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Frieze discovered at the atrium of the Main Pyramid Huaca Garagay site.

Incredible New 3,500-year-old Chavin Style Friezes Discovered at Central Site in Lima

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Lima Municipality archaeologists have discovered ancient, high relief friezes painted in several colors at Huaca Garagay site in Lima's San Martin de Porres district. Experts suggest that the newly found friezes are very similar to those of Chavin de Huantar, but possibly more ancient.

Newly Found Friezes Influenced by Chavin de Huantar

Hector Walde, director of the excavations in the region, said that the newly found friezes were carved on a pilaster positioned at the huaca's ceremonial courtyard. He also mentioned that he could immediately see how influenced the friezes were by Chavin de Huantar, "These friezes display feline features highly similar and influenced by Chavin de Huantar, although their production appears to be more local and even older," he said as News Network Archaeology reports. Access stairways that were probably used as a link connecting the main square and great atrium of the complex have also been found at the 22-hectare site.

New friezes found in January at the Garagay site.

New friezes found in January at the Garagay site. (Eduardo Cavero / El Comercio)

Huaca Garagay History

The Huaca Garagay Temple complex is the most important and one of the oldest Chavin style monuments that has been found in the Lima region. It is dated from around 1500BC and construction of the various elements of the complex would have spanned several generations. As it is situated in the midst of the large, crowded city of Lima, it has been constantly under threat from developers. Over the years it has suffered disruption from both quarrying and construction and the largest pyramid in the Peruvian ‘U’ shaped construction is currently topped by a huge electricity tower.

Garagay Complex had the the form of truncated, flat-topped pyramid platforms arranged in a U shape

Garagay Complex had the the form of truncated, flat-topped pyramid platforms arranged in a U shape (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1974, conservation work was granted by The Department of Research and Restoration of Monumental Goods of the National Institute of Culture. This work discovered polychrome reliefs in two of the pyramids and thousands of ceramic and textile items which indicated that the Garagay site possibly pre-dates the Chavin de Huántar.

It was subsequently left to be looted, invaded by settlers and forgotten for more than 30 years until the current excavations began to reveal its secrets once again.

The Cult Centre of Chavín de Huántar

As DHWTY has reported in a previous Ancient Origins article, Chavín de Huántar is an archaeological site located in the Ancash region of Peru, 250 km north of the country’s capital, Lima. It is located at over 3000m above the sea level and is sandwiched between the desert coast to its west and the tropical Amazonian lowlands to its east.

Chavín de Huántar, Peru

Chavín de Huántar, Peru (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While carbon dating suggests that the site was occupied at least since 3000 BC, it was around 1500 BC that Chavín developed into a sacred site. Chavín became a ceremonial and pilgrimage centre for the religious world of the Andes. Thus, the religious system practiced at Chavín was disseminated over a wide territory of the Andes, as far as the north, central and south coasts, as well as the northern highlands and high jungle of Peru. As a result, Chavín saw a convergence of peoples from different areas, tribes and languages. The religious significance of Chavín can be seen in the two temples built at the site.

One of the most interesting aspects of Chavín de Huántar is its subterranean chambers. These underground passages and chambers are accessed via two entrances behind one of the two temples (the so called ‘Old Temple’). It is the carvings and the sculptures of these chambers that are its most impressive features. For instance, there is the Lanzon, a prism-shaped block of carved granite that is 4.5m in height. This block of granite begins with a broad feline head, and tapers down to a point stuck into the ground. This feline motif can also be seen in the carvings along the outer stone walls of the Castillo sector (the southern wing of the temple). These carvings depict gargoyles, which are supposed to be the temple’s guardians. Apart from feline features, the gargoyles are said to have bird-like characteristics as well.

Feline-like head, similar style to Garagay friezes. National Museum Chavin de Huantar, Peru

Feline-like head, similar style to Garagay friezes. National Museum Chavin de Huantar, Peru (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Interestingly, the feline iconography can be seen across much of Peru, perhaps forming a wider cultural and religious sphere in the region. Although it may be safely said that the Chavín had an influence on some other Peruvian cultures, the origins of Chavín culture is still unknown. While some believe that extraterrestrials were responsible for bringing culture to the Chavín, others believe that influence came not from the sky, but from Central America. It is unlikely that a theory that everyone can agree on will be found any time soon.

Huaca Garagay is Getting Upgraded

Forsaken for more than three decades, the Huaca Garagay is being improved lately by a Lima Municipality team of archaeologists and experts. Garagay, a very significant archaeological site of Lima located in the district of San Martin de Porras – a few blocks from the corner of the avenues Angélica Gamarra and University – is formed by three great pyramids of extreme archaeological value. The main focus of this plan is to upgrade the symbolic structure in order to enable San Martin de Porres neighbors to get familiar with the rich history and culture of the city.

Top Image: Frieze discovered at the atrium of the Main Pyramid Huaca Garagay site. Photo Credit: ANDINA/Difusión

By Theodoros Karasavvas



To me, the evidence suggests that Huaca Garagay influenced Chavin de Huantar. Which would not be unusual because archaeologists believe that Chavin de Huantar was influenced by many different cultures from the Late Pre-Ceramic and Initial Period.

Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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