Pre Columbian

Mesoamerican and Andean parallel religious development:

  The Were Jaguar 

Chavin Old Temple Peru had jaguar human hybrid forms, but new temple was much more striking as 800 massive stone heads change from human to jaguar.
"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. "
and earlier in the same work "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."

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. 

Chavin Civilization Map

Kotosh Religious Tradition and Andean archaic development

Temple of the Crossed Hands, Kotosh

The Olmecs symbolism:

The Olmecs gave special significance to the animals present in their environment, especially those at the top of the food chain such as jaguars, eagles, caimans, snakes and even sharks, identifying them with divine beings and perhaps also believing that powerful rulers could transform themselves at will into such fearsome creatures. The Olmecs also liked to mix animals to create weird and wonderful creatures such as the were-jaguar, a cross between a human and a jaguar, which may have been their supreme deity. We also know that they worshipped a sky-dragon and that they believed four dwarves held up the sky, possibly representing the four cardinal directions which, along with other Olmec gods, became so important in later Mesoamerican religions.

The Muisca

In the religion of the Muisca, who inhabited the cool Altiplano Cundiboyacense in the Colombian Andes, the jaguar was considered a sacred animal and during their religious rituals the people dressed in jaguar skins.[104] 

Tiwanaku as source of later andean ruling class

The interplay between the Amazon, the Andes, The Desert (Arica, San Pedro de Atacama, Lake Titicaca (Tiwanaku)

Chinchorro Mummies
400 km
evidence of trade 2000 bc - 1000 bc

Formative Period: This period began about 3000 years BP and is characterized by the influence of highland groups, who acted as agents of sociocultural change in the coastal subarea of the western valleys, transforming these societies’ modes of subsistence from gathering to producing. On the riverless coast, environmental conditions were not conducive to agriculture, so the conservative hunter-gatherer way of life endured with the gradual incorporation of new technologies. It is at the mouth of the Loa River that most evidence from the Formative Period has been found, mainly associated with graves located within burial mounds. Evidence of inland cultures has also been found at the Caleta Huelén-10, Caleta Huelén 20, Caleta Huelén-43 and Caleta Huelén-7 sites, ranging from 2400 to 1800 BP (Núñez, 1971). Findings include agricultural and livestock products, indications of copper metallurgy, implements for inhaling narcotic substances, and quinoa and camelid wool. These are all associated with contexts in which the exploitation of marine resource plays a central role. Little evidence of the Formative Period has been found along the Antofagasta coast, possibly due to a lack of focused investigation. To date, the Cobija 10 burial site (Moragas, 1982) marks the southernmost limit of the burial mound tradition first identified at the distant site of Alto Ramírez in Arica (Muñoz, 1980). Studies have proposed a chronology of 2300 to 1600 BP for these mounds on the riverless coast, characterized by: ‘[a] burial pattern composed of cactus posts or beds of plant fiber and the body itself, all covered with a very compacted cement. There is also evidence of symbolic tombs and secondary burials. This context corresponds to a population adapted to coastal hunting, fishing and gathering on land and sea’ (Moragas, 1982)


Early tattoo[edit]

A Chinchorro male mummy bears the earliest tattoo found in the Americas. He has a mustache-like dotted line tattooed above his upper lip; the tattoo dates to c. 2300 BC.[9][10]

Later developments[edit]

The Azapa Phase of local cultural development (4,000‐2,500 BP) was a transitional period between the end of the Chinchorro Phase and the start of the Alto Ramírez Phase. These developments took place in the Azapa Valleynear the coast. Around 4,000 BP, the people of the Azapa Valley saw some cultural changes brought by immigrants from the Altiplano. These influences led to the adoption of agriculture c. 3,000 BP, as well as the introduction of ceramics. These later groups no longer mummified their dead.[11]

The influence of the early Andean cultures in northern Chile has been studied by several archaeologists. Especially the influence from the Wankarani culture, and the early Pukara culture from the Lake Titicaca area may be relevant here. During a transitional phase, the Chinchorros may have coexisted with an emergent Andean Tradition along the coast.[12]

NON VIOLENTín_de_Huantar

The Wari (or Huari) culture flourished in the Andes in the south-central coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about 500 to 900 AD.35 Its empire expanded to include much of the territory of the earlier Moche and Chimú cultures. The civilization was contemporary with that of the Tiwanaku culture to the south. The Wari are believed to have developed terraced field technology and a major road network, which the Incas inherited several centuries later. However, Andean tradition also gives the name ‘Wari’ to a race of prehistoric master-builders, described as white, bearded giants who, after being created at Lake Titicaca, set forth to civilize the Andes.36


Wilca Tree

The Tiwanaku perfected a type of agriculture which raised crops from the ground. Lowered canals innervated the mound-like crops, and during the day, the crops absorbed water and canals absorbed solar radiation. During chilly nights, the heat radiated into the soil, preventing crops from freezing. The warmed canals also served a secondary function: providing a water source to farm edible fish.

Aside from their unique achievements in agriculture, the Tiwanaku also had an equally curious architectural style, employing massive ashlar blocks sometimes as heavy as 130 tons quarried 40km away. They built temples and platforms as large as 200 meters on each side and 15 meters tall. According to some hand-me-down stories, myths passed down to the Incas and then to the Spanish, these buildings served as spiritual centers. Fittingly, structures like the Gateway of the Sun have representations of their main deity, Viracocha. Other statues represent other deities, sometimes even abstract representations of a calendar and religious purposes.

Use of Psychoactive Snuff in Pre-Columbian San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

by  | May 26, 2010 | Research | 0 comments

Use of Psychoactive Snuff in Pre-Columbian Chile-By Constantino Manuel Torres

The archaeological region of San Pedro de Atacama is located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, at an altitude of 2450 meters above sea level. In pre-Hispanic times, the area was occupied by a succession of pre-ceramic hunters and gatherers and ceramic-stage agriculturists and herders. These pre-Inca peoples established their habitation sites around oases and river valleys. San Pedro de Atacama, one of the largest oases of the Atacama Desert, is composed of small settlements centered along the lower course of the San Pedro River. This is a rich archaeological area where the dryness of the environment allows for the excellent preservation of textiles, bone and wooden artifacts, and of human remains, which become mummified by the arid climate.

One notable feature of the San Pedro culture is the high incidence of snuffing implements. The most common of the snuffing kits found in San Pedro de Atacama consists of a woolen bag containing a wooden rectangular snuff tray, a snuffing tube made usually of wood or bone, a spoon or spatula, a small mortar and pestle, and one or more leather pouches used as containers for the snuff powder. All of these objects could be present in any particular set, although frequently only tubes, spoons, and snuff powder containers are found. A total of 612 snuffing kits have been found in 42 of the approximately 50 sites excavated in the area. The methods of execution include incised line, low relief carving, and sculpture in the round. The size and chronology of the sample indicates that approximately 20-22% of the adult male population was using psychoactive snuffs circa 200-900 AD. After the tenth century AD, the practice of snuffing practically disappears in the area; finds of snuffing paraphernalia are rare in Inca settlements after 1480 AD in the Atacama Desert.

The use of a tray and a tube as part of the snuffing paraphernalia is widely distributed throughout South America. Snuff trays have been found as far north as northern Colombia and as far south as Calingasta, San Juan Province, Argentina, and Coquimbo, IV Region, Chile. The temporal distribution of these objects is also of great amplitude. The oldest trays and tubes known from all of South America are those excavated by Junius Bird and Frederick Engel on the north and central coasts of Peru and dated circa 1200 BC. The presence of these implements in an archaeological setting is a clear indication of the use of psychoactive snuffs. Twentieth-century snuffing practices have been documented among numerous groups of the Amazon basin.

The botanical identity and the chemical makeup of archaeological snuff powders have only been recently determined. Until now the evidence has largely consisted of descriptions by early European chroniclers and comparisons between archaeological artifacts and those from the Amazon collected within the last two hundred years. Two samples of archaeological snuff powders found in tomb #112 of the pre-Hispanic site known as Solcor 3 in San Pedro de Atacama were submitted to chemical analysis. The site has been dated by a series of seven radiocarbon dates and six ceramic samples dated by thermoluminescence. The dates range from 320 to 910 AD. The approximate date of tomb #112 is 780 AD, as determined by radiocarbon dating and comparisons with artifacts found in other dated tombs. The mummy bundle of tomb #112 had two snuffing kits inside multicolored textile bags, each located at shoulder height on the left and right sides of the body. Each bag held a rectangular snuff tray, a simple snuffing tube, two leather pouches containing the snuff powder, and a small spoon.

The analysis demonstrated the presence of the psychoactive alkaloids dimethyltryptamine (DMT), 5-methoxydimethyltryptamine, and 5-hydroxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (bufotenine) in both snuff samples. The finding of bufotenine in the San Pedro de Atacama snuff samples suggests that the plant source of this material was a species of the genus Anadenanthera. This is the only genus implicated in the snuffing complex that contains bufotenine. In addition, small pouches containing Anadenanthera seeds have been found in Solcor 3 in contexts corresponding to the same period as the analyzed snuff samples. These psychoactive tryptamines have a rapid and strong onset of effects, producing radical modifications of states of consciousness, as well as of cognitive and perceptual patterns. Anadenanthera colubrina is the species native to the south central Andes and the southern Amazon basin periphery, and most likely was the plant used in San Pedro de Atacama. Use of Anadenanthera colubrina snuff continues among the Mataco people, who inhabit the area of the Bermejo and Pilcomayo rivers, on the border between Argentina and Paraguay.

Further support for A. colubrina as the source of the archaeological snuff powders is provided by the early chronicles of the European explorers of South America. They refer to powders prepared from the seeds or beans of a tree. According to Oviedo y Valdes, writing in 1535, the cohoba snuff of the Taino of the Greater Antilles was obtained from a tree whose pods contain lentil-shaped seeds. In 1560 Fray Pedro de Aguado described the yopo snuff of Colombia as prepared from the seeds or beans of a tree. Bernardo de Vargas Machuca, writing in the sixteenth century, and the Jesuit explorer José Gumilla in the eighteenth century both described the source of snuffs as the seeds of a tree. Later, in 1802, Alexander von Humboldt, during his travels in the Amazon, observed among the Otomac the use of a snuff prepared from the fermented seeds of a tree. In 1850 the English botanist and explorer of the Amazon, Richard Spruce, also witnessed the preparation of a snuff powder from the seeds of a tree. The situation is similar in the Peruvian Andes where the early chroniclers such as the sixteenth-century writer Santa Cruz de Pachacuti reported snuff preparations based on seeds or beans.

The iconography of the snuffing paraphernalia comprises a large variety of themes and motifs, including staff-bearing figures, decapitation scenes, and a variety of zoomorphic depictions. Notable among these are feline, avian, and camelid representations. Feline and bird imagery is frequently associated with psychoactive plant use throughout the Americas. However, it is in San Pedro de Atacama that camelid representations acquire significant importance in this context. Throughout the pre-Hispanic world, psychoactive substances were considered intermediaries between the human and the supernatural realm; as such, they were capable of participating in the interpretation and creation of cultural elements. The study of the objects utilized in the ingestion of psychoactive substances could provide the opportunity to explore the relationship between hallucinogens, the construction of complex iconographic systems, and state formation in the Central Andes.


By Constantino Manuel Torres
, Professor of Art History at Florida International University



Chavín Art
Incised Strombus-Shell Trumpet, 400-200 B.C.E, Brooklyn Museum. This shell trumpet was probably made for ceremonial use. The incised designs depict a person of high rank, indicated by his facial tattoos and ankle ornament, playing a shell trumpet. The figure is surrounded by snakes, including one that emanates from the instrument. The twisting and intertwined snakes may indicate the power of the trumpet to communicate with supernatural beings.
The Lanzón at Chavín, still image from a video of a photo-textured point cloud using 3D scanner data collected by nonprofit CyArk.

The Chavín culture represents the first widespread, recognizable artistic style in the Andes. Chavín art can be divided into two phases: The first phase corresponding to the construction of the "Old Temple" at Chavín de Huantar (c. 900–500 BCE); and the second phase corresponding to the construction of Chavín de Huantar's "New Temple" (c. 500–200 BCE).

Chavín art is known for its complex iconography and its "mythical realism".[14] There is constant evidence within all types of art (ceramics, pottery, sculptures, etc.) of human-animal interactions, which was reflective of societal interconnections and how the Chavín people viewed themselves connected with "the other world".[7]

Some other iconography found in Chavín art continues to give a glimpse as to what the culture was like, such as the general evidence of the use of psycho-active plants in ritual. The San Pedro Cactus is often seen on various art forms, sometimes being held by humans, which is used as evidence to support the use of the plant.[15]