Archaeologists have uncovered a complex of hidden passages and galleries deep in the ancient Chavín de Huántar temple complex in the Peruvian Andes. Researchers believe the network of cameras and galleries was used in religious rituals, possibly involving psychedelic drugs.
This is the first time in about 3,000 years that these specific hidden structures have been explored; some of the dark and isolated chambers may have been used for sensory deprivation, while some of the larger galleries appear to have been used for idol worship, said John Rick, an archaeologist at Stanford University who led the study.
“These are stone-lined passages, corridors, rooms, cells and niches large enough to cross, covered with stone beams,” he said in an email to Live Science. “Galleries have different functions from what we can say, [but] all are associated with ritual activity. “
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Rick explained that the newly opened passages were not strictly tunnels because they were not dug into the ground. Instead, they were deliberately built in the mass of the huge temple complex, as it was built in stages between 1200 BC and 200 BC.
Some of the cameras appeared to have been near-surface rooms that had been accessible for some time with heavy roofs and widened entrances, he said. The passages are up to 300 feet (100 meters) long, but many are distorted, with rectangular angles and multiple levels.
A total of 36 galleries and related passages have already been discovered in Chavín de Huántar for 15 years of excavation, but this latest network was only discovered a few years ago and has not been explored until this year, Rick said.
Archaeologists believe that Chavín de Huántar was the religious center of the mysterious Chavín people, who lived in northern and central Peru today between 3200 and 2200, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica (opens in a new tab). The complex is about 270 miles (430 kilometers) north of Lima, in a mountain valley over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and is the largest of several religious sites in Chavin ever discovered.
Rick said the newest passages deep in the complex were first discovered in 2019 and were initially surveyed with a remote-controlled camera.
COVID-19 the restrictions prevented further research until May this year, when archaeologists were able to enter the passages for the first time since they were apparently sealed about 3,000 years ago, he said.
The passages led to a main gallery, which contained two large ritual stone bowls, one decorated with the symbolic head and wings of a condor, a large Andean bird of prey. As a result, the gallery is now known as the Condor Gallery.
“We’ve documented the gallery now, but we have a lot to explore,” Rick said. – Large excavations will begin next year.
He added that the gallery is deeper than most of those discovered before, and appears to be older. “The Condor Gallery shows a lot of evidence dating back at least 3,000 years since the gallery was built and probably since it was officially sealed,” Rick said.
Little is known about the beliefs in Chavin, but the newly discovered passages and gallery appear to have had a religious purpose, similar to other cameras found in the past in Chavin de Huantar. “Galleries have a variety of functions, from what we can say,” Rick said.
They include several small cameras that may have been used for sensory deprivation or ritual visual, auditory and tactile disorientation, he said. Other chambers were used for worship or storage of ritual equipment, including the famous carved decorative tubes made of giant shells (opens in a new tab) which were found in Chavin de Huantar in large quantities and appear to have been used in ceremonies there, he said.
While some passages and galleries are found in religious sites of a similar age in the Andes, they are usually much smaller and simpler – “nothing like the abundance found in Chavin,” Rick said.
“The most similar passages in the New World may be the caves under the pyramids of Teotihuacan in central Mexico, but the differences are still glaring,” Rick said. “Chavin is unique in the number and nature of galleries.”
Anthropologist and archaeologist Richard Burger, an expert on South American prehistory at Yale University who was not involved in the latest research at Chavín de Huántar, said the two cups at the Condor Gallery were probably mortars used to grind psychedelic drugs for religious ceremonies. .
“It was a tradition in Chavin to inhale a hallucinogenic snuff,” he told Live Science. he is disputes (opens in a new tab) that it is made from the seed pods of the fork tree, which contain a powerful hallucinogenic substance that includes dimethyltryptamine or DMT.
University of Florida anthropologist Dan Contreras, who was not involved in the discovery but worked with Rick at Chavín de Huántar, said the latest tunnels are a rare opportunity for archaeologists to explore the passages with new techniques.
While the Chavin temple complex includes several sealed networks of passages, “this remains completely unknown,” he said. “Not only has it not been entered so far, but no one knew it was there.
Many of the corridors appear to have been originally close to the surface, but have been sealed since the complex was built higher over the centuries, he said. One of the most famous is a gallery with a stone monolith near the center.
“There is a compelling argument that this was originally an open square,” Contreras said. “Then, when the temple was built around it, they kept access to what used to be a square, but now it was a completely enclosed space.”
Originally published in Live Science.