Ancient ‘Inca’ Pachacamac Idol Whispers Secrets of Wari Past
An ancient and deeply spiritualized wooden idol of the Andean ‘Earth Maker’, Pachacamac ( Quechua: Pachakamaq), was once worshiped at the Temple of the Sun; a 30,000-square-meter step pyramid at the Pachacamac sacred site, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of modern-day Lima, Peru. It was thought that the Spanish conquistadors who sacked the temple in 1533 destroyed the ancient idol, however, in 1938 an intricately carved wooden post depicting Pachacamac was discovered at the archaeological site.
That very idol was the focus of a new study led by Dr Marcela Sepúlveda and in her new paper published on PlosOne, she says the new findings about the Pachacamac idol, add “a new material dimension for cult and pilgrimage in the Andean region.”
Ancient Idol Reexamined
In Andean mythology, Viracocha was the universal creator god and the first man and woman were created by the god Pachakamaq. The place, ‘Pachacamac’, was settled around 200 AD and thrived until the mid-16th century when the Spanish conquistadors invaded. This 600-hectare-sacred-site has more than 50 ancient architectural structures constructed from edged stones and mudbrick walls. While even Live Science are calling this an “Incan idol”: it was not originally Inca.
The ruins of Pachacamac, an ancient archaeological site on the Pacific coast just south of Lima, Peru. ( Mark / Adobe stock)
Terence D’Altroy’s 2003 book, The Incas , tells us that after the Battle of Cajamarca, on 5 January 1533, Francisco Pizarro sent his brother Hernando Pizarro, and fourteen horsemen, to Pachacamac to collect its “gold riches.” However, in advance of the invasion the solar priests ordered: “the virgin mamaconas to leave the Temple of the Sun with more than four hundred loads (each 60lbs) of gold,” which was buried. It makes perfect sense that when the Temple of the Sun was emptied to protect its treasures, that the central wooden Pachacamac idol would also have been removed and buried at that time.
Now, the Pachacamac Site Museum in Peru has conducted what Eurekalert call a “never-before-seen non-invasive and non-destructive analysis” of the idols, hoping to raise their understanding of the materials, practices and knowledge related to culture in the Andes during the pre-Hispanic period. The researchers have studied all the painted objects and walls at Pachacamac.
This map shows the Pachacamac archaeological site and the location of the painted temple, where the idol was discovered in 1938. (Sepúlveda M, Pozzi-Escot D, Angeles Falcón R, Bermeo N, Lebon M, Moulhérat C, et al. (2020)/ PlosOne)
Was Pachacamac Actually From the Wari Culture?
The reason the Pachacamac idol is ‘not’ Inca is because it was carbon-14 dated to around 731 AD, therefore it was crafted by the Wari culture about 700 years before the height of the Inca Empire . The Wari dominated the southcentral Andes and along the Pacific coast of modern-day Peru from about 500 to 1000 AD. They ruled over the ancient oracle center of Pachacamac and much of the territories earlier occupied by Moche and later Chimu cultures, but after centuries of drought the Wari culture began to collapse around 800 AD.
Determining this particular wooden idol is indeed Wari confirms to the archaeologists that Pachacamac was already of great ritual importance before the rise of the Incas, who much later built this site into their pilgrimage system as an important huiaca (sacred place), which the Sapa Inca from Cuzco would pilgrimage to for insights from the famed solar oracle of Pachacamac - the wooden idol.
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True Colors and New Perspectives
The team of researchers also applied “polychromy,” which revealed underlying chemical signatures on the idol and yellow was found on the headdress, while the teeth had been painted white. Furthermore, red pigment was discovered, which at first was suspected as being blood, splatters from sacrifices, but when tested it was found to be mercury.
The Pachacamac idol that was studied by the researchers. In the last picture, the red arrows mark the presence of red pigments containing mercury . ( © Marcela Sepulveda/Rommel Angele / PlosOne / Museo de sitio Pachacamac )
These colors inform the archaeologists that the idol had been painted “deliberately” and they think the mercury might have come from cinnabar, which was only available 400 miles away. The paper also suggests the use of this rare foreign pigment, while other colors were available locally, might have been a show of economic and political power.
The scientists concluded that being dated between the 8th and 9th centuries the statue would have been worshiped for almost 700 years, when Pachacamac was a major place of pilgrimage. This study essentially offers a new perspective on Pachacamac’s emblematic and legendary sacred icon, the great oracle of Pachacamac, but also on the colorful practices of the pre-Hispanic Andean cultures before the Spanish conquest of the mid-1500s put all such icons into the ‘sin-bin’, as diabolical works.
The research article, ‘Unraveling the polychromy and antiquity of the Pachacamac Idol, Pacific coast, Peru’ by Marcela Sepúlveda et al. is published under a creative commons license by PLOS ONE . https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0226244
By Ashley Cowie