Ancient Peru

By Tim Lambert

By about 2,500 BC people in what is now, Peru began farming. By about 1,800 BC they were making pottery. The first South American civilization was the Chavin. It arose in what is now Peru in about 900 BC. The Chavin did not invent writing but they were skilled architects, stonemasons, potters, and goldsmiths. They built in both brick and stone and their engineers were capable of building both dams and reservoirs.

Chavin farmers irrigated their land and they grew maize (their staple food), squashes, and beans. They also grew cotton and they wove it on looms. They raised llamas and alpacas for meat and wool.

The Chavin take their name from a great religious center at Chavin de Huantar. It has two stone temples. Little is known about the Chavin religion but they worshiped a jaguar god. They buried the dead with goods including pottery containers of food and drink. They probably believed the dead would need them in the next life. However, the Chavin civilization disappeared by about 200 BC.

In southeast Peru, another culture called the Paracas flourished between about 400 BC and 300 AD. They built large a number of large settlements on artificial mounds. They also buried their leaders on the dry and wind-swept Paracas Peninsula. The climate mummified several bodies and also preserved their clothes.

Later from about 100 BC to about 700 AD, a culture called the Nazca existed in Southeast Peru. They are famous for creating the Nazca lines, patterns that cross the desert and are best seen from the air. They include animals such as spiders and monkeys. The exact purpose of the lines is unknown.

Further north a culture called the Moche or Mochica flourished from about 50 AD to about 700 AD. They lived in coastal valleys in Northern Peru. Like other Peruvian cultures, Moche farmers built canals to irrigate their crops. They grew maize, potatoes and peanuts. They also grew cotton.

The Moche were a warlike people and warriors had high status in their society. However, the Moche were also traders. They imported things like feathers from the Amazon.

The Moche were dexterous goldsmiths and silversmiths. They were also skilled potters. The Moche also built pyramid temples. Their greatest temple was the Huaca Del Sol (Temple of the Sun). Its base measured 224 meters by 134 meters and it stood 46 metres high. It took at least 50 million adobe bricks to build the temple.

In the later years of the Moche culture, two empires grew up in what is now Peru. In the north was the empire of Tiwanaku, with its capital across the border in Bolivia. It began its rise to greatness about 500 AD and by the time it was at its peak about 850 AD Tiwanaku controlled about 350,000 square kilometers of territory. The people of the Tiwanaku empire are noted for their skill as stonemasons and potters.

In the south of Peru, another strong state called Huari grew up. Huari began to grow about 600 AD and soon controlled a wide area. The people of Huari also traded over very long distances. However, both these states, Tiwanaku and Huari collapsed about 1100 AD.

By about 1,000 AD a race called the Chimu created an empire in Northern Peru with its capital at Chan Chan. The Chimu worshiped the Moon. They believed the Moon caused it to rain and also controlled thunder and lightning.

The Chimu also mummified their dead. The body was put in a sitting position then tied with ropes. It was then wrapped in cloth.

The Chimu were also deft potters and metalworkers. Their craftsmen worked in gold and silver and also made blades of copper and bronze for tools. The Chimu also dug irrigation canals and built reservoirs. The Chimu were conquered by the Incas in about 1466.

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