Long before European settlers landed in the Americas, there were sophisticated cultures flourishing throughout the Western Hemisphere. South America was home to a particularly interesting group of civilizations. This article discusses five major Ancient civilizations in ancient South America: Chavin, Moche, Nazca, Tiwanaku and the Inca.
The Chavin people occupied Northern Peru for several centuries before organizing themselves into civilized groups. Around 1900 BC, elements of a civilized culture begin appearing and by 900 – 800 AD the culture was thriving. The Chavin practiced a seemingly organized religion, although the details of which are unknown. The Chavin people produced beautiful artwork, metalwork and fabrics. The Chavin culture gradually died out, and was replaced by the Moche people around 100 AD.
The Moche civilization began around 100 AD, with the ending of the Chavin rule in the area, and disappeared around 800 AD. The Moche had no writing system, so our understanding of them comes from their art. The Moche produced brilliant, although often brutal and violent, artwork that they used in their religious ceremonies as well as their every day lives. At the ruins of Sipan, archaeologists found evidence that the Moche practiced the torture, ritualistic bondage and sacrifice that is so often found in their artwork.
The Moche was one of the first American civilizations to create the flat top pyramids found in many ruins still visible today. The culture began its demise around 800 AD, although its influence is evident in many other cultures throughout South America in later years.
The Nazca civilization (this is the modern-day name – the name the Nazca used for themselves has been lost) began around 1 AD in southern Peru. Originally a group of loose-knit villages, the Nazca evolved into a complex culture with large cities, defined social orders and an organized military. They also had a complicated irrigation system as well as beautiful artwork and textiles.
The Nazca were the creators of the “Nazca Lines.” These were huge lines made from light colored rocks that created pictures visible only from the sky. They were created between 200 AD – 650 AD and have been the subject of many theories and debates.
The Nazca civilization ended some time around 800 AD
The Tiwanaku (This is a modern name-what the Tiwanaku people called themselves has been lost.) settled near Lake Titicaca in what is now Bolivia around 400 BC. They were advanced builders, creating stone monuments and walls with perfectly carved rock. They also had advanced irrigation systems that allowed them to farm the wetland areas.
The Tiwanaku had no system of writing; so much of what we know of them comes from their superb architecture and to a lesser extent their ceramics and textiles. Not much is known about their religion, but it appears to have been poly-theistic and centered around farming.
Not much is know about the beginnings of the Inca culture. It is believed to have begun around 1200 AD in the Cuzco region which is in modern day Peru. The culture flourished throughout modern day Peru and Chile until Spanish conquerors invaded the area in 1535.
The Inca people were an advanced civilization with a strict social structure, which left behind several stunning monuments, including the most famous, Machu Pichu. They were also fierce warriors and practiced advanced farming and irrigation techniques. They were excellent time keepers and practiced a poly-theistic religion.
This has been a general look at some of the key cultures. Many remnants of these and other lost civilizations can be found today throughout South America, and still influence many of the cultures found in rural areas today.