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Chavin, Nazca, Moche, Huari and Tiwanaku civilizations

Learn about several of the pre-Columbian civilizations that emerged around the Andes in and near modern-day Peru.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] The western or northwestern coast of South America has been an interesting place for ancient civilizations. We believe it to be one of the places that agriculture developed independently, and as we'll see in this video, and we've talked about in other videos, it's a place where we have many significant cultures and civilizations and empires developing. Now what's interesting about it, it is not your classic river valley civilization like we have in Mesopotamia or in ancient Egypt or along the Yellow River in China or the Indus River in India and Pakistan. Instead, this area is really defined by the Humboldt Current. The Humboldt Current is a current that comes up from the south and off the coast of what is modern-day Peru for the most part, it brings all these nutrients from the bottom of the ocean. And what it does is it makes it a very powerful fishery, so there's a lot of fish in the ocean in this part of the world. And it also has interesting effects on the climate on land. So in this region, you can see even on this map, there's this thin strip of desert, and then you get into the Andes Mountains, and on the other side of the Andes Mountains, you start to have the tropical rainforest. So if you go to Peru, especially on the western part of Peru, the ocean will look like this. This is actually a picture I took from a recent family trip to Peru. Then, as you get right onto the coast, it will be pretty arid desert, and then when you get up into the mountains, they're fairly high altitude, you'll have these mountain valleys, some of them are at 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 feet. This is actually another picture that I took from my recent vacation in Peru a few months ago. And what's interesting about the ancient civilizations there is some of them might have settled on the coast to take advantage of the fishing that was available. There were some rivers, or there continue to be some rivers, that go from the mountains through the desert, so some early agriculture developed around that. But there's also civilizations that developed around these high altitude valleys. And what's really interesting about these civilizations is because of the terrain, they weren't as unified as things we might see in Mesoamerica. So one of the first civilizations in the all Americas that we have archeological evidence of is the Caral or Norte Chico civilization. And one thing to keep in mind, as I give the names of these civilizations, this is not what they called themselves. The civilizations tend to be named after the most significant archeological locations that people have found. And now as we get into the first millennium BCE, we have what's called the Chavin civilization. Once again, it wasn't their name. This was about 3,000 years ago. And to be clear, this is when we just start to see that civilization getting quite advanced. There's evidence that people had been settled in this area around modern-day Peru and Bolivia and northern Chile and Ecuador for potentially thousands of years before that. But just to get a sense of the Chavin civilization, here are some archeological artifacts discovered. And they were discovered at Chavin de Huantar, thus the name Chavin civilization, sometimes called Chavin culture. And what's interesting is we have these artifacts, it looks like it was a religious cultural center. Some people refer to it as a religious cult that really took off in this area, but we don't believe that it was a formal empire. We don't know for certain, because we don't have written records, so we're just trying to figure out what we can from the archeological evidence. Now, near the time that the Chavin culture started to decline, and what's interesting, we believe that a lot of these cultures declined either from warfare between themselves or some type of climate change, whether it was the El Niño or some type of drought or famine and maybe that could actually cause a lot of the conflict within a society as well, but those are some of the leading theories as to why the Chavin culture ended around 200 BCE. Now around that time, we start to see the emergence of several other cultures. You have the famous Nazca culture emerge right over here in southwest Peru. And they're most famous, perhaps, for the Nazca Lines, these huge, I guess you say drawings, or patterns, that are made in the land. Some of them are 300 meters, a third of a kilometer, and you really can't even appreciate what they represent unless you're looking at it from a significant altitude. Some people have theorized that this is some type of message they're trying to send to the sky gods. Some people have even thought, hey, maybe this has something to do with trying to communicate with aliens. This is famously called the Space Man. Who knows, it's interesting to theorize about that Nazca civilization, which started to emerge around 200 BCE. Once again, we don't have written record, so we can just look at their architecture, these patterns that they created. Now a little bit later, we start to see the emergence of the Moche civilization or the Moche culture in this area in light blue over here, sometimes called Mochica. And this is one of the significant structures they built, Hauca del Sol, known as the Temple of the Sun, and it's been damaged a lot, oftentimes by people who are trying to loot it or excavate it in irresponsible ways, but it was the largest structure we have found from pre-Colombian America. When we say pre-Colombian America, we're saying before Christopher Columbus got to America. The Moche are really interesting. Even though they didn't have writing, we can learn a lot from their art and this is some examples of it and frankly this is some of the less graphic examples of it. Now, as we get into the first millennium, especially the middle part of the first millennium, we start to see some other significant cultures and civilizations emerge. So, for example, around 500 CE, so roughly 1500 years ago, you see the Wari civilization emerge, and that's here in red. And there's some debates and you'll see these debates a lot as we study ancient history. Was it an empire or was it just a culture that had a lot of influence? Some of the arguments for empire are it seemed like there was wealth, it seemed like they were able to build large infrastructure works, there was consistency across different settlements. Now there's also the Tiwanaku, and we believe it was truly an empire, but we can say the Tiwanaku civilization, right over here in yellow, really centered at off the coast of Lake Titicaca, which is right in that area right over here. But the big take away here is this is just a sample of some of the civilizations that you had in this part of the world. Now what's really interesting is, as I mentioned, a lot of them weren't able to form formal empires, people think because of the valley, the mountains, the terrain, that were keeping people from maybe trading or being able to control each other a little bit more strongly. But eventually we do have the emergence of fairly strong empires, as we see in the Incas, which emerges in the 15th century, around 1438. And then the Inca empire ends with the European colonization of the Americas. And we also believe that the Tiwanaku were a significant empire, despite some of the geographical hurdles.