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The newly uncovered wall carvings found in Vichama, Peru.

3800-Year-Old Carvings Show Starving City’s Pleas To Water God Were Answered

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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.

According to archaeologist Ruth Shady, who leads excavations at the site, their pleas were answered. Experts arrived at this conclusion when they recently unearthed a carving of a human-like toad inside a ceremonial complex. In traditional Andean belief, a depiction of a toad can be used as a symbol for rain.

The toad figure is shown wrapping its hands around a human face below, which suggests that the people of Vichama were waiting for, or receiving, the rainfall that was so badly needed. Archaeologist Tatiana Abad states the mural appears to represent the “announcement of the arrival of water.”

The wall carvings found in Vichama, Peru, in 2018. (Zona Arqueológica Caral / Andina)

Other Carvings Discovered Nearby

Last year, wall carvings were located inside of the same structure where the rain representation was found. These 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. That 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.”

The humanoid seed. (Ministerio de Cultura)

The humanoid seed. (Ministerio de Cultura)

Shady previously stated that the snake carvings found at the site may be representations of a rain-bearing water deity. Shady believes the 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. The more recent discovery of the toad figure provides more evidence for this belief.

What Do We Know About Vichama?

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.

The Norte Chico Civilization

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 Caral settlement was abandoned. While it is not entirely clear why the abandonment took place – some say it was climate change - it has been proposed that the people of Caral migrated to other parts of Peru and took their skills along with them.

An aerial view of the ‘Pirámide Mayor’ in Caral. (Realhistory)

An aerial view of the ‘Pirámide Mayor’ in Caral. (Realhistory)

Archaeologists 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 their research are correct, the people in Vichama survived the climate change, unlike the people who lived in Caral.

Archaeologist Pedro Vargas provided one explanation, saying  “As both an agricultural and fishing civilization, it knew how to take advantage of the resources in a way to adequately resurrect its economy.”

The recently unearthed toad and human carvings were discovered in front of the carvings found last year. (ANDINA/Norman Córdova)

Top Image: The carving of a toad-like figure provides more evidence that rain may have arrived in time for the people in Vichama, Peru 3,800 years ago. Source: Ministerio de Cultura de Perú

By: Alicia McDermott

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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