The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples

By George Kubler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
THE CENTRAL ANDES: EARLY NORTHERN PERU

THE Pacific Coast and the highlands of Peru, together with the Bolivian plateau, compose the central Andes. Cajamarca in northern Peru is isolated from southern Ecuador by several hundred miles of forested mountains and desert coast. On the east the tropical forests of the upper Amazon hem in the culture of the central Andes, and on the south the Atacama desert separates it from southern South America. From Ecuador to Chile, the central Andes extend for over 1000 miles, in a strip ranging from 50 to 250 miles wide. Here many interrelated civilizations all share a common historic tradition,1 quite distinct from those of lowland South America and the northern Andes.

Central Andean life was predominantly urban, differing from Mesoamerica by the early importance of metallurgy and weaving. Building in the Andes lacks the spatial complexity of Maya and Mexican architecture. No system of writing, other than knotted string records, is known, unless Larco's hypothesis, that the marked beans of the north coast constituted writing, be accepted.2

For our needs the clearest division is by northern, middle, and southern regions. Northern Peru is separated from middle Peru along a line perpendicular to the coast at the Huarmey river. A similar line perpendicular to the coast just south of the Cañete river divides central Peru from the southern region, which includes parts of Bolivia. Northern Peru, like the rest of the central Andes, has a coastal desert interrupted by short rivers draining the western slopes of the maritime Cordillera. Beyond it are the Black and White Cordilleras, making three parallel chains with isolated highland basins scattered among them.

In the lower half of northern Peru, through the department of Ancash, the Santa river flows north between parallel mountain chains in a long valley and drains suddenly, at right angles to its upper course, into the Pacific. On the east, and parallel to the Santa, is the Marañón river, a tributary of the Amazon. The Santa river is the centre of a cluster of valleys where civilizations of the early period flourished. From its western mountain boundary, the Nepeña, Casma, and Huarmey rivers flow into the Pacific. Between the Santa and the Marañón stands Chavín de Huántar, the type-site for the most widely diffused Peruvian style of the early era, prior to the time of Christ. Its home territory coincides with the modern department of Ancash. Here are the most abundant and imposing traces of the Chavín style; north and south of Ancash, it is more scattered and sporadic.

The upper half of northern Peru, towards the Equator, contains the most important remains of two principal later stages of cultural development. Between the Santa and the Chicama rivers is the seat of the Mochica style, sometimes called Moche after the type-site near Trujillo.3 Mochica is coeval with Classic Maya art. Later on, and coeval with the Toltec rule in Mesoamerica, the Chimu dynasty established a powerful state

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