spectacles which included blood-letting and sacrificial rituals which could be performed in public spaces accommodating up to 1,500 people or in the more restricted and exclusive environment of complex temple interiors. An important feature of the cult was a priesthood of shamans who would put themselves in trances via hallucinatory plants, such as coca leaves and certain types of cacti and mushrooms. An added aura of religious mystery was achieved with the burning of incense, priests suddenly appearing atop the temples via secret internal staircases, and a cacophony of musical sounds from singers and shell trumpets.

Chavin de Huantar

The most important Chavin religious site was Chavin de Huantar in the Mosna Valley, which was in use for over five centuries and became a pilgrimage site famed throughout the Andean region. The site is significantly placed at the meeting point of two rivers - a typical Andean tradition - the Mosna and Wacheksa. Ancient landslides left fertile terraces, and the proximity of many springs and an ample and varied supply of stone for monumental building projects ensured the growth of the site.
At its peak the centre had a population of 2,000-3,000 and covered around 100 acres. The Old Temple dates from c. 750 BCE and is actually a complex of buildings which together form a U-shape. In the centre, two staircases descend to a circular sunken court. The walls of the buildings are lined with square and rectangular stone slabs which carry images of transformational, shamanic creatures, carved in low relief. The figures mix human features with jaguar fangs and claws and they wear snake headdresses symbolising spiritual vision.
The 4.5 metre tall Lanzón monolith takes the form of a traditional Andean foot plough and stands deep within the labyrinthine interior of the Old Temple. It shows a supernatural creature with tusks and claws which is decorated with snakes. The creature points down with one hand and up with the other, perhaps indicative of its rulership of the earthly and heavenly realms. It is thought that this monolith was perhaps the site of an ancient oracle which gave answers to the demands of pilgrims who in turn left offerings of gold, obsidian, shells, and ceramics. There are also many stone channels in the temple interior through which water would have run under pressure thus creating an impressive noise in the confined inner chambers and an evocative accompaniment to the oracle's declarations.
The most striking feature of the New Temple (from c. 500 BCE), which was actually an extension of the Old Temple complex, is the 100 surviving stone heads which once protruded from the exterior walls. These form a transformational series and progressively change from human to jaguar form. The temple in its new form measured 100 metres in length and reached a height of 16 metres with three stories. Its Black and White Portal entrance is flanked on either side by a single column; one carries an image of an eagle, the other a hawk representing the female and male respectively in a typical Chavin example of duality. The New Temple also contains the 2.5 metre tall Tello Obelisk which shows two caymans and snakes and may represent the creation myth. Opposite the temple a large square 50-metre-sided sunken court was constructed for ceremonial purposes, a feature which would become standard in many subsequent Andean religious sites.
Other more modest buildings at Chavin de Huantar, which often use distinctive conical-shaped adobe bricks, indicate that there was a large number of permanent residents, a social hierarchy, and centres of craft specialization. The site and the Chavin culture in general entered into decline sometime in the 3rd century CE for reasons which remain unclear but that are probably related to several years of drought and earthquakes and the inevitable social upheaval caused by such stress. There is no archaeological evidence of a Chavin military force or of specific regional conquests. The political structures of the Chavin, then, unfortunately remain mysterious, but they did create a lasting artistic legacy which would influence almost all subsequent Andean civilizations.

Chavin Art

Chavin art is full of imagery of felines (especially jaguars), snakes, and raptors, as well as supernatural beings, often with ferocious-looking fangs. Creatures are often transformational - presented in two states at once - and designed to both confuse and surprise. Images are also very often anatropic - they may be viewed from different directions. As the art historian R. R. Stone summarises:
A strong perceptual effect, certainly calculated by Chavin artists, inspires confusion, surprise, fear, and awe through the use of dynamic, shifting images that contain varying readings depending on the direction in which they are approached. (37)
It is also noteworthy that many of the animals in Chavin imagery are from the distant lowland jungles and thus illustrate the far-reaching influence of Chavin culture, a point further confirmed by the presence at Chavin de Huantar of votive offerings from cultures hundreds of kilometres distant. The Staff Deity was another popular subject in Chavin sculpture, ceramics, and textiles. The painted cotton textiles of the Chavin are, in fact, the earliest such examples from any Andean culture and take the form of hangings, belts, and clothes.
Typical Chavin pottery is high quality and thin-walled, usually a polished red, black, or brown. The most common shape is the stirrup-spouted bulbous vessel, often with polished raised designs depicting imagery from Chavin religion. Vessels could also be anthropomorphic, typically of jaguars, seated humans, and fruits and plants. Shells were a popular form of jewellery amongst the Chavin elite and could also be carved into trumpets for use in religious ceremonies. Fine wooden bowls survive which are exquisitely inlaid with spondylus shell and mother-of-pearl, as well as turquoise. Finally, the Chavin were skilled metal workers and created objects - especially cylinder crowns, masks, pectorals, and jewellery - in sheet gold using soldering and repoussé techniques to rival any other Andean culture in their imagination and execution.
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[ 2 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Viracocha was the supreme god of the Incas. He is also known as Huiracocha, Wiraqoca and Wiro Qocha. Considered the creator god he was the father of all other Inca gods and it was he who formed the earth, heavens, sun, moon and all living beings. When he finished his work he was believed to have travelled far and wide teaching humanity and bringing the civilised arts before he headed west across the Pacific, never to be seen again but promising one day to return. In his absence lesser deities were assigned the duty of looking after the interests of the human race but Viracocha was, nevertheless, always watching from afar the progress of his children.

Alternative Names

As the supreme pan-Andean creator god, omnipresent Viracocha was most often referred to by the Inca using descriptions of his various functions rather than his more general name which may signify lake, foam, or sea-fat. These other names, perhaps used because the god's real name was too sacred to be spoken, included Ilya (light), Ticci (beginning), and Wiraqoca Pacayacaciq (instructor).

The Creator God

It was believed that human beings were actually Viracocha's second attempt at living creatures as he first created a race of giants from stone in the age of darkness. However, these giants proved unruly and it became necessary for Viracocha to punish them by sending a great flood. In the legend all these giants except two then returned to their original stone form and several could still be seen in much later times standing imposingly at sites such as Tiahuanaco (also known as Tiwanaku) and Pukará.
As the supreme pan-Andean creator god, omnipresent Viracocha was most often referred to by the Inca using descriptions of his various functions.
Then Viracocha created men and women but this time he used clay. He also gave them such gifts as clothes, language, agriculture and the arts and then created all animals. Even more useful was Viracocha's decision to create the sun, moon and stars and so bring light to the world. These heavenly bodies were created from islands in Lake Titicaca. Finished, and no doubt highly satisfied with his labours, Viracocha then set off to spread his civilizing knowledge around the world and for this he dressed as a beggar and assumed such names as Con Ticci Viracocha (also spelt Kon-Tiki), Atun-Viracocha and Contiti Viracocha Pachayachachic. He was assissted on his travels by two sons or brothers called Imaymana Viracocha and Tocapo Viracocha. The god was not always well received despite the knowledge he imparted, sometimes even suffering stones thrown at him. Ending up at Manta (in Ecuador), Viracocha then walked across the waters of the Pacific (in some versions he sails a raft) heading into the west but promising to return one day to the Inca and the site of his greatest works.


Viracocha was actually worshipped by the pre-Inca of Peru before being incorporated into the Inca pantheon. In Inca mythology the god gave a headdress and battle-axe to the first Inca ruler Manco Capac and promised that the Inca would conquer all before them. The god's name was also assumed by the king known as Viracocha Inca (died 1438 CE) and this may also be the time when the god was formally added to the family of Inca gods. Worshipped at the Inca capital of Cuzco, Viracocha also had temples and statues dedicated to him at Caha and Urcos and sacrifices of humans (including children) and, quite often, llamas, were made to the god on important ceremonial occasions. As other Inca gods were more important for the daily life of common people, Viracocha was principally worshipped by the nobility, and then usually in times of political crisis.

Viracocha in Art

In art Viracocha is often depicted as an old bearded man wearing a long robe and supported by a staff. One of his earliest representations may be the weeping statue at the ruins of Tiwanaku, close to Lake Titicaca, the traditional Inca site where all things were first created. Here, sculpted on the lintel of a massive gateway, the god holds thunderbolts in each hand and wears a crown with rays of the sun whilst his tears represent the rain. Another famous sculpture of the god was the gold three-quarter size statue at Cuzco which the Spanish described as being of a white-skinned bearded male wearing a long robe.
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[ 3 ]

Wanka Civilization

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Wanka (also Wanca or Huanca) people occupied the highlands of ancient central Peru around Lake Junin and the Manataro, Chanchamayo and Tarma rivers. The culture flourished from the Middle to Late Horizon periods (600 CE - 1532 CE). Dwelling in fortified hill-top settlements, they largely specialised in llama herding. As with other cultures in the area, herding was long-preferred over farming. It was not until c. 1000 CE that intense maize farming began, much later than in other contemporary cultures. This shift in agricultural practice was motivated by changes in settlements and a significant increase in population density. Now concentrated in walled towns, the capital city of the Wanka was established at Wari Willka.
Wanka art and architecture across their different settlements were influenced by the nearby Huari culture and the Ayacucho style. Settlements vary in size with the majority having fewer than 50 buildings but several having over 100. Most buildings were circular and arranged in small groups of up to twelve around an open courtyard. There is not much evidence of town planning, although some settlements were constructed in pairs in close proximity.
The Wanka provided stiff resistance to the Inca Empire until their final defeat at the hands of the great Inca leader Pachacuti.
The Wanka provided stiff resistance to the Inca Empire until their final defeat at the hands of the great Inca leader Pachacuti (r. 1438 - 1471 CE). The Incas shifted populations to lower-level locations and administered the area from an imperial centre at Jaujatambo. Agriculture became better organised in order to produce quotas for the Inca state and large storage buildings (qollqa) were built.
Never wholly subjugated to Inca rule, the Wanka were often embroiled in border disputes with their neighbours the Xauxa, and the Incas describe the Wanka as being continuously plagued by internal disputes. Nevertheless, they became keen allies of Pizarro in his conquest of the Inca Empire. The Wankas also helped the Spanish Crown put down several rebellions in the early decades of colonial rule in Peru, notably the defeat of Francisco Hernández Girón between 1553 and 1554 CE. Their name lives on today with the Peruvian city and province of Huancayo being named after them, as is the local football team Deportivo Wanka.
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[ 4 ]


Origin and history

Moundville was a site occupied by Mississippian culture from about 1000 CE until 1450 CE, in central Alabama. One of the largest settlements at the time, the site boasts what appears to have been a highly stratified society.
The town was occupied for some time, but the fall of the community was rapid. Scholars have said that most of the culture is still not entirely understood.
The Moundville Archaeological Park now rests on the site. The park itself is 320 acres and contains 26 prehistoric, Mississippian culture-era Native American earthwork mounds, burial sites, plus numerous artifacts.
A museum was erected in 1939, and it now combines some of the latest technology and over 200 artifacts to showcase one of the most significant Native American archaeological sites in the United States.
Some archaeologists believe that Moundville is a link to ancestral Chickasaw history. Moundville pottery that dates from 1100 CE to nearly 1500 CE has been found west of the Tombigbee River in Mississippi. This indicates that people from Moundville could be ancestral Chickasaws.
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[ 5 ]


Origin and history

Cahokia refers to the location where Mississippian culture thrived before European explorers landed in the Americas. From about 700 CE to 1400 CE, this site flourished and was once one of the greatest cities in the world. The early Native American cultural hub once boasted a wide variety of edifices, including everything from monumental structures to basic homes for practical living. This complex society at Cahokia prospered in the fertile lands off of the Mississippi River (situated across the river from modern St. Louis, Missouri), and it was booming long before Europeans came to America.
The ruins of this sophisticated native civilization are preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Illinois. Within this 2,200-acre area, the remnants of ancient Cahokia are displayed, paying tribute to one of the largest and most influential urban settlements of Mississippian culture. The 3.5-square-mile park contains the ruins of approximately 80 mounds. However, at Cahokia’s height, the site included more than 120 earthen mounds over an expanse of approximately six square miles.
Cahokia is considered a national historic landmark and is protected by the state of Illinois. It is currently believed to be the largest archaeological ruins north of Mexico’s great pre-Columbian cities.
The fate of the Cahokian people and their once-impressive city is mysterious. The decline of this great civilization is believed to have been gradual. Most historians agree that the Cahokians began abandoning the city around the 1200s, and by 1400 CE the civilization was completely deserted. It is unknown why these people left or where they went. However, this site is significant to Chickasaw history because it is likely the place where many of the Chickasaw Nation’s ancestors originated.
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[ 6 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

A quipu, or knot-record (also called khipu), was a method used by the Incas and other ancient Andean cultures to keep records and communicate information. In the absence of an alphabetic writing system, this simple and highly portable device achieved a surprising degree of precision and flexibility. Using a wide variety of colours, strings, and sometimes several hundred knots all tied in various ways at various heights, quipu could record dates, statistics, accounts, and even represent, in abstract form, key episodes from traditional folk stories and poetry. In recent years scholars have also challenged the traditional view that quipu were merely a memory aid device and go so far as to suggest that quipu may have been progressing towards narrative records and so becoming a viable alternative to written language just when the Inca Empire collapsed.


A typical quipu consists of a horizontal string or even wooden bar, from which hang any number of knotted and coloured strings made from either cotton or wool. Some of the larger quipu have as many as 1500 strings, and these could also be woven in different ways suggesting this, too, had a meaning. The various colour shades used could also carry a specific meaning. So, too, the type of knot, the position of it on the string, the total number of knots and the sequence of the knots could all combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings. The whole method was based on a decimal positional system, with the largest decimal used being 10,000. The Inca mathematical system was almost exactly the same as our own system in use today. The numbers or units in the system on a particular quipu are indicated by the strings furthest from the primary string, acting as a sort of key.
Different types of knots had different meanings. For example, a knot could indicate a number from one to nine by the turns of string within the knot, a figure-of-eight knot could indicate a fixed value, a 'granny' knot equalled ten, and a string missing a knot signified zero. Secondary strings could also hang from any single string and these could indicate that this string was an exception or of secondary importance to the other strings. Finally, individual quipu could join with others in a specific and meaningful sequence.
Knots and colours could combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings.
Naturally, to maximise the quipu's potential for information storage, it was better to have an accompanying oral record and so there grew a body of experts or masters, the khipu kamayuq (also quipucamayos). These individuals memorized the oral account which fully explained a particular quipu and, as the job was hereditary, the oral part was passed from generation to generation. There was a certain pressure attached to the job, however, as lapses in memory could be severely punished.


At Cuzco, the Inca capital, the khipu kamayuq were professionals, and besides keeping official records, they also used quipu as an aide memoire to recount stories, myths and poems from the Inca tradition. Quipu were also used to record imperial conquests and royal blood-lines. They were ideal for recording the census data for provinces, i.e. total numbers, specific numbers of males and females, children, married and unmarried, etc. Other kinds of data that quipu were used to record included accounts, stores, taxes (paid in kind), livestock, land measurements, armies and their equipment, astronomy, and calendars. Quipu were also used, along with a short oral description, by Inca postal messengers (chaski).

Surviving Examples

Many Inca quipu were purposely destroyed when Atawalpa took power and sought to clean the slate of Inca history, and, in particular, destroy the historical record concerning the reign of his bitter rival and half-brother, Waskhar. Then, following the Spanish conquest, even more quipu records were sought out and destroyed, the new rulers being highly suspicious of the information they might contain within their knots. As a result of these actions, only several hundred examples of quipu survive today. However, quipu are still used by Andean people even today, most often by shepherds and herders as a method to record livestock numbers.
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[ 7 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Mictlantecuhtli (pron. Mict-lan-te-cuht-li) or ‘Lord of the Land of the Dead’ was the Aztec god of death and worshipped across Mesoamerica. He ruled the underworld (Mictlán) with his wife Mictecacíhuatl. The god was the ruler of the 10th day Itzcuintli (Dog), the 5th Lord of the Night and the 6th (or 11th) Lord of the Day. He was the equivalent of the Maya god Yum Cimil, the Zapotec god Kedo and the Tarascan god Tihuime. Mictlantecuhtli was closely associated with owls, spiders and bats and the direction south.

The Creation Myth

In the Aztec creation myth Mictlantecuhtli attempted to delay the god Ehecatl-Quetzalcóatl on his journey into Mictlán. Quetzalcoatl was searching for the bones of the creatures from the previous world of the 4th Sun in order to make mankind. Amongst the tricks and difficult tasks Mictlantecuhtli set was to insist that Quetzalcoatl could only take the bones away with him if he went around the underworld four times blowing a conch-shell trumpet. This task was not quite as simple as it seemed as the god of the underworld only gave Quetzalcoatl an ordinary conch-shell and so it would not sound. Quetzalcoatl got around the problem by having worms drill holes in the shell and placing bees inside it so that their buzzing would sound like a trumpet. Not to be outdone by this, Mictlantecuhtli let Quetzalcoatl think that he had got the better of things and allowed him to take the bones.
Mictlantecuhtli was such an important god in the Aztec pantheon because, as ruler of Mictlán, all souls would one day meet him face to face.
Mictlantecuhtli, then, far from giving up, arranged for his assistants, the Micteca, to dig a large pit so that Quetzalcoatl would stumble into it when he tried to leave Mictlán. Sure enough, when passing the pit and, unluckily startled by a passing quail, Quetzalcoatl fell into the trap and the bones became broken and scattered. However, Quetzalcoatl roused himself and gathering up the bones managed to extract himself from the pit and get away unscathed from the clutches of Mictlantecuhtli. Once safely delivered to the goddess Cihuacóatl, the bones were mixed with Quetzalcoatl's blood and from the mixture sprang forth the first men and women.


Mictlantecuhtli was such an important god in the Aztec pantheon because, as ruler of Mictlán, all souls would one day meet him face to face, for it was believed that only those who suffered a violent death, women who died in childbirth or people killed by storms or floods avoided the underworld in the afterlife. The Aztecs did not believe in a special paradise reserved only for the righteous but, rather, that all people shared the same destiny after death, regardless of the kind of life they had led. Souls would descend the nine layers of the underworld in an arduous four-year journey until eventually reaching extinction in the deepest part - Mictlan Opochcalocan. Mictlantecuhtli was particularly worshipped in the Aztec month of Tititl where, at the temple of Tlalxicco, an impersonator of the god was sacrificed and incense was burned in his honour.

Representation in Art

Mictlantecuhtli is usually portrayed in art as a skeleton or covered in bones with red spots representing blood. He may also wear a skull mask, bone ear plugs, a costume of owl feathers and even a necklace of eyeballs. He has curly black hair and powerful eyes which allow him to penetrate the gloom of the underworld. On occasion he can be wearing clothes and a conical hat made from bark-paper.
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Source: Ancient History EncyclopediaContent is available under License Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0


Origins » Nazca Civilization › Coyolxauhqui › Tezcatlipoca › Tiwanaku › Wari Civilization » History

Characters and historical events ››

  1. Nazca Civilization
  2. Coyolxauhqui
  3. Tezcatlipoca
  4. Tiwanaku
  5. Wari Civilization
  6. Atahualpa
  7. Sacsayhuaman
  8. Tulum

Ancient Origins ›› Its historical characters and places

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[ 1 ]

Nazca Civilization

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Nazca civilization flourished on the southern coast of Peru between 200 BCE and 600 CE. They settled in the Nazca and other surrounding valleys with their principal religious and urban sites being Cahuachi and Ventilla, respectively. The culture is noted for its distinctive pottery and textiles, and perhaps above all, for the geoglyphs made on the desert floor commonly known as Nazca lines. These can be simple lines, cleared spaces, or animals and figures traced in outline, and, as they cover several kilometres, they are best appreciated from the air.


The Nazca were contemporary with, and then outlasted, the Paracas culture and many Paracas sites have been discovered beneath Nazca settlements. Politically, the Nazca civilization has been described as a collection of chiefdoms occasionally acting in unison for mutual interest rather than as a single unified state. Or as M.E. Moseley puts it, "individuality - with cultural coherence, but without large-scale or integrated power - were Nazca hallmarks". This interpretation is reinforced by the art and architecture of the Nazca which displays common themes across settlements but at the same time there is a general lack of uniform town planning or evidence of centralization. The maximum population of the Nazca has been estimated at 25,000 people, spread across small villages which were typically built on terraced hillsides near irrigated floodplains.
As they developed, the Nazca extended their influence into the Pisco Valley in the north and the Acari Valley in the south. In addition, as llamas, alpaca and vicuna do not survive in the coastal areas the use of their wool in Nazca textiles is evidence that trade was established with highland cultures. In addition, Nazca mummies have been discovered wearing headdresses made with the feathers of rainforest birds, once again, illustrating that goods were traded across great distances.
The Nazca have left a legacy of distinctive imagery on their pottery, textiles, and across the desert floor of Peru.
Graves, often placed up to 4.5 metres deep and accessed via a shaft, are the richest source of Nazca artefacts and reveal many aspects of the culture. Fine pottery and textiles were buried with the dead and with no particular distinction between male and female burials. The deceased is mummified, carefully wrapped in textiles and usually placed in a seated position, skulls sometimes display deliberate elongation, and we know the Nazca wore tattoos. Tombs, especially shaft ones lined with mud bricks, could be re-opened and more mummies added, perhaps indicating ancestor worship. Caches of trophy-heads often accompany the mummy, many showing signs of trephination which allowed several to be strung on a single cord as illustrated in pottery designs. Trophy-heads are also frequently incorporated into textile designs, especially in miniature and as border decoration. There were also burials of what appear to be sacrificial victims. These have the eyes blocked and excrement was placed in the mouth which was then pinned shut with cactus needles. Alternatively, the tongue was removed and kept in a cloth pouch.
Weakened by a generation-long drought in the 5th century CE, the Nazca were eventually conquered by the Wari - who assumed many of their artistic traits - and Nazca settlements, thereafter, never rose beyond provincial status.


Ventilla was the Nazca urban capital and covered over 2 square kilometres (495 acres) and included ceremonial mounds, walled courts, and terraced housing. To fight the ever-present threat of drought the Nazcans built an extensive network of underground aqueducts, galleries, and cisterns in order to ensure a good water-supply during the dry season and minimize evaporation. These were reached by impressive descending spiral ramps and lined with river cobbles.


Founded c. 100 BCE, Cahuachi, on the south bank of the Nazca River, 50 km inland, was a site of pilgrimage and the Nazca religious capital. It was probably first considered sacred because it was one of the few locations with a guaranteed year-round water supply. The lack of domestic architecture indicates it was not used as a place of habitation.
The sacred site covers 11.5 square kilometres (2,841 acres) and has around 40 large adobe mounds which take advantage of natural hills. The largest mound, known as the Great Temple, is over 20 metres high. All of the mounds have an adjoining plaza and are topped by adobe walls. The largest plaza measure 47 x 75 metres. A low wall, 40 cm high, surrounded the main sacred precinct. Posts and postholes across the site suggest canopies protected worshippers from the sun. Textile scenes also suggest that religious gatherings were connected to harvest festivals, and piles of rubbish consisting mostly of pottery shards at the site indicate ritual feasting. This rubbish was deliberately left so that it became a part of the mound. Consequently, the larger the mound, the more it had been used in rituals. Some mounds also contained burials and large pots containing fine textiles given as religious offerings.
More details of the religious ceremonies that may have been carried out at Cauachi are depicted in Nazca art, especially on pottery, and many are scenes involving shamans. These religious figures, in a drug-induced trance, appealed to nature spirits to guarantee favourable conditions for agricultural abundance. Music was an important part of these rites, as is evidenced by the abundance of ceramic drums and panpipes in the archaeological record. The principal Nazca god seems to have been the Oculate Being who is represented in art as a flying deity figure wearing strings of trophy-heads. He is frequently depicted in pottery and textile designs in a horizontal position with streamers flowing from his body. Large staring eyes and a snake-like tongue are other typical features.

Nazca Lines

The Nazca drew geoglyphs and lines across the surrounding deserts and hills which were either stylized drawings of animals, plants, and humans or simple lines which connected sacred sites or pointed to water sources. Their exact purpose is disputed, but the most widely held theory is that they were designed to be walked along as part of religious rites and processions.
The lines were made remarkably easily and quickly by removing the oxidised darker surface rocks which lay closely scattered across the lighter coloured desert pampa floor. Most designs are only visible from the air, but some were made on hillsides and so are visible from the ground.
Lines could be single - both straight and curved - or in groups and could cross each other in complicated networks. The width and length of lines can vary; one of the longest straight lines is 20 km long and the total combined length of Nazca lines has been estimated at over 1,300 km. Those lines used to describe a specific shape are generally composed of a single continuous line. Designs could be geometric shapes or animals such as a hummingbird, spider and even a killer whale. Trees, plants, and flowers were another subject, as were human figures.
The scale of the designs can be huge; many are at least the size of a sports field. They were also made over several centuries and very often newer designs overlap and ignore older ones which would strongly suggest a lack of long-term and unified planning and, therefore, that they were made by different groups at different times and served more than a single purpose.

Nazca Pottery

The Nazca have achieved a reputation for great artistry and their finely worked pottery is an excellent example. Vessels were thin-walled and could take on a wide variety of shapes. Distinctive forms include the double-spouted containers with a single handle and generally bulbous vessels without a flat bottom or base. Bowls, beakers, jars, effigy drums, and panpipes were also common. There were also vessels in the shape of human heads, no doubt inspired by the Nazca practice of taking trophy-heads following battles.
Influenced by the earlier Paracas culture designs, Nazca pottery vessels were decorated with a slip (before firing) to produce a wide array of vividly rendered patterns, gods, shamanic imagery, crustaceans, condors, monkeys, and mythical transformational creatures, especially felines. The Nazca went on to create their own unique style and designs evolved from naturalistic to highly ornamented and then to highly abstract forms. Often the design covers the entire vessel producing a wrap-around three-dimensional effect, even a narrative, for example, with battle scenes. Designs might also exploit the contours of the vessel, for example, a nose on a protruding part. Designs can also overlap each other to create the illusion of space and depth.
Maroon, light purple, and blue-grey were a favourite choice of colours but a very wide range was used, more, in fact, than in any other ancient Andean culture. Backgrounds were usually in white, red, or black. Outlining figures in black was another feature and another example of the Nazca delight in linear design. A final polishing gave the colours a fine shine.

Nazca Textiles & Metalwork

The Nazca were fond of not only wool weaving and embroidery but also of painting plain cotton cloth with an array of colourful images and motifs. Textiles have survived remarkably well, thanks to the extremely dry climate, and they illustrate that Nazca weavers possessed the full range of Andean techniques and employed an astonishing range of colours and shades to produce intricate and detailed designs. Figures were especially popular in designs and most often are depicted participating in harvest scenes which show such foodstuffs as maize and beans. Animals, similar to those in the geoglyphs and pottery designs, were also a popular subject. Looms, spindles, needles, cotton balls, and pots of dyes have all been excavated from Nazca settlements.
Nazca metalworkers beat gold into thin sheets which were cut to create silhouettes. Preferring to keep surfaces smooth and reflective, only a little repoussé work provides sparing decoration. Masks were produced which were worn over the mouth and made the wearer appear to have a golden beard and whiskers. Gold full-face masks, hair plumes, and nose and forehead ornaments were also produced. These gold masks transform the face of the wearer and recall the transformation ceremonies carried out by the shamans who were such a popular subject in Nazca art.
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[ 2 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Coyolxauhqui (pron. Koy-ol-shauw-kee) was the Aztec goddess of the Moon or Milky Way who was famously butchered by her brother Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, in Aztec mythology. This story was commemorated in a celebrated large relief stone found at the foot of the pyramid of sacrifices, the Templo Mayor at the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.

Coyolxauhqui vs. Huitzilopochtli

Coyolxauhqui, whose name signifies 'Painted with Bells', was considered either the sister or mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and patron of Tenochtitlan. In the first version of this mythical duel, Coyolxauhqui upset her son Huitzilopochtli when she insisted on staying at the legendary sacred mountain Coatepec ('Snake Mountain', also spelt Coatepetl) and not following Huitzilopochtli’s plan to re-settle at a new site – the eventual Tenochtitlan. The god of war got his own way by decapitating and eating the heart of Coyolxauhqui, after which he led the Aztecs to their new home.
In the second version of this family strife, rebellious Coyolxauhqui led her 400 brothers, known as the Centzon Huitznaua (the 'Four Hundred Huiztnaua' who represented the stars of the southern sky), in a bid to kill her mother, the goddess Coatlicue. The pretext for this attack had been the news that Coatlicue had become pregnant in somewhat bizarre and dishonourable circumstances. Performing her duties, one day, as a cleaner at the shrine on the top of the sacred mountain Coatepec, a ball of feathers suddenly descended from the heavens and when Coatlicue tucked this into her belt it miraculously impregnated her. The resulting child was none other than the powerful warrior Huitzilopochtli.
Huitzilopochtli chopped up Coyolxauhqui into several large chunks and lobbed the pieces down the sacred Snake Mountain.
Coyolxauhqui’s plot came unstuck, though, when one of the Huiztnaua lost heart and decided to warn the still unborn Huitzilopochtli. Rising to his mother's defence the god sprang from the womb fully-grown and fully-armed as an invincible warrior. In another version, the god springs from his mother's severed neck after Coyolxauhqui had decapitated her. Either way, with his formidable weapon, the xiuhcoatl ('Fire Serpent') which was actually a ray of the sun, the warrior-god swiftly butchered his unruly siblings and, chopping up Coyolxauhqui into several large chunks, he lobbed the pieces down the mountainside. The head of the goddess was tossed into the sky and so became the moon.
This gruesome sibling myth may symbolise the daily victory of the Sun (one of Huitzilpochtli's associations) over the Moon and stars. That is even if the association with the moon has no particular archaeological evidence to support it and some scholars have argued that Coyolxauhqui was, instead, associated with the Milky Way.

The Great Coyolxauhqui Stone

The myth of Coyolxauhqui’s demise at the hands of Huitzilopochtli was commemorated in a large stone disk, known as the Great Coyolxauhqui Stone, which was excavated at the base of the Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan. It depicts in high relief the dismembered and decapitated corpse of Coyolxauhqui and dates to c. 1473 CE during the reign of Axayacatl. The goddess wears only a warrior’s belt with skull, a headdress with eagle down feathers, and a bell on her cheek. The Templo Mayor pyramid was actually a twin shrine to the rain god Tlaloc and the war god Huitzilopochtli. A double staircase climbed the temple, and the disk was placed, significantly, at the base of the steps leading to Huitzilpochtli’s shrine. It was atop this temple that humans were sacrificed and their bodies dismembered and tossed down the steps to land at the base, just as in the myth on Snake Mountain.
Besides reminding of the importance of Huitzilopochtli, the stone was also a stark warning to the enemies of the Aztecs who saw themselves as the victorious warrior Huitzilopochtli. Defeated warriors led up the steps of the Temple Mayor for the ultimate sacrifice would have been reminded that they were soon to be the equivalent of the defeated Coyolxauhqui.
The 3.4 m (10.5 ft) diameter stone was re-discovered in 1978 CE when workers were excavating the basement of a bookstore in downtown Mexico City. In condensing a three-dimensional scene onto a two-dimensional plain, it is one of the great masterpieces of Aztec art and now resides in the Museo del Templo Mayor in the city in which it was discovered.

Other Representations in Art

Other notable representations of Coyolxauhqui are a fragmentary greenstone (diorite) slab which is older and (along with a stucco sculpture of the goddess) lay beneath the stone disk described previously. This earlier stone shows Huitzilopochtli’s xiuhcoatl weapon piercing the goddess’ chest and probably dates to the reign of Motecuhzoma I (1440-1469 CE).
Another famous representation of Coyolxauhqui is a large greenstone severed head found at Tenochtitlan which was probably carved during the reign of Ahuitzotl (1486-1502 CE). The goddess once again has the golden coyolli bells on each cheek. This head now resides in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
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[ 3 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Tezcatlipoca (pron. Tez-ca-tli-po-ca) or ‘Smoking Mirror’ in Nahuatl was one of the most important gods in Postclassical Mesoamerican culture and a particularly important deity for the Toltecs (from the 10th century CE) and later, for the Aztecs, most especially at Texcoco. Often considered as the supreme god he took on a bewildering array of names and manifestations depending on where and by whom he was worshipped. Invisible and omnipotent, he was known as a Creator god, the god of sustenance, a patron of warriors and as the bringer of both good and evil he was the very embodiment of change through conflict.
Tezcatlipoca was the 10th of the 13 Lords of the Day and associated with the horned owl in the Mesoamerican calendar whilst his nagual or animal spirit was the jaguar. For the Mexica he was associated with day 1: Death and the god was especially worshipped during Tóxcatl, the 6th month of the 18-month solar year with those who did revere the god carrying the epithet titlacauan, meaning ‘we are his slaves’, indicative perhaps that, for good or bad, there was no escaping the attentions and influence of Tezcatlipoca.

A Creator God

Tezcatlipoca was believed to be the son of the primordial androgynous god Ometeotl. In Aztec mythology he was the brother of Quetzalcoatl, Huizilopochtli and Xipe Totec. In the complex Mesoamerican creation myths Tezcatlipoca ruled the first world of the Sun but was then overthrown by Quetzalcóatl. The two later cooperated, however, to create the 5th Sun. Transformed into giant snakes, the two gods attacked and dismembered the female reptilian monster known as Tlaltcuhtli (or Cipactli), one part became the earth and the other the sky. Trees, plants and flowers sprang from the dead creature’s hair and skin whilst springs and caves were made from her eyes and nose and the valleys and mountains came from her mouth.
The god could intervene directly in human affairs to bring both happiness and sorrow.

The Many Faces of Tezcatlipoca

Sharing traits with the earlier God II of the Classic Maya, Tezcatlipoca was often regarded as the one supreme omnipotent god in various Mesoamerican cultures and all other gods could be considered as manifestations of this one great being. He was known as Black Tezcatlipoca or the ‘Smoking Mirror’, god of the day and of Texcoco. The mirror may signify that the god is all-seeing or that he rules over all of the earth, sometimes referred to as a smoking mirror. He is also known as Blue Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Hummingbird Sorcerer’, god of Tenochtitlán, where he was associated with the sun and the war god Huitzilopochtli. He could be known as Red Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Flayed One’ and associated with the gods Camaxtli and Xipe Totec (god of the Tlaxcaltecans) or as White Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Plumed Serpent’ or Quetzalcóatl, god of the Cholula. Yet another manifestation of the god was as Tepeyolohtli, the jaguar god that lived in the centre of the mountain of the earth.
Ever-present, the god could intervene directly in human affairs to bring both happiness and sorrow. Tezcatlipoca could take on more sinister connotations when he was known as lord of the shadows or night, a sorcerer of black magic and the bringer of evil, death and destruction as Chalchiuhtecólotl, ‘Precious Owl’ or Chalchiuhtotolin, ‘Precious Turkey’. Also associated with conflict he was known as Yaotl or ‘Enemy’ and was patron of warriors and their training camps (telpochcalli). He was not always protective to soldiers, though, for sometimes he could be found at crossroads at the dead of night, ready to challenge any unsuspecting warriors.
In a similar vein, Tezcatlipoca could represent those other disagreeable elements of the human condition: intense cold, sin and misery when he took on the guise of Itztlacoliuhqui. Finally, in a more positive role, when he was Omácatl, he was seen as the patron of the aristocracy and feasts. In keeping with the god’s complex character of conflicting opposites, though, in this role he could at the same time represent thieves and evil sorcerers.

Tóxcatl Ceremonies

In the month of Tóxcatl, the sixth month (or 5th) of the Aztec solar year, Tezcatlipoca was worshipped in special ceremonies. As with other Aztec religious rites an important part of the ceremony was the impersonation of the god, most often by a prisoner of war, typically the best looking and most courageous one. For one year before, in fact, the captive was tutored by priests, treated as a noble and even given four women to look after him. These women themselves impersonated four goddesses - Atlatonan, Huixtocihuatl, Xilonen and Xochiquetzal. When the special month finally came around the impersonator was handsomely dressed in a warrior costume and in a symbolic wedding festival he married his four goddesses. Honoured with flowers and dances the man-god was then ferried to a dedicated temple where he was promptly sacrificed and his heart removed to honour the real Tezcatlipoca.

Mythical Adventures

Besides the Creation, Tezcatlipoca is involved in many mythical tales and one of the more curious is the arrival of the first dogs. The trouble began with the old couple Tata and Nene, survivors from the flood which had previously destroyed the 4th world. Finally making land they beached their cypress log boat and proceeded to make a fire by rubbing sticks together. Then they decided to cook a fish but the smoke from their fire disturbed the stars, especially Citlallatonac and Citlalicue. These gods complained vociferously to Tezcatlipoca who, perhaps a little harshly, lopped off the heads of the couple and reattached them to their backsides, thus, the very first dogs were created.
Another story explains Tezcatlipoca’s association with music. One day the god instructed a black wind god to go to the sun and fetch some music. The wind god needed help for such a dangerous mission and so he enrolled Tezcatlipoca’s assistants - a turtle, mermaid and a whale - these he put together to make a bridge so that he might cross the ocean. The sun saw the wind god arriving and warned his entourage of musicians not to answer any demands the wind might make, otherwise, they would be sent back to earth with the wind. However, the wind god started singing in such an irresistible manner that one of the musicians felt compelled to answer and so he was punished by the sun and made to return to earth, bringing with him the gift of music. The god’s love of music was also displayed during the ceremony in Tóxcatl where the Tezcatlipoca impersonator broke a flute every step of the pyramid he climbed on his way to being sacrificed.

Representations in Art

The earliest certain representations of the god in art appear in the stone sculpture of the Chichen Itzá in the Early Postclassical period (900-1200 CE). Here he may have a smoking mirror on his head and a serpent in place of a foot, whilst in later depictions of the god he has a polished black obsidian mirror instead of a left foot. This replacement of the foot is a reference to a wound he received in his famous battle with Tlaltecuhtli during the Creation. He is often in the company of a turquoise snake, may have stripes painted on his face in yellow and black and wear a costume with corn designs (in reference to his role as god of the dry season and war) and skulls and bones (as he is an underworld god). Sometimes he carries four arrows in his right hand, weapons he uses to punish wrongdoers. The god could be depicted in different colours depending on which cardinal point he was representing - black for north, blue for south, red for east and white for west.
Tezcatlipoca is often represented wearing a turquoise mask with a black eye band. Indeed, one of the most famous art objects of the god is the decorated skull now in the British Museum in London. The skull is covered in turquoise and black lignite mosaic with red thorny oyster shell in the nasal cavity. Polished pyrite surrounded by white conch shell provide the eyes. The mask interior is lined with deerskin and the same material is used for the two straps attached to the skull. This striking object may well be one of the gifts that the Aztec king Montezuma II gave to Hernando Cortés in 1519 CE.
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[ 4 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Tiwanaku (or Tiahuanaco) was the capital of the Tiwanaku empire between c. 200 - 1000 CE and is situated in the Titicaca basin. At an altitude of 3,850 metres (12,600 ft) it was the highest city in the ancient world and had a peak population of between 30,000 and 70,000 residents. The Tiwanaku empire, at its largest extent, dominated the altiplano plains and stretched from the Peruvian coast to northern Bolivia and included parts of northern Chile. Tiwanaku is located near the southern (Bolivian) shores of the sacred Lake Titicaca and it would become the centre of one of the most important of all Andean cultures. The architecture, sculpture, roads, and empire management of Tiwanaku would exert a significant influence on the later Inca civilization.


Tiwanaku was founded some time in the Early Intermediate Period (200 BCE - 600 CE). The first examples of monumental architecture date to around 200 CE but it was from 375 CE that the city became grander in its architecture and scope. These new structures included large religious buildings, gateways, and sculptures. The layout of the city centre was constructed on an east-west axis, built in a grid design, and the whole was surrounded by a moat (perhaps only symbolic) on three sides which linked with Lake Titicaca on the fourth side of the city.
In mythology Lake Titicaca was considered the centre of the world, two islands on it were made into the sun and moon, and it was the site where the first race of stone giants was produced and subsequently, the human race. It has been suggested that many of the monuments at the site were placed in alignment with the sunrise and or the midday sun. However, the fact that many of Tiwanaku's monuments have been shifted about over the centuries makes the discovery of their original positions extremely difficult.
Outside of the moat there were residential buildings arranged in compounds and built using mud bricks. Irrigation was also provided for crops via canals, aqueducts and dikes which brought water from the lake. Such measures allowed for a successful and reliable agricultural yield (especially potatoes) and for sustained population growth so that at its peak the city covered up to 10 square kilometres.
Tiwanaku was the capital of one of the most influentional pan-Andean cultures.

The Sacred Centre

One of the striking features of Tiwanaku are the large open spaces for ceremonial and religious activities which employ fine monumental stonework, work which has long been admired including by the Incas. Their are two principal types of walls - those with large irregular blocks and those with fine-fitting and straight-edged blocks. Many blocks at Tiwanaku display grooves cut into them for the placing of ropes which made their transportation and positioning easier. Blocks could be held together using bronze clamps or staples, usually cast directly into T and I-shaped sockets in the stone. The precision of some of the cut blocks suggests the use of relatively sophisticated tools and instruments of measurement. An indication of these skills is that the much later Inca deliberately imported their stonemasons from the Lake Titicaca basin in direct homage to the gifted builders of Tiwanaku.
The focal point of the sacred precinct was the Akapana Temple which was an artificial hill over 15 metres high and shaped into seven tiers. Steps were cut into the east and west sides. The top of the mound was made into a flat area of 50 square metres and used to create a T-shaped sunken court. The court is paved with andesite and sandstone slabs and drainage was provided by stone channels which cascaded water down each of the terraces. The site may have been used in shamanic rituals and a High Priest was buried there with a puma effigy incense burner and puma-headed humans iconography also covers the stonework of the temple.
The Kalasasaya is another sacred structure, this time rectangular and measuring 130 by 120 metres. Its sacred sunken court provided space for public and religious ceremonies and, as a reminder of this, has severed stone heads protruding from the interior of its sandstone perimeter walls which also include regularly placed tall columns. The precinct is accessed via a single staircase which again has stone columns either side. Standing in the precinct is the Ponce Monolith, a 3.5 metre tall stone perhaps depicting a ruler, High Priest, or god of Tiwanaku. The figure holds a kero (qero) or tall beaker in one hand and a staff-like object, perhaps a sceptre or coca snuff tablet, in the other.
In the north-west corner (not its original position) of the Kalasasaya is perhaps the most famous structure of Tiwanaku, the monumental Gateway of the Sun. Carved from a single massive block of andesite stone, the Gateway is 2.8 metres high and 3.8 metres wide. The opening in the gate, with its distinctive double jamb, is 1.4 metre wide. The top portion has relief carvings of 48 winged demons or angels, each with either a human or bird head and wearing a feathered headress. These figures are set in three rows and in the centre is a deity who has been identified as the Staff Deity from the Chavin culture, forerunner of the Andean creator god Viracocha. The god holds a staff with condor heads in each hand (identified by some as a spear-thrower and arrows), has a mask like face, has 19 rays coming from his head which end in either a circle or puma head, and is crying, probably to signify rain. Underneath these figures is a row of geometrical designs. Each side of the gate has a single rectangular niche.
Yet another temple, known as the Semi-Subterranean Temple, also has a sunken court which measures 28.5 metres by 26 metres and was accessed via a single staircase leading down into the court from the south side. The interior wall of this court also has stone heads protruding from it. In the centre of the court stelae or sculptures were found such as the 'Bennett Stela' which is 7.3 metres high and depicts possibly a ruler or High Priest of Tiwanaku. It is the tallest stone sculpture surviving from any ancient Andean culture. The figure is weeping and holds a beaker in one hand and a staff in the other. The figure is also covered in 30 small representations of animals and mythical creatures.
The Pumapunku was another temple mound, once again with a T-shape sunken court but this time the mound has only three tiers and is situated 1 km to the south-west of the main complex. The Pumpapunku is 150 square metres in area and 5 metres high. Unlike the Akapana mound there are stone portals with huge monolith lintels which functioned as a gateway to the whole sacred complex.

Residential Buildings

No storehouses or administrative buildings have been found at the site but there were large residential areas surrounding the sacred centre, these now lie under fields used for agriculture. These more humble structures were made using dried-mud bricks (adobe) and built on cobblestone foundations. There were also finer buildings in this area, elite residences with high adobe walls surrounding a coutyard and buildings constructed from finely-cut stone blocks. One of these buildings, known as the 'Palace of the Multicoloured Rooms', has walls which were painted in many coats over time in colours such as blue, green, red, orange and yellow. There are also canals, drainage channels, hearths, wall niches, and stone paved courtyards. Dedicated burial goods were excavated at the entrance to the building - gold, silver and turquoise jewellery, human remains, a llama foetus, pottery and bone tools.

Sculpture, Pottery & Textiles

Much of the sacred imagry at Tiwanaku can be found in other Andean cultures. The culture at Tiwanaku was influenced by its predecessors in the Titicaca basin, for example, the imagry of the Chavin and the architecture at Chiripa and Pukará. Repeated images at the site include the Staff Deity, severed trophy heads, and winged creatures (usually depicted in profile and running) with bird heads such as the condor and falcon. The Staff Deity appears on the famous Gateway of the Sun and is in typical pose: frontal holding a staff in each hand, rays coming from his head, a mask-like face, and wearing a tunic with kilt and belt. The image also appears on pottery and elsewhere in architecture and was likely the inspiration for the later worshipped Creator god Viracocha.
There are also several examples of large stone sculptures which the people of Tiwanaku may have intended to represent the first race of giants in pan-Andean mythology or former Tiwanaku rulers and priests. Some sculptures still have gold pins embedded in them suggesting fabric was used to dress them. They can also display traces of paint, indicating they were once brightly decorated. Other interesting sculptures from the site include a huge boulder sculpted into a model of a sacred precinct and the chachapumas, sculptures of puma-headed warriors who hold a knife in one hand and a severed human head in the other. These, along with the stone wall heads and finds of polished human skulls, strongly sugest a cult to the pan-Andean decapitator god. Other rituals are suggested by mass burials at the site such as one grave with 40 males, all with signs of being cut to pieces. The fact that the remains are buried in an area of rain-deposited sediment suggests that they were sacrificed after a catastrophic climate event.
Pottery finds include cups, bowls and jars with anthropomorhpic designs all with the distinctive orange base of Tiwanaku pottery. Distinctive shapes are the tall beakers and large storage vessels which were partially buried in pits. Many vessels show evidence of some degree of mass production using moulds. Most are brightly painted and gods, animals and geometric designs were a popular subject. Of particular note are vessels in the form of human heads, some capture precise idiosyncratic features and are, therefore, genuine portraits of a specific person or model. Tiwanaku pottery was exported throughout the empire and beyond via the large llama caravans used to connect Tiwanaku to its empire.
As with other Andean cultures, the residents of Tiwanaku were skilled weavers. Textiles rarely survive in the quantities of other more durable artefacts but enough examples are available to illustrate the skill and innovation of textile producers at the site. For example, a woollen tunic has flower decorations set in hard to achieve diagonal lines. Woollen hats from Tiwanaku have a distinctive box shape and are composed of five separately woven panels stitched together, sometimes with tassles added at the corners. Tiwanaku textiles use bright colours and the decorative motifs familiar from pottery - animals, birds, gods, and human figures - but these can appear in more abstract form and be squashed or stretched to suit the form of the object, especially in wall hangings and clothes. Geometric forms were also widely used in textile patterns, particularly the stepped diamond motif which is also seen in Tiwanaku architectural sculpture.


The Tiwanaku empire collapsed around c. 1000 CE when faced with attacks from the Aymara Kingdoms, a collective group of states which included Colla, Lupaka, Cana, Canchi, Umasuyo and Pacaje. Tiwanaku the city was abandoned, possibly as late as c. 1100 CE, probably due to excessive drought brought about by regional climate change, but their monumental stone art and architecture survived to inspire the reverential Incas to similar artistic feats and they continue to impress the modern-day visitor with their timeless appeal.
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[ 5 ]

Wari Civilization

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Wari civilization flourished in the coastal and highland areas of ancient Peru between c. 450 and c. 1000 CE. Based at their capital Huari, the Wari successfully exploited the diverse landscapes they controlled to construct an empire administered by provincial capitals connected by a large road network. Their methods of maintaining an empire and artistic style would have a significant influence on the later Inca civilization.
The Wari were contemporary with those other great Middle Horizon (c. 600 - 1000 CE) cultures centred at Tiwanaku and Pukara. The more militaristic Wari were also gifted agriculturalists and they constructed canals to irrigate terraced fields. The economic stability and prosperity this brought allowed the Wari to implement a combined strategy of military might, economic benefits, and distinct artistic imagery to forge an empire across ancient Peru. Their superior management of the land also helped them resist the 30-year drought period which during the end of the 6th century CE contributed to the decline of the neighbouring Nazca and Moche civilizations.
The Wari were undoubtedly influenced by contemporary cultures, for example, appropriating the Chavin Staff deity -- a god closely associated with the sun, rain, and maize, all so vital to cultures dependent on agriculture and the whims of an unreliable climate. They transformed it into a ritual icon present on textiles and pottery, spreading their own branded iconography and leaving a lasting legacy in Andean art.
The Wari implemented a combined strategy of military might, economic benefits, and distinct artistic imagery to forge an empire across ancient Peru.


The capital at Huari (25 km north of modern Ayacucho) is located at an altitude of 2,800 m and is spread over 15 square kilometres. It was first settled around 250 CE and eventually had a population possibly as high as 70,000 at its peak. Huari shows typical features of Andean architecture: densely packed wall-enclosed rectangular structures which can be further divided into a maze of compartments. The city's walls are massive (up to 10 metres high and 4 metres thick) and built using largely unworked stones set with a mud mortar. Buildings had two or three stories, courtyards were lined with stone benches set in the walls, and drains were stone-lined. The floors and walls of buildings were generally covered with plaster and painted white.
There is little distinction in Wari architecture between public and private buildings and little evidence of town planning. A royal palace has, however, been identified in the northwest section of the city, its oldest area of habitation and called Vegachayoq Moqo. A now ruined temple was located in the Moraduchayuq compound in the southeast of the city. It was built in the 6th century CE and had subterranean parts with the whole structure once painted red. Like other buildings at the site it was deliberately destroyed and ritually buried. The city seems to have been abandoned c. 800 CE for reasons unknown.
Tombs have been excavated at Huari which contained fine examples of Wari textiles. Ceramics are also amongst finds at the site. A royal tomb was discovered in the Monjachayoq zone which consists of 25 chambers on two different levels, all lined with finely cut stone slabs. In addition, a shaft descends to a third level chamber which has the shape of a llama. Finally, a circle chamber was cut out at a fourth level down. The llama-shaped tomb, looted in antiquity, was the royal resting place and dates to 750-800 CE.
Huari was once surrounded by irrigated fields and fresh water ran through the city via underground conduits. Further indicators of prosperity are the presence of areas dedicated to the production of specific goods such as ceramics and jewellery. Precious materials for these workshops and imported goods indicate trade with far-flung places: shells from the coast and Spondylus from Ecuador, for example. The presence of buildings used for storage at Huari and other Wari cities also indicates a centrally controlled trade network spread across ancient Peru.


Another important Wari centre was at Pikillacta, southeast of Huari which was founded c. 650 CE. Located at an altitude of 3250 m, the heart of this administrative and military settlement site was built in a rectangular form measuring 745 x 630 metres and is laid out in a precise geometrical pattern of squares. The interiors of individual compounds are, however, idiosyncratic in layout.
As at other Wari sites, access was strictly controlled via a single, winding entrance. Notable finds at Pikillacta include 40 miniature greenstone figures depicting elite citizens and small figurines (no larger than 5 cm) of transformational shamans, warriors, bound captives, and pumas in copper, gold, and semi-precious stone. The site was abandoned c. 850 - 900 CE and there is evidence of destruction by fire of some buildings and deliberately sealed doorways.
Other important Wari cities were Viracochapampa, Jincamocco, Conchopata, Marca Huamachuco, and Azangaro. There were also purely military sites such as the fort at Cero Baul, which bordered on Tiwanaku territory to the south. These sites were connected to water sources and each other by a system of roads.

Wari Art

Wari art is best evidenced in textile finds which often depict the Staff Deity, plants, the San Pedro cactus flower, pumas, condors, and especially llamas, illustrating the importance of these herd animals to the Wari. Textiles were buried with the dead and those tombs in the dry dessert have been well-preserved. Textiles were multi-coloured, although blue was particularly favoured, and designs were composed of predominantly rectilinear geometric forms, especially the stepped diamond motif. At the same time, despite seemingly regular geometric patterns, weavers often introduced a single random motif or colour change (typically using green or indigo) into their pieces. These could be signatures or an illustration that rules could always have exceptions.
Wari designs eventually became so abstract that figures were essentially unrecognisable, perhaps in a deliberate attempt by the elite to monopolize their interpretation. Abstract figures distorted almost beyond recognition may also be an attempt to represent the shamanic transformation and drug-induced trance consciousness which were part of Wari religious ceremonies.
Popular Wari pottery forms were the double-spouted vessels seen elsewhere in Andean cultures, large urns, beakers, bowls, and moulded effigy figures. Decorative designs were heavily influenced by those used in Wari textile production. The Staff Deity was an especially popular subject for beakers (kero) as were warriors with dart throwers, shields, and military tunics.
Precious metals were also a popular medium for elite goods. Notable finds from a royal tomb at Espiritu Pampa include a silver face mask and breast-plate, gold bracelets, and other jewellery in semi-precious stones such as greenstone and lapis lazuli. Human figures in typical Wari costume - sleeveless tunic and four-cornered hat - were also made in hammered precious metals.

The Wari Legacy

Although the exact causes of Wari decline are not known, theories range from over-extension of the empire to another period of extended drought in the 9th century CE. Whatever the reasons, the region returned to a situation of fragmented polities for several centuries.
The most lasting legacy of the Wari is their artistic style which not only influenced the contemporary Moche but also the later Lambayeque civilization, and later still, the Incas. A large number of the roads built by the Wari were also used by the Incas within their own extensive road system, as were a great number of Wari terraces for agriculture. The capital at Huari was looted in antiquity and again in the 16th century CE by the Spanish.
Re-discovered in the mid-20th century CE, the first excavations began in the 1940's and continue today, gradually revealing the wealth and power once enjoyed by one of the most important of all ancient Andean cultures.
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[ 6 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Atahualpa (also Atawallpa) was the last ruler of the Inca empire who reigned from 1532 CE until his capture and execution by the invading Spanish forces led by Pizarro in 1533 CE. The troubled Incas had suffered six years of damaging civil war and Atahualpa was only just enjoying his ascendancy to the throne when the Spanish arrived to turn the Inca world upside down. Further weakened by European-introduced diseases which wiped out millions, the Incas could do nothing against the better-armed invaders who would stop at nothing to gain the fabulous riches of the Americas’ largest ever empire.

Civil War & Succession

Atahualpa’s father Wayna Qhapaq died in 1528 CE of smallpox, the most distinguished victim of the epidemic of European diseases which had spread from central America even faster than the foreign invaders themselves could manage. This epidemic killed a staggering 65-90% of the native population. When Wayna Qhapaq died without choosing a second heir (his first choice Ninan Cuyuchi also died of smallpox) Atahualpa battled for the throne with his half-brother Waskar (or Huascar) in a hugely damaging civil war which the Spanish would be only too glad to take advantage of when they arrived on Inca territory in 1532 CE. Atahualpa was based in the northern capital at Quito while Waskar was at Cuzco. After diplomatic relations soured between the two brothers, open warfare broke out in the north. There followed a series of battles costly to both sides until, after six years of fighting, Atahualpa finally prevailed.
By the time Spanish arrived, Atahualpa had managed to capture Waskar but the factions which had deeply split the empire remained. Waskar was imprisoned and his kin-group was killed, as were those who had supported him. Atahualpa even killed historians and destroyed the Inca quipu records. This was to be a total renewal, what the Incas called a pachakuti or ‘turning over of time and space’, an epoch-changing event which the Incas believed periodically occurred through the ages. What Atahualpa did not know was that another pachakuti was less than a year away, and this time he would be its victim.
Atahualpa’s reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa (‘Unique’) Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury.
Atahualpa’s reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa (‘Unique’) Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury. Drinking from gold cups, wearing silver-soled sandals and treated as a manifestation of the Sun god Inti on earth, Atahualpa was the head of the largest and richest empire the Americas had ever seen. His taste for opulence was chronicled by the Spanish who said that he once ordered a cloak made only from bat skins. As the Inca king, he had the right to wear even more gold jewellery than the already over-laden nobility. His regalia included a feather headband (Ilauto), a golden mace (champi), and king-size golden ear-spools. The monarch travelled on a gold and silver litter further embellished with parrot feathers. He was fed food by a servant, and anything the royal person touched was collected and burnt in an annual ceremony to ward off witchcraft. If ever there was a pampered ruler it was the Sapa Inca of ancient Peru.

Pizarro Arrives

On Friday, 15th of November, 1532 CE the 168-man force of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro approached the Inca town of Cajamarca in the highlands of Peru. Pizzaro sent word that he wished to meet the Inca king, there enjoying the local springs and basking in his recent victory over Waskar. Atahualpa agreed to finally meet the much-rumoured bearded white men who were known to have been fighting their way from the coast for some time. Confidently surrounded by his 80,000 strong army Atahualpa seems not to have seen any threat from such a small enemy force and he made Pizarro wait until the next day. Then, seated on a low wooden throne and accompanied by all his wives and nobles, the Inca ruler finally came face to face with these curious visitors from another world.

Atahualpa is Captured

The first formal meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa involved a few speeches, a drink together while they watched some Spanish horsemanship and not much else. Both sides went away planning to capture or kill the other party at the first available opportunity. The very next day Pizarro, using the conveniently labyrinth-like architecture of the Inca town to his advantage, set his men in ambush to await Atahualpa’s arrival in the main square. When the royal troop arrived Pizarro fired his small canons and then his men, wearing armour, attacked on horseback.
In the ensuing battle, where firearms were mismatched against spears, arrows, slings, and clubs, 7,000 Incas were killed against zero Spanish losses. Atahualpa was hit a blow on the head and captured alive. Either held for ransom by Pizarro or even offering a ransom himself, Atahualpa’s safe return to his people would only happen if a room measuring 6.2 x 4.8 metres were filled with all the treasures the Incas could provide up to a height of 2.5 m. This was done and the chamber was piled high with gold objects from jewellery to idols. The room was then filled twice again with silver objects. The whole task took eight months and the value today of the accumulated treasures would have been well over $50 million. Meanwhile, Atahualpa continued to run his empire from captivity and Pizarro sent exploratory expeditions to Cuzco and awaited reinforcements from Panama. Then, having got his ransom, Pizarro summarily tried and executed Atahualpa anyway, on the 26th of July 1533 CE. The Inca king was originally sentenced to death by burning at the stake but, after the monarch agreed to be baptized, this was commuted to death by strangulation.
Some of Pizarro’s men thought this was the worst possible response but the wily Spanish leader had seen just how subservient the Incas were to their king, even when he was held captive by the enemy. As one Miguel de Estete described the king receiving visitors during his captivity,
When they arrived before him, they did him great reverence, kissing his feet and hands. He received them without looking at them. It is remarkable to record the dignity of Atahualpa and the great obedience they all accorded him (D’Altroy, 93).
As a living god, Pizarro perhaps knew that only the king’s death could bring about the total defeat of the Incas. Indeed, even in death the Inca king exerted an influence over his people for the severed head of Atahualpa gave birth to the enduring Inkarri legend. For the Incas believed that one day the head would grow a new body and their ruler would return, defeat the Spanish, and restore the natural order of things.

The Collapse of the Inca Empire

One of the reasons the Inca empire collapsed so swiftly following Atahualpa’s death, perhaps in less than 40 years, was the fact that it was founded on, and maintained by, force, and the ruling Incas (only 40,000) were very often unpopular with their subjects (10,000,000 of them), especially in the northern territories. This was not least because the Incas extracted heavy tribute from conquered peoples – both in kind and labour - and loyal Inca subjects were forced on these communities to better integrate them into the empire. The Inca Empire, in fact, had still not reached a stage of consolidated maturity – it had only just reached its greatest extent a few years before.
It was a combination of factors then, a veritable perfect storm of rebellion, disease, and invasion, which brought the downfall of Atahualpa and the mighty Inca Empire. In addition, the Inca mode of warfare was highly ritualized where such things as deceit, ambush, and subterfuge were unknown. Inca warriors were highly dependent on their officers, and if these fell in battle, a whole army could quickly collapse in panicked retreat. These factors and the superior weaponry of the Europeans meant the Incas had very little chance of defending a huge empire already difficult to manage.


Pizarro received criticism from the Spanish king Carlos I for treating a foreign sovereign so shabbily, and his attempts to install a puppet ruler – Thupa Wallpa, the younger brother of Waskar - failed to restore any sort of political order. The Spanish soon found out that the vast geographical spread of their new empire and its inherent difficulties in communication and control (even if their predecessors had built an excellent road system) meant that they faced the same management problems as the Incas. Added to this was the massive population decline following epidemics and communities still resentful of outside rule. For those local tribes, a change in rulers, unfortunately, brought no respite from a rapacious overlord, once again, eager to steal their wealth and impose on them a foreign religion.
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[ 7 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

The Sacsayhuaman (also Saksaywaman or Saqsawaman, meaning ‘Royal Eagle’) fortress-temple complex lies at the northern edge of the former Inca capital Cuzco. Constructed during the reign of Pachacuti (1438-1471 CE) and his successors, its massive, well-built walls remain today as a testimony not only to Inca power but also the skills of Inca architects and their approach of blending their monumental structures harmoniously into the natural landscape. The Sacsayhuaman is still used today for reenactments of Inca-inspired ceremonies.


The fortress was the largest structure built by the Incas. It was constructed on an elevated rocky promontory facing the northern marshy ground outside the Inca capital of Cuzco. Pottery finds indicate that the site had previously been occupied by Inca residents. Begun in the reign of the great Inca empire builder Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, or perhaps his son Thupa Inca Yupanqui in the mid-15th century CE, the design was credited to four architects: Huallpa Rimachi, Maricanchi, Acahuana, and Calla Cunchui. The first structures were made using only mud and clay. Subsequent rulers then replaced these with magnificent stonework which employed huge finely-cut polygonal blocks, many over 4 metres in height and weighing over 100 tons. To complete such a massive project 20,000 labourers were drafted in under the well-established Inca system of extracting both goods and labour from peoples they conquered. Working in a system of rotation 6,000 were given quarrying duties while the other 4,000 dug trenches and laid the foundations. The walls of the fortress were built in vertical sections, probably, each section being the responsibility of one ethnic labour group.
The Incas were master stonemasons. Huge blocks were quarried and shaped using nothing more than harder stones and bronze tools. Marks on the stone blocks indicate that they were mostly pounded into shape rather than cut. Blocks were moved using ropes, logs, poles, levers, and earthen ramps (telltale marks can still be seen on some blocks), and some stones still have nodes protruding from them or indentations which were used to help workers grip the stone. That rocks were roughly hewn in the quarries and then worked on again at their final destination is clearly indicated by unfinished examples left at quarries and on various routes to building sites. The fine cutting and setting of the blocks on site was so precise that mortar was not necessary. Finally, a finished surface was provided using grinding stones and sand.
The Fortress complex included temples, notably one to the sun god Inti, & was used as a location for Inca ceremonies.
Experimental archaeology has demonstrated that it was much quicker than scholars had previously thought to prepare and dress the stones used by the Incas. Even so, it would have taken many months to produce a single wall. The Incas also ensured that their blocks interlocked and the walls were sloped to maximise their resistance to earthquake damage. Time has proved their efficiency as 500 years of earthquakes have done remarkably little damage to Inca structures left in their complete state and the Sacsayhuaman is no exception.


If the theory that all of Cuzco was laid out to form a puma shape when seen from above is correct, then Sacsayhuaman was its head. The fortress has three distinct terraces which recede backwards on each other. The walls, each reaching a height of 18 metres, are laid out in a zigzag fashion stretching over 540 metres so that each wall has up to 40 segments, which allowed the defenders to catch attackers in a crossfire; a result helped also by the general curvature of the entire fortress facade. In addition, Inca architects very often sought to harmoniously blend their structures into the surrounding natural landscape and the outline of the Sacsayhuaman was similarly built to mimic the contours of the mountain range which towers behind it. This is particularly evident when the sun creates deep triangular shadows between the zigzag terraces in exactly the same way that it does on the mountain range with its peaks and valleys.
In another defensive consideration, there is only one small doorway on each terrace which gave access to the interior buildings and towers on the hillside behind. Eyewitness Spanish accounts describe a large circular four or five-storey tower centrally placed within the fortress and its foundations (along with those for two others) can be seen today. To the rear of the complex, in an area known as the Suchuna (slide), there were more terraces, patios, outbuildings, and a system of water supply including cisterns and aqueducts. Finally, there is an area of stepped terracing cut into the side of the Rodadero Hill, which is thought to have been a religious shrine, perhaps dedicated to the earth goddess Pachamama, or a viewing platform for the Inca ruler to watch ceremonies from or a place for astronomical observations.


On completion, the fortress was said to have had a capacity for at least 1,000 warriors, but it was rarely needed as the Incas did not suffer invasions from enemy states. Probably, for this reason, Sacsayhuaman was designed as much more than a fortress. The complex included temples, notably one to the sun god Inti, and was used as a location for Inca ceremonies. The Sacsayhuaman was also a major Inca storage depot where arms, armour, foodstuffs, valuable textiles, ceramics, metal tools, and precious metals were kept.
The Sacsayhuaman did operate as a fortress during the Spanish conquest of Peru from 1532 CE. The Spaniards, led by Francisco Pizarro, conquered Cuzco shortly after killing the Inca ruler Atahualpa in 1533 CE but then faced an organised and sustained siege from a large Inca army. Pizarro sent his brother Juan to attack the Sacsayhuaman using cavalry and then climb the walls with ladders. The offensive was successful, even if Juan died in the process, and the occupation of the fortress allowed the Spanish to resist the siege.

Later Use

Following the collapse of the empire after the European invasion, most of the stones of the Sacsayhuaman were reused elsewhere in the colonial buildings of Cuzco. The ruins were covered in earth by the Spanish to prevent their use by rebel Inca forces and the site was not rediscovered until its excavation in 1934 CE. Today the ruins of the fortress are the location for the annual Inca reenactment festival the Inti Raymi, held on the winter solstice.
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[ 8 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Tulum, on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico, was an important Mesoamerican centre which displayed both Maya and Toltec influence. Tulum was a major trading and religious centre between the 11th and 16th centuries CE and, dramatically situated near the sea, it is one of the most evocative ancient sites in Mexico.
First settled in the 6th century CE, Tulum prospered, especially so under Mayapán influence from c. 1200 CE, and was an important centre trading in such typical barter goods of the period as cotton, foodstuffs, copper bells, axes, and cacao beans. Protected by the jungle of Quintana Roo, the site survived the general Maya collapse and was largely left untouched by the Spanish.
The ceremonial complex of Tulum, built on a 12 metre high limestone cliff, was surrounded on three sides by fortification walls, while the fourth side faces the Caribbean Sea. Indeed, the very name Tulum is a colonial one and means ‘wall’. The original local name may have been Zama meaning ‘dawn’ in reference to the site’s position facing east across the sea.
The largest structure is the Castillo which is in fact a temple pyramid displaying architectural influences from the Toltec civilization.
Residential buildings were built outside the sacred walled area which was reserved for the rulers of Tulum. The largest structure is the Castillo (Castle) which is in fact a temple pyramid displaying architectural influences from the Toltec civilization, such as over-door niches and serpent-columns. In addition, the stucco sculpture which decorates the building recalls those at Mayapán. The halls of the Castillo, and also Structure 25, are also notable for their well-preserved examples of beam-and-mortar roofs.
The Temple of the Frescoes is a squat square building which has undergone several modifications over the centuries. In the Classic period there seems only to have been a vaulted shrine, but this was later surrounded by a larger structure which had a four-column facade. Later still, the second storey was added. Stucco faces on the exterior suggest the building was dedicated to the god Itzamnaaj.
The earliest wall paintings, which give the building its name, date to the 11th or 12th centuries CE, but some are certainly later, perhaps post conquest. They depict figures performing various actions such as a woman grinding corn on a stone (metate), the goddess Chak Chel carrying two images of the god Chahk, and the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca with his black eye band and turquoise mask. The latter strongly suggests contact with central Mexican centres. Most figures are strikingly painted in blue on a black background, and panels are divided by twisted snake-like borders, perhaps representing umbilical cords and therefore a genealogical connection between the figures. Frescoes appear on both the outer and inner walls of several other buildings at Tulum but always using only three colours – red, blue, and yellow – with outlines painted in black and accompanied by Maya glyphs.
Other structures at Tulum include the dramatically sited Temple of the Winds which was built in honour of the wind god and helped guide sailors through the reef, a palace building in a poor state of preservation, various platforms, and the Temple of the Descending God. This latter building and the presence on several other structures of stucco figures of winged gods descending suggest the site was specifically in honour of this strange deity also known as the ‘diving god’ and perhaps connected to the planet Venus and the associated Maya god Xux Ek.
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Source: Ancient History EncyclopediaContent is available under License Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0


Origins » Machu Picchu › El Dorado › Cahuachi › Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli › Ehecatl » History

Characters and historical events ››

  1. Machu Picchu
  2. El Dorado
  3. Cahuachi
  4. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli
  5. Ehecatl
  6. K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo
  7. Yaxchilan
  8. Mitla
  9. Cuicuilco
  10. Viracocha

Ancient Origins ›› Its historical characters and places

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[ 1 ]

Machu Picchu

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Machu Picchu is an Inca settlement located in the High Andes of Peru in the Urubamba Valley, north of Cuzco. The site, perched high above the Urubamba river, has been variously described as a fortress, imperial retreat and ceremonial precinct. It was founded by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui in c. 1450 CE, had capacity for around 1,000 residents at its peak, and ranked amongst the most sacred of all sites for the Inca. Following the collapse of the Inca empire, Machu Picchu was abandoned and forgotten, only to be rediscovered in 1911 CE by the explorer Hiram Bingham.


Machu Picchu (meaning 'old hill') was an imperial estate founded by and belonging to Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the Inca ruler, in the mid-15th century CE. The ownership of the site was later passed to Pachacuti's successors. On its rediscovery by the explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911 CE (although local residents in the valley had always known of the site's existence) it was claimed as the last capital of the Incas. However, this proved to be untrue when the actual final capital was discovered at Vilcabamba, further downstream in the Urubamba Valley.
Another hypothesis concerning the site posed by early historians was that Machu Picchu was a fortress and the strong walls, large towers, and dry moats were cited in support of this theory. The need for fortification perhaps sprang from a series of severe droughts which made the competition for resources fierce. This would also explain why the site was not occupied for very long as when the water situation improved the necessity for such citadel sites declined. Once again though, further study has revealed that most of the architecture was designed for religious purposes and the fortifications may well have been put in place to ensure only a select few could enter this sacred site. In further support of this interpretation, a road was discovered which linked the site to several residential settlements dotted along the valley. The most likely purpose of Machu Picchu, then, was as a sacred site, probably to the sun god Inti and with the additional purpose of reminding the recently conquered local population of the power and might of Pachacuti and the Inca empire centred at its capital Cuzco. The site was abandoned by the Inca shortly before Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The invaders never reached Machu Picchu, though, and the site would remain unknown to the wider world for 400 years.

Materials & Layout

Machu Picchu is a fine example of the Inca practice of shaping architecture around the natural terrain. Ridges were made into plateaus for building upon and slopes were terraced using stone bulwarks. Further, constructions were made to aesthetically blend with their surroundings. For example, the profile of the Sacred Rock actually mimics one of the mountain peaks behind it. Finally, very often windows and doorways were deliberately positioned to capture the best views of the surrounding mountains.
Rock was a material the Incas had special reverence for. Stone was even thought of as a living substance.
Rock was a material the Incas had special reverence for. Stone was even thought of as a living substance and in the Inca language (Quechua) the word for it translates as 'to begin'. Stone was shaped with great skill and natural rock outcrops were moulded to suit various purposes. For example, below the Torreón (Observatory), a room was carved out of a natural cleft in the rock and used as a temple to the sun god Inti. The Intihuatana Stone ('Hitching Post of the Sun'), also known as the intiwatana, sitting at the highest point of the sacred complex, was carved with great care into a device for astronomical observations and made a tangible link between the earth and sky. The carved stone pillar on top of the polygonal stone base was used like a sundial to record the movements of the sun and, during solstices, priests symbolically tied the sun to the earth using a cord.
The site of Machu Picchu is composed of two distinct areas: a central complex of closely packed buildings arranged around a central square and a series of western terraces. The structures on the east and southern sides were likely residential and follow a pattern of single-roomed dwellings with an enclosed patio. However, the exact function of most of the buildings at the site is not known for certain. Many of the buildings display the great rock carving and masonry skills of the Inca. The buildings use locally quarried granite, one of the hardest stones, which was cut with great precision and then finished when in position to produce walls of blocks so well fitted together that mortar was not necessary. The irregular lines of blocks also create a pleasing aesthetic effect and make the structures highly resistant to earthquakes.


Amongst the most impressive structures at the site both for its size and unusual curved masonry is the D-shaped tower known as the Torréon, mentioned above. The single window of the tower was aligned with the Pleiades stars as they appeared in the 15th century CE and the building's astronomical purpose is further evidenced by the presence of a stone protruding from the floor which may have been used to plot the sun on the June solstice. The Temple of the Three Windows is another impressive example of fine stone work and was also used as an astronomical observation post. The many administrative kallanka buildings also employed fine stone blocks made to fit perfectly together. These buildings also had stone pegs protruding from their gables to which a thatched roof would have been attached. Another type of building is the prison-like structures which may have been used to house captured nobles until a ransom was paid. The complex also has a cavern structure and a sacrificial stone block sculpted into the form of a condor.
Water was supplied to the site via 14 natural springs whose waters were collected and re-located via 16 cut-stone channels. Another curious feature is the stone steps which lead from Machu Picchu up to the small retreat Huayna Picchu (meaning 'young hill'), perched on a rock outcrop. Some graves have been excavated at the site but these typically belong to individuals of lower rank such as administrative staff resulting in a paucity of high value grave goods, and there are a peculiarly large proportion of female remains. Pottery finds have offered some clues to daily life at the site and derive from four separate locations, amongst which is the Chuma blackware.
Excavations and reconstruction are ongoing at Machu Picchu, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and despite its remote location it continues to draw tourists from around the world having safely secured its status as one of the most recognisable and photographed ancient sites in the world.
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[ 2 ]

El Dorado

Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

El Dorado ('Gilded Man' or 'Golden One') referred to the legendary kings of the Muisca (or Chibcha) people who populated the northern Andes of modern-day Colombia from 600 CE to 1600 CE and the name is especially associated with their coronation ritual held at Lake Guatavita, just north of modern-day Bogotá. Over time, El Dorado extended its meaning to refer to a lost golden city and even an entire region. When the Spanish Conquistadors heard these incredible tales of a city paved in gold they tried every means possible to find it. Ultimately though, the Spanish, and the explorers and treasure hunters who followed them, never did find the fabulous treasures of El Dorado.

The Significance of Gold

In the cultures of ancient Colombia gold had long been a popular material for metalworkers. The metal actually had no particular value as currency other than as a raw material for exchange and, indeed, it seems that, unlike in other Americas cultures, gold was not limited to the nobility but also owned by lower stratas of society. Rather than its intrinsic value, then, gold was esteemed because of its lustre, incorruptibility, spiritual associations (especially concerning the sun), and workability in the hands of craftsmen. Skilled Muisca artisans produced stunning works of art using the full range of the goldsmith's repertoire, especially the lost-wax technique.
Gold and gold alloy artworks were offered in vast quantities to the gods and buried at sacred locations so that the balance of the cosmos was maintained and natural disasters averted. Very often the offerings were figurines known as tunjos which represented in fine detail people carrying objects such as shields, weapons and musical instruments. The most famous example of a tunjo is a golden raft with cast figures wearing jewellery standing upon it, the significance of which is discussed below. The raft was found in a clay vessel inside a cave and it now resides in the Museo del Oro in Bogotá.
The Muisca esteemed gold because of its lustre, incorruptibility and association with the sun.
So driven were they by their thirst for riches, the official Spanish government objective of exploration in northern South America was, in fact, to find gold, melt it down and ship as large a quantity as possible back to Europe. The association between ancient Colombia and the precious metal is further reflected in the Spanish King's choice of name for his new territory: Castillo del Oro. Of all the stories of gold and emeralds scattered across ancient Colombia there was one particular tale which especially aroused the interest of the Spanish invaders. This was an account, reported by eye-witnesses, which involved the lavish ceremonies performed during the coronation of a Muisca king.

The Gilded Man

The legend of El Dorado appears in most Spanish accounts of the region's conquest such as Fernández de Oviedo's Historia general y natural de las Indias (1535-48 CE) but was later documented in greatest detail by Juan Rodriguez Freyle in 1636 CE, who claimed to have been told the details by the nephew of the last ruler of Guatavita. One of the oldest representations of the legend in art comes from an engraving of 1599 CE by Theodor de Bry which shows two attendants applying gold to the body of a third individual.
According to the legend, then, amongst the Muisca, when it was necessary to crown a new monarch, the man who would be king prepared for his great day with a period of abstinence. Secluded in a cave, he was forbidden chilli peppers, salt and women. When the coronation day finally arrived the future king travelled to Lake Guatavita, a remote lake formed in an extinct volcanic crater, in order to give offerings to the gods so that they might bless his reign. This he did by going to the centre of the lake on a raft. The raft, made from reeds, was laden with treasures of gold and emeralds and on it were placed four large incense burners. The incense was moque and the braziers, joined by those set around the shores of the lake, gave off clouds of thick smoke which must only have added to the mystique of the ceremony.
The most fantastic treasure of all, though, was the royal person himself. He had been stripped naked and entirely covered in a sticky layer of resin on which was blown fine gold dust. The result was a sparkling man of gold; literally a 'gilded man'. Also travelling on the raft were four attendants, less spectacularly attired but still weighed down with heavy gold jewellery on any part of the body it could be hung from. The great moment came when, accompanied by mass trumpets and singing from the shores, the raft arrived in the very centre of the lake. At that moment silence fell on the crowd and the attendants threw the fabulous treasure of gold and jewels into the lake and the people on the shores also threw their golden offerings into the sacred waters. The climax of the ceremony came when the golden king himself leapt into the lake and when he emerged, cleaned of gold, he had become the king of the Muisca.

Later History

From Sir Walter Raleigh to 20th century explorers, extravagant and costly expeditions to find El Dorado and its riches have been mounted over the centuries but none have had success. In the 1580s CE Antonio de Sepúlveda had perhaps the most ambitious scheme to find the gold when he cut a slice out of Lake Guatavita's crater edge in order to drain the lake and find the treasure which must have accumulated on the lake bed from centuries of coronation ceremonies. Some gold artefacts were found around the edges of the lake but before the lake could drain completely a landslide blocked the cut and so the water level of the lake began to rise again. Faced with a mutiny from the local population, the Spanish were forced to give up their search.
Another ambitous expedition in 1909 CE involved the English company Contractor Limited. They too sought to drain the lake and they were more successful than the Spanish. The method this time was to dig a tunnel under the lake and drain it that way. However, when the lake was emptied another problem arose and this was that the soft mud bottom of the crater was too deep to support any weight. Even worse, the mud quickly baked in the sun and became cement hard. Returning to Bogotá for drilling equipment the treasure hunters must have been crestfallen when they got back to the lake because in their absence the mud had also solidified in the drainage tunnel, blocking it so that the lake had filled back up again. With no more money to continue the project the English, like the Spanish and countless others before them, were forced to abandon the project with only a handful of small artefacts taken from the edge of the lake.
The cummulative results, then, of these expeditions have been hugely dissapointing. Some gold has been found, as too have stone beads and pottery, but nothing, so far, to match the fabulous riches described in the legend of El Dorado. Perhaps, though, this is fitting as, after all, the original owners of the gold and jewels had intended their offerings for the sun and for them to remain for all time where they were given, at the bottom of a lake in the remote mountains of Colombia.
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[ 3 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Cahuachi, located on the southern coast of Peru, was the most important sacred site of the Nazca civilization. The Nazca flourished between 200 BCE and 600 CE, and Cahuachi covers a similar time period. The site, which was used for harvest festivals, ancestor worship, and burials, is dominated by a series of huge ceremonial mounds and plazas. These have been a rich source of Nazca artefacts ranging from mummies to textiles, all well-preserved in the arid climate.

Location & Function

In a particular spot of the southern Nazca Valley the Nazca River flows underground for a short stretch, and it was at this place, on the south bank, that Cahuachi was built. The water table here would have survived most droughts and so was considered a sacred place or huaca by the Nazca. The water was managed using underground aqueducts and cisterns with terraced entrances to irrigate the surrounding area and ensure a constant supply. The sacred nature of the site is further indicated by the high number of lines or geoglyphs on the surrounding desert floor. In another attempt to incorporate nature into their urban landscape the Nazca built huge mounds on top of a close grouping of around 40 hills. The site was linked to the other important Nazca centre Ventilla by a sacred road which crosses the San José desert.
Tombs at Cahuachi contain mummies both of venerated individuals wrapped in fine textiles & sacrificial victims.
There is no archaeological evidence of a residential area at Cahuachi (refuse, plain pottery etc.), and pilgrims to the site probably stayed in tents for their brief visit. There are, though, some buildings which were probably used for storage or as workshops connected to the religious activities of the site. The presence of plazas suggests regular gatherings of a large number of people with the largest space measuring 47 x 75 metres. These plazas, in places, have holes and the remains of wooden posts suggesting large canopies were erected over them. The entire sacred area is enclosed by a 40 cm high wall. Cahuachi, then, was a site of pilgrimage, worship, and burial, and it eventually spread to cover over 150 ha.

Burial Mounds

The 40 burial mounds at Cahuachi were built using earth and adobe bricks. The earliest structures date to before 100 BCE while the latest were constructed c. 550 CE, consistent with the timeframe of the Nazca in general. Mounds were used as a place of burial for family or kin groups, with each mound containing the tombs of specific groups. This is a typical feature of the Nazca: shared cultural practices but carried out on an individual basis without any discernible influence from an integrated political power. In many Andean cultures ancestor worship was prevalent, and so we can imagine that pilgrims visited Cahuachi with that aim, regularly reopening tombs to add new mummies.
The largest mound, known as the ‘Great Temple’ consists of six or seven terraces made from earth set on top of a natural hill and contained within adobe brick supporting walls. It reaches a height of 30 metres. Besides tombs in its interior, there are also small chambers in which were placed large numbers of clay panpipes, indicating music was an important part of Nazca ceremonies. The best-preserved tomb is at another mound and is referred to as the Room of Posts. It contains a central altar surrounded by columns supporting a roof. The walls are decorated with inscribed images of panpipes and faces with shining rays.

Archaeological Finds

Although many of the tombs of Cahuachi have been looted, occasional finds of intact burials have revealed mummies wrapped in fine textiles. Some of these mummies - of men, women and children - show signs of being sacrificed. The individuals were Nazca people, not captured enemies for example, and they display such typical features of Andean burials as a perforated skull, removal of the tongue and placing it in a pouch, excrement in the mouth, and eyes and lips sealed using cactus spines. Some tombs contain evidence of animal sacrifice.
Other finds at the site include pottery, typically of finer quality than those for daily use, and painted with animals and hybrid human-animal figures, especially felines, monkeys, birds, lizards, and spiders with human faces. Textiles were often buried inside large ceramic jars. The images woven into or sometimes painted on the cloth show similar themes to the pottery decoration, along with scenes of bountiful harvests and agriculture. Many textiles have borders depicting staring human skulls. Two extraordinary finds are a single length of cloth measuring 7 metres by 60 metres and a store of 50 women’s wrap dresses. These latter have images of hummingbirds very similar to those depicted in the famous Nazca lines geoglyphs across the nearby desert floor. Finally, in one specific area of Cahuachi, perhaps a workshop for weaving, excavations have found various instruments and tools used to make textiles such as spindles, dyes, cotton threads, and looms.


Cahuachi was abandoned from the mid-6th century CE, perhaps due to climate change as the local environment became more arid. Earthquakes, too, may have been a contributing factor to the centre’s decline. It is interesting to note that the number of geoglyphs created at this time increased, perhaps indicating the urgent need for divine help to meet the crisis. The mounds were systematically covered with earth and so the abandonment of Cahuachi was both planned and deliberate. The site did continue to receive votive offerings and burials for centuries after, though, indicating that local peoples continued to ascribe a sacred nature to Cahuachi long after the Nazca culture had disappeared.
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[ 4 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, 'Dawn Lord,' was a Mesoamerican god who represented a menacing aspect of Venus, the morning star, and was one of the four gods which held up the sky. The people of the ancient Americas believed his rays could damage people, crops, and water sources. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli played a key role in the Aztec creation myth and was 12th of the 13 Lords of the Day in the Aztec calendar.

Venus, the Morning Star

Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (also spelt Tlauixcalpantecuhtli) represented the dual aspect of the planet Venus, known to the Mesoamericans as a bright star. Venus was especially important in the religious and agricultural calendar with its average 584-day cycle being carefully observed and precisely calculated. Even the architectural layout of cities, notably at Teotihuacan, Toltec Tollan, Maya Uxmal, and Chichen Itza, were built and aligned in accordance with the appearance of Venus at particular moments during its cycle. Mesoamerican astronomers recorded that the planet appears for 236 days as the morning star in the east, then sinks below the horizon for 90 days, and reappears for 250 days as the evening star in the west before disappearing again for 8 days before restarting the cycle over again. In actual fact, Venus can be seen with the naked eye for approximately 263 days in each spell, and it is not known quite why or how the ancient astronomers had arrived at their particular calculations.
Each aspect of Venus - morning and evening - was manifested in the form of two ancient Mesoamerican gods: the feathered-serpent Quetzalcoatl and his canine companion Xolotl. Quetzalcoatl represented Venus as the morning star, and Xolotl represented it as the evening star. In typical Mesoamerican duality, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was imagined as both and as the twin brother of Xolotl, and thus, above all, he represented the morning star aspect of Venus, which was considered a menacing one. Mesoamerican peoples considered the morning star particularly dangerous when it first appeared above the horizon each year (its heliacal rising). The rays, imagined in the form of atl-atl darts, were thought harmful to certain classes of people and to have a negative effect on maize and water.
For ancient Mesoamericans, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was one of the four Skybearers, the gods who held up the sky.

The Skybearer

For ancient Mesoamericans, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was one of the four Skybearers, the gods who held up the sky. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was, thus, associated with the direction East and the year date Acatl. The Skybearers may have helped the cosmos by holding it up, but they had another, less charitable aspect during eclipses and the Aztec New Fire ceremony to renew the sun each 52 years. Then they joined the Tzitzimime, star demons which could descend, eat up humanity and destroy the world if the sun did not return.

The Aztec Creation Myth

In the Aztec creation myth Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, both as himself and as an avatar of Quetzalcoatl, plays a crucial role. When the twin brothers Nanahuatzin and Tecuciztecatl sacrificed themselves at Teotihuacan to create the sun and moon of the 5th and last epoch of the Aztec cosmos they needed something or someone to kick-start themselves into motion and set off on their respective orbits. Nanahuatizin called for a blood sacrifice, but Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was having none of it and, instead, threw an atl-atl dart at the sun. The throw missed, and Nanahuatzin returned the favour with more accuracy, striking Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli smack on the forehead, instantly turning him into stone. In this state, he is known as Itztlacoliuhqui, the god of cold, snow, and ice. The rest of the gods saw that only a sacrifice would set the sun and moon in motion, and so Quetzalcoatl removed their hearts for that purpose. The offering worked, and the 5th and final cosmos began.

Art & Architecture

Venus was often symbolised by a skull, and so too, representations of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli depict him as a feathered serpent with a skull face. As the god was also closely associated with Mixcoatl, he sometimes wears the markings of that star god – white spots around a black field. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli usually has five white spots representing stars, one on each cheek, and one on his forehead, nose and chin. One of the earliest examples of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli in art is a rock painting at Ixtapantongo from around the 10th century CE.
Besides influencing the general town planning of many Mesoamerican cities, several specific buildings were aligned to the rise of Venus. Notable amongst these is the 24-room House of the Governors at Uxmal, constructed in the 10th century CE. Perhaps the most famous of all is the Caracol astronomical observatory at Chichen Itza which was constructed c. 800 CE.
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[ 5 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Ehecatl was a Mesoamerican god of air and winds, especially those which brought rains. Regarded as a manifestation of the great feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, he was sometimes known as Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl, in which guise he helped create humanity in the Aztec creation myth and gave the gift of the maguey plant. He was also associated with the cardinal directions, colours, and several calendar dates.

Name & Associations

Ehecatl means 'wind' in nahuatl. Possibly of Huastec origin, who built many circular or curved temples in his honour, he was adopted by the Aztecs, who thought he was born from flint on the day 9 Wind, which was his other name. They also named the 2nd day in the Aztec calendar after him. Ehecatl acquired various associations besides the wind in general, amongst them the calendar dates 6 Ehecatl the sun, 7 Ehecatl the day humanity was created, and 9 Ehecatl the winds from the four quarters. He is the patron of the second trecena (a time period of the calendar) 1 Jaguar.
As the god was regarded as a manifestation or wind aspect of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, one of the most important deities in the Mesoamerican pantheon, he is sometimes referred to as Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl. Thus, two more dates carry his name: 1 Ehecatl Iztac Tezcatlipoca ('White' Tezcatlipoca being the equivalent of Quetzalcoatl) and 4 Ehecatl Xolotl (Xolotl being Quetzalcoatl's twin). Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl was also one of the four sky-bearing deities, specifically in the direction west. Ehecatl was regarded as the patron of merchants and was associated with spider monkeys, perhaps because of their great speed.
In Postclassic sculpture and codices, Ehecatl wears a conical hat and duckbill mask.

Creation Mythology

Ehecatl features in the Aztec Creation mythology, first, as the 2nd sun of the cosmos Nahui Ehecatl, and then during the creation of the present world with the 5th and final sun. According to one version of the myth, Quetzalcoatl took on the guise of Ehecatl and descended into the Underworld where he stole the bones of the inhabitants of the former worlds in order to create humans in this one. Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the Underworld, was none too happy about people popping into his realm whenever they felt like it and so would only let Ehecatl go free if he could somehow get music from a conch shell. Ehecatl cleverly had worms bore holes in it and bees buzz inside it to produce a tremendous sound, thus ensuring his liberty.
Ehecatl also helped in the movement of the 5th sun and moon. These had been created when the twin brothers Nanahuatzin and Tecuciztecatl had thrown themselves into a sacrificial fire. The problem, though, was that neither celestial body could move and so Ehecatl, in one version at least, was called upon to blow them into their respective orbits.

Ehecatl & Mayahuel

Ehecatl is sometimes credited with giving the important maguey plant (Agave americana) to humanity. This type of cactus was useful for its spines and its juice was fermented into the alcoholic drink pulque. The story begins with Ehecatl persuading Mayahuel, a beautiful young goddess, to descend from the heavens and become his lover. Down on earth, the two embraced as a pair of intertwining trees but their raptures were soon rudely interrupted by Tzitzmitl, the 'grandmother' goddess, who was Mayahuel's guardian. The elderly goddess split the tree in two and fed the pieces to her demon followers, the Tzitzimime. Ehecatl, being a more powerful god, was unharmed in this episode, and so he gathered what pieces of Mayahuel he could find and planted them in a field. These remains then grew into the maguey plant. Two other gifts to humanity besides pulque which are often credited to Ehecatl are music and maize.


The Mesoamerican temples dedicated to Ehecatl and other wind gods are distinctive in that they are circular as opposed to the usual square pyramid, or they incorporate a curved end. The roof of such buildings was typically conical too. This design may reflect the desire to make them aerodynamically welcoming for the winds of the god they honour. The doorways are usually formed as the jaws of a giant snake. This may well be in imitation of the caves Mesoamerican peoples considered entrances to the Underworld where the winds were thought to originate from.

Representation in Art

There are no known representations of the god prior to the 12th century CE, although two stelae from Maya Seibal, dating to the 9th century CE, depict a god with a beak-like face. Ehecatl is most frequently portrayed in Postclassic sculpture and codices, wearing a conical hat and duckbill mask or buccal (although sometimes the corners of the bill have fangs, a common feature of rain gods) which covers the lower part of his face. If coloured, then his body is painted black and his facemask red. He sometimes wears shells, especially the conch shell (ehecacozcatl or 'wind jewel'), worn as a pectoral, with which he whistled his way out of the Underworld. Shells may be another clue as to the god's coastal Huastec origins. One of the most famous statues of the god is from a temple dedicated to Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl at Calixtlahuaca in the Toluca Valley. The god stands 1.76 m tall, rigid and ready to blow his divine winds through his beak mask. It is now on display in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
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[ 6 ]

K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo

Origin and history
by Joshua J. Mark

Yax K'uk' Mo' (pronounced `Yash Kook Mo') was the founder and first king of the dynasty that ruled the Maya city of Copan (in modern day Honduras) for 350 years. Known formally by his royal name, K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo', he reigned for eleven years from 426-437 CE. His name is translated as `Radiant First Quetzal Macaw' or `Sun-Eyed Green Macaw' or even `Sun In The Mouth of the Quetzal Bird'. The many interpretations of his name are reflected in the various theories regarding his origins. He was not native to Copan, and scholars speculate that he may have come from Teotihuacán, from Tikal or Caracol, or from some other region entirely. All that is clearly known is that a man named K'uk Mo' Ajaw emerged from some locale distant from Copan in 416 CE, took part in some kind of military action, and became king in 426 CE.
That he ruled well, and was greatly respected, is attested to by the tributes of later rulers and the archaeological record which makes clear that Yax K'uk Mo' essentially built what is today recognized as the Maya city of Copan. Information regarding his life comes from engravings on stele, monuments, and temples found at Copan and nearby Quirigua including (though by no means limited to): the famous Altar Q (commissioned by the last king of Copan, Yax Pasah, depicting the 16 kings of Copan beginning with Yax K'uk Mo'); Copan Stele E (which tells of his wounding, or `downing', in the military engagement of 416 CE); Copan Temple II (which was dedicated as `The House of Yax K'uk Mo'); The Xulpi Stone (a funerary marker dedicated to Yax K'uk Mo' in 437 CE); and the Motmot Marker (a Maya lowland monument) which is the first depiction of the king.

Place of Origin & His Famous `Goggles'

K'uk Mo's name connects him with the city of Tikal, especially owing to the Hombre de Tikal statue which, though headless, depicts a warlord and is carved with the name `K'uk Mo'. Scholars disagree, however, on whether this is a depiction of the great king of Copan or another warrior. The Mayanist David Stuart has pointed out that the designation `K'uk Mo' was fairly common in the region. Even so, Yax K'uk Mo' was also known as `Lord of the West' (the only ruler of Copan to hold that title), which was an honorary designation carried by kings of Tikal and, most notably, by the early ruler of Tikal Siyaj K'ak' who initiated the rise of that city in 378 CE and whose exploits Yax K'uk Mo's rise to power seem to have emulated. Some depictions of Yax K'uk Mo', however, present him in Teotihuacán attire and adornments; his `goggles' are associated with the rain god Tlaloc, venerated in the city of Teotihuacán, which also link him to that region.
The `goggles', which some writers have speculated are proof of ancient alien activity in the rise of the Mayan civilization (as they resemble pilot's goggles), are not eye protection but, rather, part of the king's ceremonial headdress.
The `goggles', which some writers have speculated are proof of ancient alien activity in the rise of the Maya civilization (as they resemble pilot's goggles), are not eye protection but, rather, part of the king's ceremonial headdress. The title `sun-eyed' (Kinich) in his name was also used by rulers in Teotihuacán who wore similar headdresses with what appear to be goggles over the eyes. This adornment over the eyes possibly represented the ruler's separation from the common people and association with the penetrating gaze of the gods (as represented by the sun). David Stuart, however, argues against Teotihuacán as point of origin claiming that Yax K'uk Mo's name represents birds native to southern Mesoamerica but not to the region around Teotihuacán. Stuart writes,
All in all, one can simply conclude from the earliest dynastic art and inscriptions that K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo' was a Maya king, but with important foreign contacts and associations" (239). Stuart also points out that the Motmot Marker is a purely Mayan creation, is the earliest depiction of Yax K'uk Mo', and presents him in Maya dress. Stuart then concludes that "he was a Maya lord thoroughly imbued with Teotihuacán traditions. (193)
His contacts with Teotihuacán, his military experience, and probable early political skill, all enabled him to expand the power and prestige of the city of Copan to the point that it can be said he re-founded the city.

Copan, Quirigua, & Tikal

The city of Tikal was at the height of its power at the time of Yax K'uk Mo's appearance in Copan. The historian Maria Longhena writes, "A series of factors, including the strategic position of Tikal in the Maya cultural area and its historical development recorded on its monuments, have recently led epigraphers Nikolai Grube and Simon Martin to formulate a theory that Tikal and Calakmul together held a dominant position over other Maya city states of the Classic Period" (243). It is because of Tikal's prominence that scholars have surmised that Yax K'uk Mo' probably was supported by that city's regime in his ascent at Copan or that his rise to power was the result of a coup initiated by Tikal which was first attempted in 416 CE and accomplished in 426 CE. The neighboring city of Quirigua was founded by the kings of Copan prior to Yax K'uk Mo's arrival and was subordinate to the mother city throughout most of its history.
An inscription on the top of Altar Q at Copan tells how the founder, then known as K'uk Mo' Ajaw, traveled from far off and, on 5 September 426 CE,
is said to have `taken K'awiil', in the sense of grasping a scepter in the form of the snake-footed deity, thereby marking a transition to regal status. Three days later, now carrying his full royal name, K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo' he comes to the wi te' naah, which may translate as "Root House", a structure linked to the foundation of dynasties, with strong central Mexican associations. On this occasion, at least one other lord from the region, the king of Quirigua, is known to have acceded. The location [of the Root House] is not stipulated but its distance from Copan is implicit in the 152 days that intervene before the founder's `arrival here' at Ox Witik, the principal place name of Copan (Martin and Grube, 192).
This inscription is interpreted to mean that Yax K'uk Mo' received his commission (or power) from Tikal (associated with the 152 day journey), went first to Quirigua, to install a ruler loyal to his cause in that city, and then came (or marched at the head of an army) to Copan. Upon his arrival, he would have found a small but impressively constructed city in a fertile valley close by the Copan River; in the eleven years of his rule the city would expand through massive building projects which raised huge temples and pyramids in the style of both Tikal and Teotihuacán.

The Xulpi Stone & The Hunal Tomb

Yax K'uk Mo' presided over the festival at the end of the 9th Baktun with his son, K'inich Popol Hol, on 11 December 435 CE. A Baktun is a time period of 394 years, or 20 Katun cycles of 144,000 days, the beginning and ending of which was marked by important celebrations by the ancient Maya (and by their descendents in the present day). It is unclear whether his son had assumed rule at this time and Yax K'uk Mo' had retired or if they were joint rulers, but it seems that father and son performed rituals of equal importance at this festival. The Xulpi Stone, a funerary marker dated 30 November 437 CE, was commissioned by K'inich Popol Hol in honor of his father, and so Yax K'uk Mo's death is dated to that year but it is possible he died earlier than the date on the stone. A significant aspect of this marker is that Yax K'uk Mo' is personally linked with Siyaj K'ak', the Warlord of Tikal, who also arrived `mysteriously' in that city in 378 CE and initiated the building projects and expansion which made Tikal so prosperous.
In 2000 CE, archaeologists working at Copan uncovered the tomb of an early king now recognized by most scholars to be K'inich Yax K'uk Mo'. The central position of the tomb in the city and the personal items interred with the body all strongly suggest identification with the first great king of Copan. More significantly, however, as the historian Geoffrey E. Braswell notes, these items correlate precisely with Yax K'uk Mo's depiction on Altar Q: "the individual in the Hunal tomb suffered a severe parry fracture of the right forearm consistent with the depiction of K'inich Yax K'uk Mo's warrior portrait on Altar Q, in which he is shown holding a small shield protecting his right forearm." Strontium isotope analysis of the skeleton's teeth revealed that he was not native to Copan but spent his youth south of the city in the Peten Basin and only lived in the area of the city in the last years of his life. Further support for the Hunal tomb's skeleton being that of Yax K'uk Mo' is the neighboring tomb of the so-called "Lady In Red". It is thought that Yax K'uk Mo' legitimized his rule of Copan by marrying a noble woman of the city. Careful analysis of the "Lady In Red" skeleton shows that she was born in the Copan region, her rich attire designates her as royalty, and her proximity to the king's tomb links her as a close relative.
The Xulpi Stone and the Hunal Tomb, when considered with Altar Q and the rest of the inscriptions at Copan (such as the badly eroded Hieroglyphic Staircase), seem to substantiate Yax K'uk Mo' as a warlord from Tikal who emulated the life of the early hero Siyaj K'ak' and created a metropolis at Copan that he hoped would mirror the grandeur of the mighty Tikal. He succeeded in his goal and laid the foundation of a dynasty which, for 350 years, concentrated on the development of art, culture, trade, expansion through military campaigns, and magnificent building projects. The 16 kings of Copan are honored as equals in their representation on Altar Q because of the uniformity of their efforts and accomplishments in improving the lives of the citizens of the city. All seem to have followed Yax K'uk Mo's policies and vision for the city and each cared for and improved upon the efforts of their predecessor. In 1988 CE, excavations at Copan uncovered a crypt next to Altar Q which contained the remains of 15 jaguars which had been sacrificed in 775 CE by the last king of the dynasty, Yax Pasah, in honor of his 15 predecessors. This, along with the record each king added to, illustrates the cooperative and progressive vision of the rulers of Copan in that, instead of trying to personally surpass their predecessor, they honored the former ruler by maintaining the same vision and policies.

The Decline of Copan

In 738 CE the thirteenth king of Copan, Uaxaclajuun Ubaah K'awill, was captured by the king of Quirigua and beheaded. Longhena writes, "This marks a dramatic moment for the political and military prestige of the city of Copan which, at that time, was enjoying a particularly splendid period and must have been one of the most important and populous Maya cities" (252). Quirigua had clearly thrown off its vassal status by this time and was actively competing with Copan for primacy. Copan seems to have become increasingly populated during this time and artworks from the period depict more military conflict than works from earlier periods. Large building projects continued during this time but, when the sixteenth ruler of Copan, Yax Pasah, took the throne in 763 CE, he initiated a different kind of art. His reign is marked by more modest buildings and an emphasis on the history of the city.
Under Yax Pasah the Hieroglyphic Stairway, which was first built in 710 CE to chronicle the history of the city, was refurbished and Altar Q was created. The attention paid to both of these monuments, and the further hieroglyphic art commissioned under the reign of Yax Pasah, reflect a concern with recording the glory of the past in an uncertain present. Yax Pasah's rule ends the dynasty founded by Yax K'uk Mo', and the last king of Copan, a ruler by the name of Ukit Took, left behind him an unfinished altar and no improvements or renovations to the city's structures. The population of Copan declined as resources became more and more scarce. Overuse of the land, and a population grown too large for the water supply, led to a steady exodus from the city and a sharp decline in its prestige. The Katun Celebration of 810 CE was held at Quirigua, not Copan and, by 830 CE, the city was abandoned.
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[ 7 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Yaxchilan, located on the banks of the Usumacinta River in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, was an important Late Classic Maya centre. The Maya dated the founding of their city to 320 CE, but Yaxchilan flourished between c. 580 and c. 800 CE, benefitting from commerce via the Usumacinta River and trading in copal resin and dyes processed from Brazil wood. Remains of stone pilings suggest the site once had a bridge or toll gate. Impressive in both architecture and sculpture, the site displays evidence of warfare before its collapse in the 9th century CE.
Unfortunately, the buildings of Yaxchilan have suffered from damage and erosion by floods over the centuries. However, further from the river are several small hills on the west and east sides upon which platforms and terraces were constructed. Much of the surviving architecture is in the Petén style, as seen at sites such as Tikal, and contact between the two sites is established through royal inter-marriages. In addition, narrow multiple entrances and ornate roof combs remind of Palenque.
Yaxchilan is noteworthy for its sculpture both on free standing stelae and on buildings, especially lintels.
One of the most impressive Petén-style buildings is the symmetrical Structure 33, built c. 750 CE, which is approached by a double platform with staircases and whose comb is supported by interior buttressing. The structure was built in honour of the mid-8th century CE Yaxchilan ruler Bird-Jaguar (ruled 752-768 CE) whose likeness appeared in stucco decorations in the centre of the building’s roof comb. In front of the building is a carved stalactite which represents a sacred cave. Bird-Jaguar went on to expand Yaxchilan and constructed no fewer than eleven more buildings and 33 monuments.
Yaxchilan is also noteworthy for its sculpture, both on free standing stelae and on buildings, especially lintels where the scenes can only be seen from directly below. Early figures are depicted from the front and are relatively unremarkable, but from the mid-8th century CE figures are rendered in profile and designs become more dynamic, often framed by Maya glyphs. Stela 11 shows two standing figures in costume on the front, probably signifying the accession of the ruler Bird-Jaguar alongside his father and, in a quite different style, the reverse side again shows Bird-Jaguar, this time represented as the god Chahk, attacking three kneeling victims with his sceptre.
Scenes on limestone lintels, carved in high relief, typically portray rituals such as a worshipper drawing blood from his tongue in the presence of a priest and Bird-Jaguar standing over a kneeling captive. Another vivid scene, from Temple 23, shows a giant double-headed snake creature from the mouths of which emerge a warrior and the war and rain god Tlaloc, who both tower over a kneeling worshipper, identified as Lady Xok’, wife of the Yaxchilan ruler Shield-Jaguar (r. 681-742 CE), who sees the monster in a blood-letting induced vision. This scene, as indicated by the glyphs, occurred on 23rd October 681 CE, the accession of Itzamnaaj Bahlam II, ‘Shield Jaguar the Great’. Traces of red, greens, and yellows indicate that the panels were once brightly painted. These violent scenes are amongst the earliest to show such graphic episodes of religious life and conquest, although they would later become common in the art of the Toltec and Aztec civilizations.
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[ 8 ]


Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Mitla, located in the eastern portion of the Valley of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, was an important site of the Zapotec civilization. Gaining prominence from the early Post-Classic period (c. 700-900 CE), Mitla became the most important Zapotec city following the decline of the long-time capital Monte Albán. The city was contemporary with first the Toltec and then the Aztec civilizations and continued to be inhabited up to the Spanish conquest. The site is most famous today for its huge rectangular building, the Hall of the Columns, which is richly decorated in geometric relief carvings.
The Zapotec name for the city was actually Lyobaá which meant 'Land of Rest', as Mitla is the later name which derives from the Nuahtl word Mictlan, meaning the 'Place of the Dead'. Both names refer to the legend that Zapotec kings, priests, and great warriors were buried in a huge chamber under the city. Archaeology has, however, yet to discover evidence of such a chamber.
The Zapotec name for the city was actually Lyobaá which meant 'Land of Rest'.
Mitla is modest in size compared to other surviving Mesoamerican centres, but it does boast an impressive collection of buildings. These are grouped into five distinct zones built along a north-south axis, two dating from the Classic period and the other three from the Post-Classic. The earlier groups are sacred precincts which were re-used later in the city's history. The most important of the Post-Classic buildings is the group known as the Group of the Columns - eight buildings arranged to form two precincts. These structures were constructed using slabs of trachyte and are best described as long rectangular halls built on each side of a plaza which leave the four corners open. They stand eight metres high and the walls and corners lean slightly outwards as they rise, much like the buildings at Maya Uxmal. The halls, probably used as palaces and perhaps even as the residence of the most important priest in the Zapotec culture, had flat roofs supported by monumental wooden beams and cylindrical stone columns. Colonial accounts, especially by one Father Burgoa, describe features of the interiors of these buildings, such as the jaguar skin-covered throne of the High Priest, the cleanliness of the palaces, and the ceremonies of human sacrifice which were regularly carried out there.
The most important architectural feature of the Mitla halls, however, are the mass of high relief carvings, either carved into the stone or in other cases built up of individual stone pieces like a mosaic, which cover their exterior walls. The reliefs are set in over 150 panels displaying a wide variety of intricate geometrical designs originally set against a red painted stucco background which must have made the patterns even more striking. The most common forms are strep-and-fret, meander, and key motifs, sometimes incorporating spirals and diamonds. The designs were most likely inspired by textile patterns and may represent specific family lineages or geographical places. Large cruciform tombs have been excavated under several buildings at Mitla and they, too, are decorated with geometric designs.
The art of Mitla is best seen in metalwork and painted pottery, while from the 10th century CE painted manuscripts were produced. Murals were added to some of the buildings in the centuries before the Spanish conquest and show Aztec influence. Scenes showing gods, warriors, and hunters beneath either the rising sun or starry skies and sky bands were painted typically in red on a grey plaster surface. That Mitla was increasingly under threat from attack in the late Post-Classic period is attested by the presence of a fortress on a hill near the city and the fact that the Aztecs established a garrison at Mitla from c. 1450 CE. Post-conquest, a church was built atop the northern-most building group.
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Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Cuicuilco is an ancient settlement site in central Mexico, now located in southern Mexico City. Prominent in the late pre-Classic period, around 500 BCE, it is noted for its large circular temple mound, one of the earliest monumental structures in ancient Mesoamerica and influential on many later pyramid monuments built by the Maya and Aztecs amongst others. Buried in several metres of lava and abandoned Cuicuilco remains one of the most enigmatic early urban centres in the Americas.

A Large Urban Centre

Cuicuilco was inhabited just at the period when Mesoamerican villages were transforming into larger population centres which would in turn become the great cities of the region in later centuries. At its height the town may have had a population of up to 20,000 people, its prosperity based on the fertile land in the surrounding lagoon basin of the Mexico Valley. Several small platform structures, houses, and plazas have been excavated at the site, which is estimated to have covered 400 ha (1,000 acres), demonstrating that it was one of the first large settlements in Mesoamerica.

The Temple Pyramid

The site of Cuicuilco is dominated today by the massive circular temple pyramid or mound. The structure was constructed sometime in the 5th century BCE (confirmed by radio-carbon dating). The earth, sand, and rubble mound is 135 metres (443 feet) in diameter at its base and 23 metres (75 feet) high. The total volume of the temple is 60,000 cubic metres (2 million cubic feet). It has four levels with inwardly sloping sides which decrease in size. The four levels were each faced with volcanic stone rocks and slabs fixed in place using a clay mortar. The construction of the temple mound was in two separate stages. First, two levels were built with a temple on the top level. This was likely an attempt to secure a dry and permanent platform above the floodplains below. In a second building programme, the mound was enlarged by adding another two higher levels, again with a temple on the top level.
Cuicuilco, with a population of 20,000, was the first large settlement in Mesoamerica.
The stone altar found by archaeologists on top of the pyramid was originally housed in a dual temple structure with a cone roof. Adding an extra four metres to the already impressive height of the temple, this structure was aligned with the sun on the equinox. The altar bears traces of red pigment (cinnabar), suggesting its purpose was for sacrifices in religious ceremonies. Excavated next to this altar was a ceramic figurine, dating to c. 300 BCE, representing an old man carrying a brazier on his back. The historian R.E. Townsend suggests this may indicate rituals at the altar involved fire. In later Mesoamerican cultures we know that priests were responsible for maintaining temple fires.
The top of the temple was accessed via a ramp and three flights of monumental staircases on the east side while the west side had four flights of steps. The circular form of the mound is very similar to later Huastec and Tarascan structures, and the layered monument with stairways is an early form of the large temple pyramids which would dominate such Mesoamerican sites as Teotihuacan, the great Maya cities, and the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.
To the side of the temple mound are burial sites. Their excavation has revealed pottery, incense burners, and clay figurines of local manufacture. The figurines are typical of Mesoamerican art of all periods and represent human figures, animals, and birds. Standing females are the most common type, with details such as mouth and oval eyes deeply incised with a single line.


Cuicuilco was devastated by a lava flow from the nearby Xitli volcano at the end of the pre-Classic period, perhaps around 200 BCE. Around 150 years later (or perhaps even c. 100 CE) there was another eruption and Cuicuilco was definitively abandoned leaving its neighbor Teotihuacan to dominate the region for the next 500 years. If the later date is accepted for the second eruption, then it is likely that more powerful Teotihuacan had already taken over Cuicuilco. The flow covered both the temple mound and the site’s burial grounds in up to seven metres of lava making excavation impractical in most places. Nevertheless, parts of the site were excavated and its temple mound rediscovered in the 1920s CE.
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Origin and history
by Mark Cartwright

Viracocha was the supreme god of the Incas. He is also known as Huiracocha, Wiraqoca and Wiro Qocha. Considered the creator god he was the father of all other Inca gods and it was he who formed the earth, heavens, sun, moon and all living beings. When he finished his work he was believed to have travelled far and wide teaching humanity and bringing the civilised arts before he headed west across the Pacific, never to be seen again but promising one day to return. In his absence lesser deities were assigned the duty of looking after the interests of the human race but Viracocha was, nevertheless, always watching from afar the progress of his children.

Alternative Names

As the supreme pan-Andean creator god, omnipresent Viracocha was most often referred to by the Inca using descriptions of his various functions rather than his more general name which may signify lake, foam, or sea-fat. These other names, perhaps used because the god's real name was too sacred to be spoken, included Ilya (light), Ticci (beginning), and Wiraqoca Pacayacaciq (instructor).

The Creator God

It was believed that human beings were actually Viracocha's second attempt at living creatures as he first created a race of giants from stone in the age of darkness. However, these giants proved unruly and it became necessary for Viracocha to punish them by sending a great flood. In the legend all these giants except two then returned to their original stone form and several could still be seen in much later times standing imposingly at sites such as Tiahuanaco (also known as Tiwanaku) and Pukará.
As the supreme pan-Andean creator god, omnipresent Viracocha was most often referred to by the Inca using descriptions of his various functions.
Then Viracocha created men and women but this time he used clay. He also gave them such gifts as clothes, language, agriculture and the arts and then created all animals. Even more useful was Viracocha's decision to create the sun, moon and stars and so bring light to the world. These heavenly bodies were created from islands in Lake Titicaca. Finished, and no doubt highly satisfied with his labours, Viracocha then set off to spread his civilizing knowledge around the world and for this he dressed as a beggar and assumed such names as Con Ticci Viracocha (also spelt Kon-Tiki), Atun-Viracocha and Contiti Viracocha Pachayachachic. He was assissted on his travels by two sons or brothers called Imaymana Viracocha and Tocapo Viracocha. The god was not always well received despite the knowledge he imparted, sometimes even suffering stones thrown at him. Ending up at Manta (in Ecuador), Viracocha then walked across the waters of the Pacific (in some versions he sails a raft) heading into the west but promising to return one day to the Inca and the site of his greatest works.


Viracocha was actually worshipped by the pre-Inca of Peru before being incorporated into the Inca pantheon. In Inca mythology the god gave a headdress and battle-axe to the first Inca ruler Manco Capac and promised that the Inca would conquer all before them. The god's name was also assumed by the king known as Viracocha Inca (died 1438 CE) and this may also be the time when the god was formally added to the family of Inca gods. Worshipped at the Inca capital of Cuzco, Viracocha also had temples and statues dedicated to him at Caha and Urcos and sacrifices of humans (including children) and, quite often, llamas, were made to the god on important ceremonial occasions. As other Inca gods were more important for the daily life of common people, Viracocha was principally worshipped by the nobility, and then usually in times of political crisis.

Viracocha in Art

In art Viracocha is often depicted as an old bearded man wearing a long robe and supported by a staff. One of his earliest representations may be the weeping statue at the ruins of Tiwanaku, close to Lake Titicaca, the traditional Inca site where all things were first created. Here, sculpted on the lintel of a massive gateway, the god holds thunderbolts in each hand and wears a crown with rays of the sun whilst his tears represent the rain. Another famous sculpture of the god was the gold three-quarter size statue at Cuzco which the Spanish described as being of a white-skinned bearded male wearing a long robe.
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