3800-Year-Old Peruvian Wall Carvings Depict a Starving Civilization’s Pleas to a Water Deity
3,800 years ago, the people living in what is now called Vichama, Peru carved snakes and human heads into their walls alongside depictions of emaciated people. They were starving and dying and hoped a water deity would finally be lenient and send them some rain to let their friends, family, and neighbors survive.
DW reports the recently revealed Peruvian wall carvings stretch across a one meter (3.2 feet) high and 2.8 meters (9.2 feet) long adobe wall at the entry point of a ceremonial hall. The wall relief depicts four human heads with their eyes-closed and two snakes passing between and around them. These two snakes have their heads pointing at the image of what DW describes as “a humanoid seed symbol that is digging into the soil.”
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The humanoid seed. ( Ministerio de Cultura )
According to archaeologist Ruth Shady, who leads excavations at the site, the snakes may be representations of a rain-bearing water deity. Shady believes the nearby images of starving people suggests the wall carving artists may have created the snakes and human heads at a time when a drought and famine were coming to an end.
Vichama is located 110 kilometers (68 miles) north of Peru's capital, Lima. Excavations suggest it was occupied during the Late Archaic period (3000 -1800 BC) and was an agricultural and fishing community. It was named after a Pre-Columbian demigod and has been excavated by archaeologists since 2007.
In 2015, archaeologists found evidence for the important roles some women had in ancient Vichama. Three painted figurines, two of women and one of a man, were discovered in the ‘Las Hornacinas’ building. They stand 21 centimeters (8.27 inches) tall and are believed to have been offerings representing high status individuals. Two of the figurines, one of a woman and the man, are painted as if they were naked in white, black and red. The third statue has 28 fingers and red dots painted on her face. She may represent a priestess.
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Vichama is one of the archaeological sites pertaining to the Caral civilization . Also known as Norte Chico, of Supe, Peru. A previous Ancient Origins article explains, “Their capital was the Sacred City of Caral – a 5,000-year-old metropolis complete with complex agricultural practices, rich culture, and monumental architecture, including six large pyramidal structures, stone and earthen platform mounds, temples, amphitheatre, sunken circular plazas, and residential areas.” It is the first known civilization of the Americas and lasted until around 1800 BC, after which the settlements were abandoned.
An aerial view of the ‘Pirámide Mayor’ in Caral. ( Realhistory)
Archaeologists also believe that the wall carvings show the inhabitants of Vichama wanted to show others about the hardships they faced when rain was scarce. If the results of research are correct, the people in Vichama survived the climate change, unlike those in Caral. Archaeologist Pedro Vargas said “As both an agricultural and fishing civilization, it knew how to take advantage of the resources in a way to adequately resurrect its economy.”
Top Image: The newly uncovered wall carvings found in Vichama, Peru. Source: Zona Arqueológica Caral / Andina
By: Alicia McDermott