The brutal violence unleashed in Peru 2,500 years ago when a government was formed without priests

The passage from the 5th to the 4th century BC does not appear to have been a peaceful period in the central Andes, a region that is currently part of Peru.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
02 April 2024 Tuesday 16:22
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The brutal violence unleashed in Peru 2,500 years ago when a government was formed without priests

The passage from the 5th to the 4th century BC does not appear to have been a peaceful period in the central Andes, a region that is currently part of Peru. The political disintegration, probably caused by the transition from a theocratic society (where power resides in God) to a secular government, unleashed brutal violence between communities.

A team of Peruvian, Colombian and Brazilian researchers have found evidence of turbulence during the transition from the Middle Formative period (1200-400 BC) to the Late Formative period (400-1 BC), as explained in a published article in the magazine Latin American Antiquity.

“We did a detailed analysis of the skeletal remains of 67 individuals excavated in a cemetery dating from the period 500-400 BC. The site is located in the Supe Valley region, a few kilometers from Caral, a famous ceremonial center that functioned between 2900 and 1800 BC,” explains Luis Pezo-Lanfranco, who currently works in the Prehistory department of the Autonomous University. from Barcelona.

The archaeologists detected “injury patterns characteristic of repeated events of interpersonal violence.” “Among the people examined, 80 percent of adults and adolescents died from traumatic injuries,” says Pezo-Lanfranco.

The injuries to the skull, face and chest observed in several of these individuals are compatible with lethal violence, probably between different communities, experts say. And among the victims of these violent events were also children.

“Our hypothesis is that an unknown group arrived in the area and committed the murders. After the attackers left, the victims of the attack were buried by their own people with the usual funeral rites, as the burial patterns suggest,” reveals Luis Pezo-Lanfranco.

Although perimortem trauma - wounds caused close to the time of death that do not heal - was the most common injury among the adult skeletons studied, as well as some of the infant remains, many examples of antemortem trauma were also found, which suggests that they experienced at least two violent events during their lives.

The first caused wounds that healed, while the second killed them. "The markers point to repetitive and lethal violent exposure over the course of their lives," says the archaeologist. The most frequent injuries were cranial, maxillofacial, thoracic fractures (mainly in the ribs and scapulae) and “defensive” fractures of the ulna that indicate an attempt to stop a blow with the forearm.

Sixty-four of the remains analyzed were buried in the fetal position, a common pattern in prehistoric and ancient communities around the world: 12 in dorsal recumbency (lying face up), four in ventral recumbency (face down), seven in left lateral recumbency (on his left side) and 41 in right lateral decubitus.

In addition to signs of violence, analysis of the bones showed a high incidence of nonspecific stresses and infectious diseases, possibly associated with adverse living conditions due to a combination of resource scarcity and population growth.

The simplicity of the grave goods also points to poverty. Many of the skeletons were buried with cotton cloth, woven mats and basketry, gourds containing vegetables, cotton seeds and roots, necklaces and pottery. "Stable isotope studies showed that basic crops were key to their subsistence," adds Pezo-Lanfranco.

Competition for scarce resources in the Supe Valley region was probably a major factor in the collapse of the Chavín culture, which spread across the mountains and coast of Peru between 1200 and 500 BC. Its center was Chavín de Huantar, a ceremonial site in the Marañón River basin.

The Marañón rises in the Peruvian Andes at about 5,800 meters above sea level, first flowing northwest and then turning northeast to meet the Ucayali and becoming the Upper Amazon and the Solimões River in Brazil.

“The Chavín system reached its exhaustion during the transition from the Middle to Late Formative, around 500-400 BC. Several ceremonial centers, including Chavín de Huantar, were desacralized and abandoned. The political formations organized around the religious sphere disintegrated, which would have led to the decline of the theocracy and the emergence of a secular government,” indicates the researcher.

The Chavín people worshiped a “zooanthropomorphic” deity similar to a man-jaguar, whose name is unknown. Gods combining animal and human attributes appear in many ancient cultures around the world, including those of Crete, India, and Egypt.

But unlike the ancient civilizations of the Old World, the Andean peoples who worshiped this deity left no written records that could be deciphered to provide more detailed information. It is worth noting that the period in question preceded the formal establishment of the Inca Empire by almost 2,000 years.