Sunday May 22, 2016

Manipulation has been driving innovation for ages

Chavín de Huántar, Peru, with site in middle, modern town on the right and the Cordillera Blanca mountains visible in the distant centre.

Chavín de Huántar, Peru, with site in middle, modern town on the right and the Cordillera Blanca mountains visible in the distant centre. (John Rick)

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This story first aired in May 2016.


We've all had those days at work where we've had a disagreement with our boss and maybe, just maybe, thought: who put you in charge anyway? Well, you may have to look to prehistoric archaeology to find the answer.

The real lesson of Chavín for the present day is, to understand what we don't understand. And that is, where did our types of society come from? - John Rick

John Rick is an archaeologist at Stanford University. For more than 20 years, he's studied the archaeological site of Chavín de Huántar in the Andes of Peru.

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The ceremonial center of Chavín de Huántar, looking west across the Mosna River. (John Rick)

The more than 3,000-year-old site was a ceremonial religious centre for the Andean world. It's an elaborate temple complex that includes an intriguing maze of underground galleries.

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Part of Chavín's principal underground canal system, showing dogleg corners and the formal entrance staircase from surface. (John Rick)

John's research suggests that Chavín society was ruled by an elaborate priesthood. He's found evidence that suggests visitors to the site were subjected to magical displays of power involving the manipulation of light, water, and sound.

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An X-ray view of the galleries (underground passages and labyrinths) of Chavín de Huántar. (John Rick)

John believes the labyrinthine passages and mystical performance spaces at the site of Chavín de Huántar provide clues about the origins of authority in our society. And, the history of authority and power in turn tells us a lot about innovation and technological change.

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Some of the major buildings of Chavín. (John Rick)