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Ritual and Religion at Huaricoto

Author(s): Richard L. Burger and Lucy Salazar Burger


Source: Archaeology, Vol. 33, No. 6 (November/December 1980), pp. 26-32
Published by: Archaeological Institute of America
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41726522
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Ritual and Religion at Huaricoto by Richard L. Burger and Lucy Salazar Burger

A large shrine at Huaricoto was the site of offering burnings which took place in the stone-lined hearth in the center of the floor. These
ceremonial sites represent a new religious tradition in the Peruvian highlands.

B.c., Chavin society exhibited strong religious


Max Uhle, the father of Peruvian archaeology, traits. Like the earliest civilizations of Mesoamer-
In suggestedsuggested
Max the Uhle, beginning thatthat
the father foreign
foreign of the of twentieth influences Peruvian century
influences first archaeology,
first stimu- stimu- when ica, religion permeated every aspect of life - social,
lated the emergence of culture in Peru, his theories political and economic. The key to the success of the
were accepted without question. Uhle claimed that Chavin culture lay squarely on the organization of
the Maya traveling from Mexico influenced local these beliefs and ideologies. Where did they come
fishing groups and sowed the first seeds of civiliza- from? How did they develop?
tion. In the decades that followed, however, archae- Elements of Chavin ideology can be found en-
ologist Julio C. Tello argued convincingly for the coded at the vast ceremonial center at Chavin de
independent development of culture in Peru. Proof Huantar. Hundreds of sculptures once adorned the
was found at the highland site of Chavin de exterior of the temple and hint at a once active
Huantar and related sites on the Peruvian coast religion which spread throughout the highlands
where the remains of sophisticated ceremonial cen- and coast. Surprisingly, no forerunner of this type
ters were found. The concept of the Chavin civiliza- of ceremonial center has been discovered in the
tion was born and became recognized by most An- immediate vicinity or in the neighboring valleys.
dean archaeologists as the earliest civilization in Archaeologists had to search on the central and
Peru. Appearing sometime in the first millennium northern coast of Peru for the antecedents of many

26 ARCHAEOLOGY

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religious system could be traced to outside sources
both to the east and west. Nothing at Chavin de
Huantar suggested an earlier local religious tradi-
tion which had clear historical and ideological rela-
tionships to the new cult. Is it plausible that the
Chavin religious system was totally intrusive in
the highlands? If it was, what highland religious
system did it replace? At one time, these questions
could not even be addressed because of the lack of
evidence, but recent excavations at Huaricoto and
other sites have changed this situation dramat-
ically.

Huaricoto is a small artificial mound sitting on a


terrace overlooking the central Callejón de Huaylas
valley at an elevation of 2,750 meters above sea
level. Only 55 kilometers from Chavin de Huantar,
Huaricoto was first settled in the fourth millen-
nium b.c. and continued to be occupied until the
seventh century after Christ. During this time, the
site grew from one quarter acre to seven and a half.
The accumulation of cultural remains had reached
about six meters in height in the western sector
of the site by the time it was abandoned. Gary
Vescelius of Cornell University's Vicos Project, dis-
covered Huaricoto during explorations in the
Marcará and Vicos area, and the site was excavated
by Vescelius and Hernán Amat of the University of
San Marcos in 1962. Sixteen years later, Richard L.
Burger and Abelardo Sandoval M. of Suny, Bing-
hampton initiated new archaeological investiga-
tions with the sponsorship of the Museo Nacional de
Antropología y Arqueología, Lima; the National
Geographic Society; and the Organization of
American States.
One of the most dominant characteristics of
Huaricoto is its distinctive religious nature. The
most significant part of the story, however , is the
A ceremonial hearth (foreground) atHuaricoto was used in reli- fact that the site functioned as a small ceremonial
gious ceremonies to burn offerings. The massive wall (background) center from about 2000 to 200 b.c., a time reflecting
built at a later time delimits the ritual precinct and includes stones pre-Chavin as well as Chavin associations. This
weighing up to five tons.
represents nothing less that 1,800 years of a religi-
ous system which flourished with relatively little
change. This new religious ideology, which we pro-
pose to call the Kotosh Religious Tradition, appears
distinctive architectural features of Chavin de to have existed throughout the Chavin de Huantar
Huantar, for example, the monumental U-shaped heartland. Most surprisingly, the Kotosh Religious
pyramids. One of these sites, Huaca La Florida on Tradition was not disrupted at Huaricoto with the
the central coast, has been dated to the early part of appearance of the alien Chavin cult. Instead, the
the Initial period, almost a thousand years before two religious traditions coexisted in a syncretistic
the first temple at Chavin de Huantar appeared. relationship. The local pre-Chavin rites continued
Theoretically, the model for the Chavin de to be performed, but certain ideological innovations
Huantar religious cult was probably coastal or from Chavin de Huantar were incorporated into the
western in origin. But some disconcerting elements ceremonies.
are present, for example, an iconography which At first glance the earliest occupation at
emphasizes exotic animals, such as monkeys and Huaricoto seems to be rather skimpy - a makeshift
jaguars, and plants today associated with the tropi- hearth, scattered carbon, the remains of a stone
cal lowlands to the east. Perhaps the Chavin de wall, discarded chipping debris, and a quartzite
Huantar cult also adopted some of its myths and core. But the combination of these artifacts left the
beliefs from these Amazonian sources. Andean ar- door open for a variety of possibilities: Huaricoto
chaeologists were left with the curiously inexplic- may have served either as a temporary camp or any
able situation that something as fundamental as a number of other functions. Uncorrected radiocar-

November/December 1980 27

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bon measurements of3290±120 b.c. and 2820+200
b.c. give some idea of the age of the initial use of the
site. Above this poorly understood first occupation
was a second occupation during which Huaricoto
was converted into a small temple. Two features
from this second occupation were completely exca-
vated - hearths in which ceremonial offerings had
been burnt. The larger of these combines a rectan-
gle with an inverted trapezoid to form its distinctive
shape. It was constructed by cutting half a meter
into a thick layer of red clay, and then slipping the
sunken geometric form with a fine outer layer of
yellow clay. In the center of the floor is a deep
stone-lined circular pit in which the burning took
place. Burnt clay, rather than large stones, was
used to reinforce the edges of this pit. Fragments of
clay impressed with cane were recovered from the
floor of the structure and suggest that the ceremo-
nial hearth had a perishable roof built of wattle and
daub. No walls were encountered and it does not
appear that a superstructure surrounded the
sunken hearth area. The pre-Chavm people at
Huaricoto apparently built their shrine in the open.
Some idea of the ritual which was performed
here can be inferred from the archaeological associ-
ations. The pit where the burning took place was
filled with ash and carbon. Burnt bone from a large
mammal suggests that meat may have been one of
the principal offerings. Four pieces of quartz which
had been intentionally struck from a core were also
included in the burnt remains. This clear quartz
may have been included for its symbolic value. Be-
lief in the supernatural origin and magical qual-
' ities of quartz was widespread in Prehispanic condition of the delicate slip demonstrates that, like
America and continued to exist cross-culturally the other hearths, it was never exposed to rough
into this centuiy among traditional shamans. activity or the elements. Unfortunately, no ceram-
Shortly after the ceremony took place, the round ics were found with any of these early ceremonial
burning pit was covered over with a layer of yellow hearths, although ceramics did occur in the strata
clay, masking the pit but leaving the sunken geo- above them. Radiocarbon measurements of 2020
metric frame around it. Before the rainy season, the B.C.+110 from the first hearth and 2260 b.c.±120
ritual hearth was filled with clay conserving it in from just above the half-moon hearth, however,
nearly perfect condition. At a slightly later time, a support their identification as Late Preceramic (ca.
similar hearth was built above the southwest 2200-1800 b.c.). Further excavations during the
corner of this pit. Only the corner of it, however, was second and third field seasons in the deepest de-
recovered but its form and construction appear to posits ofHuaricoto revealed sections of a large stone
be identical to the first ceremonial hearth except for platform which also dates to Late Preceramic times.
its orientation. Shells brought in from the coast for The Huaricoto hearths recall other Late Pre-
the ritual were left lying on the floor around the ceramic sites in the Peruvian highlands, especially
hearth. Kotosh, 150 kilometers to the southeast and La
About 30 meters to the southeast, another scrap Galgada, 115 kilometers to the northwest. At all
of evidence was unearthed - the remains of a third three sites, the central features consist of super-
ritual hearth, half-moon in shape when seen from imposed ritual hearths used for burnt offerings. The
above. In three dimension it has the shape of a creation of impressive pyramid structures like the
quarter of an orange. Like the first hearth, this ones at Chavin de Huantar obviously was not con-
structure was dug into and carved out of an earlier sidered to be important by these early Peruvians.
layer of clay. Filled with ash, carbon, small flakes of Large open plazas were also missing at these sites
quartz, and burnt bone, it was then covered com- and the ceremonies appear to have been restricted
pletely with a fine gray clay slip; the burning had to a small number of participants and spectators.
taken place within the pit, and the soil and stones The Kotosh Religious Tradition seems to have been
around it were scorched. Although the form was rather simple, consisting of the performance of
very different from the other hearths, the rituals cyclical rituals of burnt offerings, with a decided
performed here were obviously similar. The perfect lack of emphasis on public iconography. One of the

28 archaeology

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Chavín religious sculpture adorning the sunken circular plaza at Chavín de Huantar includes a procession of supernatural figures
and large felines.

few exceptions to the rarity of public religious art


are the two sets of crossed clay arms found at one of
the temples at Kotosh. Yet no public art has been
encountered so far at the numerous early temple
structures at La Galgada despite the excellent state
of preservation there.

T he term Kotosh Religious Tradition does not


imply that the ceremonial centers associated with it
are identical, but it does suggest that they were
dedicated to variants of the same ideology. Similar
rituals were probably held at these geographically
distant centers. Kotosh, the namesake, was not
necessarily the earliest or most important of these
religious centers, but it was the first ceremonial
center of this tradition to be excavated. Centers like
Kotosh, Huaricoto and La Galgada may even have
been linked together formally, as were later Pre-
hispanic ceremonial sites. According to ethnohis-
torical documents, networks of ceremonial centers
were hierarchically organized and relations were
sometimes expressed by kinship. A hierarchy of
ritual sites may already have existed during the
Late Preceramic period as exemplified by the differ-
ence between Kotosh and Huaricoto in scale, tech-
nology and labor investment. The Preceramic
hearths at Huaricoto were placed out in the open The sculptured clay crossed hands at Kotosh are an example of
and lack the large stone superstructures, niches rare public art.

November/December 1980 29

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A temple at Shillacato,
Huanuco contained a cere-
monial hearth and ventila-
tor much like those found
atHuaricoto.

and benches like those surrounding the ritual temple there is simply a larger version of the better
hearths at Kotosh and La Galgada. Also notable is known Late Preceramic temples at Kotosh. At La
the absence of subterranean ventilators in the Galgada, a sequence of temples with ceremonial
ritual hearths at Huaricoto, which may have been hearths has been excavated by Terence Grieder of
omitted because there were no structures to block the University of Texas and Alberto Bueno of In-
air into the burning pits. stituto Nacional de Cultura. This series of super-
The distribution of the Kotosh Religious Tradi- imposed temples appears to have lasted about five
tion extended at least 250 kilometers from north to centuries from the Late Preceramic into the Early
south during Late Preceramic times, and included Initial period. During the 1979 excavations at
centers in intermontane valleys and on the eastern Huacaloma, Cajamarca, a University of Tokyo
and western slopes of the Andes. Their ecological team directed by Kazuo Terada discoverd a religi-
diversity is aptly illustrated by the varying eleva- ous structure with a well-made circular fireplace in
tion of La Galgada at 1,000 meters above sea level, the earliest Initial period layers. If this structure is,
Kotosh at 2,000 meters above sea level, and as it seems, another temple of the Kotosh Religious
Huaricoto at 2,750 meters above sea level. Yet out- Tradition, it would push the extent of the cult even
side of Huaricoto, traces of this tradition become deeper into the northern highlands.
more sketchy after the Late Preceramic period. At At Huaricoto itself, the Kotosh Religious Tradi-
Kotosh, temple structures featuring ritual hearths tion continued to thrive long after the Preceramic
were considered the hallmark of the Late Precer- period. Two ritual hearths, nearly the same age,
amic culture there, but they did not continue to have been unearthed in later Initial period levels.
function in later times. The same cult, however, The older of the two consists of a low stone wall,
continued to thrive nearby during the Early Initial roughly square in shape, which frames a slightly
period (1800-1500 b.c.) at Shillacoto. The main recessed floor with a circular hearth in its center. A

30 ARCHAEOLOGY

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Pottery found on the north edge of the Huaricoto temple.

short ventilator connects the ritual hearth with the


floor beyond the framed area. Ash filled the burning
pit'and ventilator, and the stone sides and clay floor
of the burning pit were charred. All the organic
offerings were destroyed by fire and a finely flaked
biface was left in the hearth while the fire was still
hot. It was completely burnt, but its fragile tip A polished bone artifact
remained unbroken and the edges of the tool carved with a Chavin motif
indicates the penetration of
showed no appreciable wear. Perhaps it was used to the Chavin cult at Huari-
slaughter a sacrificial animal whose ashes were coto. Length, 4.9 centi-
recovered from the pit, or possibly the point itself meters.

was an offering of some symbolic value, like the


quartz flakes from the Preceramic hearths. After
the offering, a fine unburnt clay floor was laid on
top of the burning pit, completely hiding it. A white the Chavin culture. During its first phase, the
plaster floor covered the stone ventilator and sealed principal ceremonial precinct was set apart on the
its outlet. east by a large wall made of slabs weighing up to
Not long afterwards, a shrine was built two five tons. The original floor associated with the
meters to the south of the older hearth. Although it eastern face of the large wall yielded a radiocarbon
differs from the ritual hearths in form, construction date of 490 b.c. ± 130. A thick layer of red clay was
and size, they are partially contemporary and were added to the interior of the wall and below it lay a
visible simultaneously to worshipers at one point in cache of badly crushed human bones. An abundant
the Late Initial period. This shrine is the first indi- layer of carbon and ceremonial paraphernalia in-
cation of a large superstructure around the ceremo- cluding a pan-pipe, a human cranium fragment,
nial hearths at Huaricoto. In the center of the floor and a carved bone was deposited on top of this floor.
is a stone-lined hearth connected to a ventilator The carbon yielded dates of 380 b.c. ±110 and 360
which runs under the floor to the exterior face of the b.c. ± 80. While it is apparent that human remains
wall. After offerings had been incinerated, a fresh played a role in the Early Horizon rituals at
floor was laid over the hearth and a wedge-shaped Huaricoto, it is not clear whether these bones indi-
white plaster floor bordered by stone walls was cate human sacrifice or the reutilization of bones
added on the south as an entrance to the elliptical after death.
superstructure covering the ventilator opening.
The subsequent floors of the structure yielded an
undamaged club head or porra and small fish bones. T he most impressive construction at Huaricoto is
The floor around these hearths had been left the Early Horizon shrine, innovative for its use of
clean and lacked diagnostic ceramics, but a group of cut and dressed stones. The round superstructure
Late Initial ceramics was recovered from the ter- measures 5.4 meters in diameter. A circular sun-
races which supported the platforms of the hearths. ken area is located in the middle of the building a
These Huaricoto style ceramics are represented by hearth with two sub-floor flues sits in the center of
thickened neckless ollas and simple bowls with the recessed floor. Another shrine was added on the
straight or convex walls. Vessels were decorated western side, mirroring the first one in shape and
with unevenly spaced punctuations, incisions and construction. Still a third Early Horizon shrine
bands filled with parallel incisions or hatching. In with a small, poorly-built ceremonial hearth was
some cases, red post-fire pigment fills these inci- built to the east at a slightly later time. Trapezoidal
sions, contrasting with the dark surface; in other in shape, it has layers of interior plastering and a
instances, the vessels are painted with a pre-fire red short flue just like the first shrine. These Early
slip which acts as a foil for the lighter color of the Horizon layers, in turn, were covered by river cob-
textured unslipped zones. bles and a new floor, which corresponds to the last
Above the Initial period layers were several ma- period of Chavin culture. While the continuity be-
jor architectural periods and numerous floors dat- tween the Early Horizon hearths and the earlier
ing to the Early Horizon, with the fluorescence of ritual features is striking, there is undisputable

November/December 1980 31

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evidence of technical advancement and increasing according to a single divinely inspired pattern.
labor investment. This progress is simultaneously Perhaps the most striking part of the Huaricoto
accompanied at Huaricoto by a widening gap in the excavations is that they point to an unexpected
quality of the different hearths where well-built continuity of the Kotosh Religious Tradition during
large hearths are found alongside small, poorly con- the Early Horizon period. This does not accord with
structed ones. some conceptions of the monolithic expansion of the
The excavation of Huaricoto uncovered a total of Cha vín cult in this area. Yet the extensive excava-
eight ritual hearths, and four others could be infer- tions at nearby Chavín de Huantar, the center of
red from exposed fragments of walls and sunken Chavin religion, have not uncovered a single cere-
floors. Three hearths can be tentatively dated to the monial hearth. In fact, Chavin de Huantar had very
Late Preceramic period, three to the Initial period, little in common with the ceremonial centers of the
and five to Early Horizon times. Untold numbers of Kotosh Religious Tradition. Obviously two sepa-
unexcavated hearths are still scattered all over the rate religious cults existed peaceably in the high-
site. The general absence of larger superstructures lands of Peru. The ceramics from Huaricoto demon-
probably permitted more freedom of choice in pla- strate that some sort of contact existed with Chavin
cing these ritual hearths, and the small labor in- de Huantar during the Early Horizon period.
vestment in any single shrine may have encour- Moreover, traces of Chavin religious iconography
aged building new structures rather than renewing are represented on a carved bone and some elabo-
old ones. Huaricoto - a typical example of a highly rate pottery recovered from the Early Horizon tem-
specialized ceremonial center whose principal func- ple refuse at Huaricoto. These few telltale objects
tion was the performance of rituals involving burnt imply that some elements of the Chavin cult were
offerings - was also the scene of practical short- being integrated into the Huaricoto rituals, even
term activities. During the Initial period worship- though the traditional burnt offerings continued to
ers cooked and fashioned stone and bone imple- be performed. Now that excavations have firmly
ments on the terraces. The ceremonies at Huaricoto established the development of an early religion at
may have occurred on only a few days a year, Huaricoto, the next step is to analyze the complex
leaving the site nearly abandoned the rest of the interplay between these two very different ceremo-
time. Even today, this is a common pattern among nial traditions of ancient Peru.
worshipers at the small shrines of the Peruvian
highlands. Such sporadic use of a ceremonial center
would explain the absence of large quantities of J||l^
artifacts despite its long history. in Pwn: editor, Dufnbartù&Ookê
Conférence onČhamn. October 26thand27th.l9t8
Although the purpose of the rituals carried out
at Huaricoto remains unknown, it is possible to lili
outline some of their canons. First, the sacred zone
in which the rituals were carried out was defined.
papyru tfiTi awl if if H

Other activities were either excluded from the area


espedally pertinent; Alberto BuenoM. and Terence
throughout the year or their traces were erased by
conscious temple maintenance. After the sacred
hearths were constructed, appropriate offerings of the fini publication of the important La Galgada
meat, coastal shell, fish and lithics were selected. diflcoveriw with roecialempha^<» the arehHec.
During the ceremony, the organic offerings were
; Evidenœ for the Tempera! Priority of Cfliavm de
totally or almost entirely reduced to an ashen state.
Finally, the ritual hearth was carefully trans-
Hnnntnr fi faltf quiff?
' radiocarbon measurements which support the view
formed into a sacred place by sealing the burning that Chavin de Huantar was flse culmination et de»
pit and ventilator with new floors and interior
plastering. Although these ancient canons remain-
ed fixed through time, the ceremonial structures at
Huaricoto show surprising variability in shape and Porn»" in ItaairolftitM, editor, Arqiteoiogta permm
size. This flexibility may have reflected the re-
sources and tastes of the families or villages re-
sponsible for the construction of the ceremonial
hearths. The variability at Huaricoto contrasts imájmÉ of Ghavfn mt fjtff tgfÉte:* :
sharply with the situation encountered at the
larger temples of the Kotosh Religious Tradition,
^nÍverattyofTokyoPieaé,Ť0l^JapulS71),pre- '
such as Kotosh, where a high degree of uniformity
exists between the ceremonial structures. This ad-
ana Itoiogn; Wm *
herence to the same architectural design could be Rowe, Chatón Art: An Inquiry luto Ut Form miMmn -
explained by the presence of religious specialists in ^ (The MuiœumofPrtnaitive Art, New York 1962), ia j
residence at the larger ceremonial centers. They a elear and widely accepted aecount of ChavAi art
could have directed the cyclical renovations at the - íůbííĚÍÍÍÍBIÍÍÍBÍH^^ - ? :
temples and insured that they were carried out

32 ARCHAEOLOGY

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