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What kind of hallucinogenic snuff was used at Chavín de Huántar? An iconographic identification

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What kind of hallucinogenic snuff was used at Chavín de Huántar? An iconographic identification

123
Ñawpa Pacha, Journal of Andean Archaeology, Volume 31, Number 2, pp. 000–000. Copyright © 2011 Institute of Andean Studies. All rights reserved.
W      
 C  H
A  
Richard L. Burger
Iconography and artifacts from Chavín de Huántar attest to the importance of psychoactive substances consumed na-
sally as snu, and consequently hallucinogens other than San Pedro cactus must have been utilized. is article presents
iconographic evidence from a Chavín de Huántar sculpture demonstrating the religious signicance of Anadenanthera
sp. (vilca), a plant containing the vision-producing bufotenine. Andenanthera colubrina var. Cebil is found east of the
Peruvian Andes and consequently it is the most likely source of the psychoactive snu ingested in the rituals at Chavín de
Huántar and related ceremonial centers such as Kuntur Wasi.
Aunque la utilización de substancias alucinógenas en el templo de Chavín de Huántar durante el n del Período Inicial y
el Horizonte Temprano (1000–300 a.C.) ha recibido la amplia aceptación de los arqueólogos, la única identicación de
una droga alucinógena ha sido el San Pedro (Trichocereus pachanoi), un cactus rico en mescalina que hoy se encuentra
en la costa y la sierra, incluyendo los alrededores de Chavín de Huántar. Sin embargo, este se consume como un líquido,
no como rapé. La iconografía y los artefactos de Chavín de Huántar demuestran la importancia de sustancias psicotrópi-
cas consumidas como polvo por la nariz, y por lo tanto, es probable que variedades de alucinógenos fuera de Trichocer-
eus pachanoi fueron utilizados en el pasado. Este artículo ofrece evidencia iconográca de una escultura de Chaívin de
Huántar que conrma la signicancia religiosa de Anadenanthera sp. (vilca), una planta que contiene la droga alucinó-
gena bufotenina. Los botánicos indican que la especie Andenanthera colubrina var. Cebil se encuentra en los ambientes
al este de los andes peruanos, y por lo tanto, este variedad es probablemente la fuente de los polvos psicotropos utilizados
en las ceremonias de Chavín de Huántar y otro centros, como Kutur Wasi. Las implicaciones de esta identicación para
las rituales religiosas y el intercambio de larga distancia también se consideran.
R. Burger, Department of Anthropology, Yale University,10 Sachem Street, New Haven, CT 06525, Richard.Burger@yale.edu.
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
124
Since the pioneering work of Alana Cordy-Collins
(1977, 1980, 1982) and Douglas Sharon (Sharon
1972, 2000; Sharon and Donnan 1977), there has been
a growing consensus among archaeologists that halluci-
nogens played an important role in the ceremonial life
at Chavín de Huántar and related centers such as Kun-
tur Wasi, Pacopampa and Campanayuq Rumi (Burg-
er 1992; Matsumoto and Cavero 2011; Rick 2006).
e basis for this consensus has been summarized by
Constantino Torres in his review article “Chavíns Psy-
choactive Pharmacopoeia: the Iconographic Evidence
(2008). Basically, archaeologists working in the Andes
have come to accept the central role of hallucinogens
in Chavín rituals as a result of evidence that includes
iconography from stone sculpture and painted textiles,
objects believed to have been used in the preparation,
storage and consumption of the psychoactive substanc-
es, and ethnohistoric and ethnographic accounts of the
ritual consumption of hallucinogens among indige-
nous South American groups that have been interpret-
ed as continuities from Pre-Hispanic times.
e study of hallucinogens at Chavín de Huán-
tar and other centers of Initial Period and Early Hori-
zon has been paralleled by investigations into the use of
psychoactive drugs in later Andean cultures, most no-
tably those dating to the Middle Horizon, Huari and
Tiahuanaco (Knobloch 2000; Torres and Repke 2006).
Special attention also has been devoted to the prehis-
toric peoples of San Pedro de Atacama in northern
Chile, where hundreds of individuals were buried with
drug-related paraphernalia and where the preservation
of these materials is exceptionally good. Research on
these cemetery remains has been expanded to include
tests of residues in order to identify the drugs utilized
through chemical analysis (Torres et al. 1991).
In the case of Chavín de Huántar, an icono-
graphic identication of San Pedro (Trichocereus pacha-
noi), a hallucinogenic plant containing mescaline, was
made in 1977 based on the iconographic analysis of
a sculpture from the Circular Plaza excavated by Luis
Lumbreras in 1972 (Sharon and Donnan 1977; cf.
Lumbreras 1977). e Circular Plaza was adorned by
a stone frieze depicting a ceremonial procession with
elaborately dressed priests and jaguars. One of the an-
thropomorphic priests (or mythic forerunners of these
priests) is shown with a headdress of intertwined snakes
and prominent interlocking fangs holding a sta or
club in the form of a stalk of the San Pedro cactus in
his right hand (Burger 1992: 125).
ree other stone sculptures or stone sculpture
fragments from Chavín de Huántar also show the San
Pedro cactus (e.g., Tello 1960: 216-217, g.: 50; Rick
2006: 104, g. 3). Among these is a miniature stone
tenon head recovered from the Chavín temple in 1935
and donated to the museum of the University of Tru-
jillo (Figure 1; Burmester 1935). is unique object
depicts stalks of San Pedro growing from the eyes of
a fanged anthropomorphic visage (Burger 1992:181).
If dated using the stylistic chronology proposed for
the Chavín stone sculptures by John Rowe (1967),
the carving from the Circular Plaza was crafted in an
early Chavín style (Phase A/B), while the miniature
tenon head has features characteristic of late Chavín
art (Phase D), thus suggesting that San Pedro cactus
played a role in the rituals during much or all of the
temple’s long history.
Condence in the identication of San Pedro
cactus at Chavín de Huántar has been reinforced by
its naturalistic three-dimensional depiction on numer-
ous Cupisnique ceramic bottles from the north coast of
Peru dating to the late Initial Period and Early Horizon
(Sharon 1972, 2000; Cordy-Collins 1998). On these
vessels, the distinctively ribbed stalks of the hallucino-
genic cacti are often shown next to prole jaguars, a
common alter ego of priests and religious specialists at
Chavín de Huántar and elsewhere (Burger 1992; Lar-
co 1941; Reichel-Dolmato 1975). In addition, stalks
and sliced star-shaped sections of San Pedro appear
painted on the Chavín -style textiles looted from the
Early Horizon site of Karwa on the south coast of Peru
(Cordy-Collins 1980, 1982).
e identication of Trichocereus pachanoi is im-
portant because its stalks contain mescaline-bearing
alkaloids that when appropriately prepared can cause
hallucinogenic visions. San Pedro cactus remains a
popular traditional medicine in curing rituals carried
out by modern Peruvian curanderos (healers) on the
north coast of Peru and in the northern highlands of
Huancabamba. Many archaeologists and anthropolo-
gists have attended the all-night ceremonies in which
Burger: Hallucinogenic snu used at Chavín de Huántar
125
San Pedro is imbibed and some have actively partici-
pated in the rituals. Drawing on these powerful experi-
ences, they have suggested that related ceremonies may
have been characteristic of the Pre-Columbian past
(e.g., Sharon and Donnan 1977). Given the icono-
graphic evidence summarized above, the incorporation
of San Pedro into Andean religious rituals probably has
a history going back at least to 900 BC, if not further.
e identication of San Pedro cactus does not,
in itself, solve the problem of Chavín’s use of hallu-
cinogens. Trichocereus pachanoi is traditionally boiled
and consumed as a beverage usually by drinking (Sha-
ron 2000). e preparation and consumption of San
Pedro requires no paraphernalia that is unambiguous-
ly used for that purpose, so that if this hallucinogenic
cactus had not been represented on the sculptures and
pottery, its presence in the rituals probably would have
gone undetected (Torres and Repke 2006: 12).
In contrast, the preparation and consumption
of psychoactive snu involves an elaborate kit of items
that was widely diused through the Orinoco and Am-
azonian lowlands, as well as some adjacent highland
areas. As will be discussed later in this article, this kit
can be easily recognized based on ethnographic analo-
gy. Diagnostic snung paraphernalia is found in abun-
dance at Chavín de Huántar and related sites and thus,
it would appear that San Pedro cactus was but one
component of a larger “psychoactive pharmacopoeia”
utilized by the religious specialists at the Chavín temple
(Torres 2008). If so, what plant or plants were obtained
for use in the preparation of the hallucinogenic snu?
Identication of Anadenanthera
sp. (vilca) as the Psychoactive Plant
Utilized at Chavín de Huántar
In this article, I argue that the seeds of Anadenanthera
sp. (vilca) were the source of the hallucinogenic snu
ingested during the ceremonies at the Chavín de Huán-
tar temple. Two obvious approaches to identifying the
source of psychoactive snu at Chavín de Huántar are
chemical studies of residues and iconographic analy-
sis. While the former has been successfully applied at a
range of sites in the dry caves of northwest Argentina
and the desert cemeteries of northern Chile (e.g., Tor-
res et al. 1991) they have yet to yield results for Chavín
de Huántar or other Peruvian sites.
An iconographic approach is an attractive al-
ternative, especially since there are more early stone
carvings at Chavín de Huántar than at any other site
in Peru except Cerro Sechín. And, despite the com-
plex and sometimes confusing artistic style of Chavín
de Huántar, numerous mammals, birds, insects, and
even mollusks have been identied at a genus or species
level from the sculptures (Rowe 1967; Lathrap 1973;
Bruhns 1977). e success in identifying one halluci-
nogenic plant, (Trichocereus pachanoi), has already been
discussed. Nonetheless, outside of the famous Tello
Obelisk, most Chavín sculptures represent monstrous
animals and supernatural beings rather than plants so
the sample of sculptures relevant to identifying the bo-
tanical source of hallucinogenic snu is, in reality, quite
limited. Under these circumstances, it might be tempt-
ing to assume that all of the extant Chavín sculptures
depicting plants would have been carefully scrutinized
for representations of hallucinogenic plants. Remark-
ably, this is not the case.
While investigating at Chavín de Huántar in
1975, I became intrigued by a small rectangular carv-
ing of a supernatural or mythical gure adorned with
plants that was kept in the storehouse created by
Chavín de Huántar’s resident archaeologist, Marino
Figure 1. Miniature stone tenon head from Chavín de Huántar
showing mythic or supernatural being with mescaline-bearing San
Pedro cactus stalks emerging from his eyes.
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
126
Gonzales Moreno (Figure 2). is sculpture did not
appear in Tello’s posthumous 1960 volume on Chavín,
but Pedro Rojas Ponce photographed it during a vis-
it to Chavín de Huántar in the 1960s. Gonzales may
have recovered it during his clearing of the site during
the late 1950s and 1960s (see Lumbreras 2007:81-94)
but it is impossible to be sure about this until the note-
books of Marino Gonzales are published (Rick and
Mendoza Rick 2003). In 2002 Kaumann Doig illus-
trated a drawing of this sculpture by Otárola (Figure
3) describing it as representing “a personage with tiger
attributes holding diverse plants” (Kaumann Doig
2002:203, my translation). e sculpture was publicly
displayed for the rst time in 2008 at the Museo Na-
cional Chavín in Chavín de Huántar with the follow-
ing description: “Supernatural with Feline Attributes
(my translation).
e carving is a at polished granite rectangular
slab carved in low relief. e central image is framed
by an undecorated band running along the border of
the stone, a convention also utilized on the sculptures
in both the Circular Plaza and the Patio of the New
Figure 2. Stone sculpture from
Chavín de Huántar depicting a
supernatural gure adorned with
Anadenanthera sp. (vilca) leaves and
pods. 54 cm in height, 50 cm in
width and 16 cm thick. On display
at the Museo Nacional Chavín,
Chavín de Huántar.
Figure 3. Drawing by Otárola of the sculpture shown in Figure 2
(Courtesy of Federico Kaumann Doig.)
Burger: Hallucinogenic snu used at Chavín de Huántar
127
Temple (Atrio de las Lápidas). e quality of the in-
cised lines and polishing on this sculpture is inferior to
that used on the stone carvings decorating the Circular
Plaza and the Patio of the New Temple, and it may not
come from either context. At the same time, the shape,
theme and framed format suggest that it was originally
set as part of a stone frieze decorating an open patio or
plaza at the Temple complex at Chavín de Huántar.
A closer observation of the sculpture reveals that
it depicts an anthropomorphic gure standing in pro-
le; the gure has numerous supernatural attributes
including interlocking fangs toward the back of the
mouth and a third frontal fang; an unusual eccen-
tric pupil shifted to the extreme right of the eye; and
clawed feet. e feet resemble those of Chavíns main
deity as shown on the sculptures known as the Medusa
and Raimondi Stones, except that each of the feet on
this sculpture has three recurved claws rather than two.
Like the supernatural depicted on the Lanzón, the Me-
dusa Stone and the Raimondi Stone, this gure wears
a wide loincloth, a broad ornamental band on each
wrist, and another around each ankle. He also wears
a tippet or ornamental collar around the neck. Ser-
pents or, more accurately, cat-snakes (i.e., serpentine
forms with ears) hang or rise from his arms while oth-
ers emerge from his nose, eye, and ear (Roe 1974). A
bifurcated recurved scroll shoots out of his mouth. In
his right hand he holds an unknown object that termi-
nates in a prole snakehead, while in the left hand he
grasps a sta in the form of an undulating two-headed
cat-snake.
Representations of botanical elements are abun-
dant on the sculpture; in fact, there are seventeen
of them. But rather than showing an entire plant or
plants, the representations consist exclusively of seed-
pods and leaves sometimes attached to short branch-
es. In one case, a pod and a leaf are attached to the
same branch so that it is fair to assume that both the
pods and the leaves are elements of the same plant. If
so, then only one kind of plant is represented on the
sculpture. Of the two dominant botanical elements,
the pods are most distinctive and most common. ey
are sinuate and irregular in shape and large circular de-
pressions dominate their surface. Where the sculpture
is well preserved, it can be seen that the pods terminate
in cuspidate apices (i.e., a sharp point). ese pods,
eleven in all, hang from supernatural being’s earlobe
as ornaments, emerge from his mouth, and come from
the mouths and noses of the sundry cat-snakes.
e leaves are less clearly depicted; they could
represent bipinnately compound leaves such as found
on many ferns or else laurel-shaped leaves with thick
central veins and secondary diagonal veining. e
leaves grow from the heads, mouths and noses of the
cat-snakes as well as the mouth of the supernatural be-
ing. It may be signicant that on the Chavín sculpture
under discussion over half of the pods are shown hang-
ing down, while the foliage is consistent depicted as
pointing upwards. e pods and leaves on this sculp-
ture do not resemble the plants on any other known
stone sculpture from Chavín de Huántar
ere are over one hundred species used as hallu-
cinogens in the Western hemisphere (Torres and Repke
2006: xi), but a review of photographs and drawings of
the most common ones utilized in South America, such
as those illustrated in Plants of the Gods by Richard Evans
Schultes and Albert Hofmann (1992) suggested to me
that the oblong seedpods shown on the Chavín sculp-
ture in question strongly resemble seedpods produced
by mimosa trees of the genus Anadenanthera sp. a mem-
ber of the Leguminosae family (Figure 4). When fruit-
ing, pods from Anadenanthera sp., like the botanical ele-
ments in the iconography, have an irregular prole with
undulating edges, a vertical stacking of spherical forms
inside the pod produced by its large orbicular seeds, and
Figure 4. Photograph of Anadenanthera colubrina pods and leaves
(Courtesy of Constantino Torres.)
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
128
a point or hooked form at the apex or end of the pod.
e pods of Anadenanthera sp. are distinctive
and were rst recognized in the iconography of Pre-
Hispanic Peru by Peter Furst (1974). He identied the
representation of a tree with such pods as Anadenan-
thera sp. that was painted on a Moche IV pottery dip-
per. Christopher Donnan (1976, 1978) subsequently
found additional depictions of the plant on another
Moche dipper and a stirrup-spouted bottle. ere is
great similarity in the artistic treatment of pods be-
tween the Moche ne-line pottery and the Chavín
sculpture, but the Moche painters were able to achieve
a more realistic portrayal of the bipinnately compound
leaves and the typically arched branches of Anadenan-
thera sp., thereby strengthening condence in its iden-
tication (Torres and Repke 2006: 13, Plates 8-10).
is plant was subsequently identied by Patricia Kno-
bloch on the massive Middle Horizon urns from Con-
chapata on the edge of the city of Ayacucho (Knob-
loch 2000: 288). e depiction of its seedpods and its
multi-pained feather-like bipinnnate leaves by Middle
Horizon potters resembled that of the Moche except
that spherical owers also were shown blooming.
It is interesting that the representation of Anade-
nanthera sp. on the Chavín sculpture shows many
more pods (n=11) than leaves or compound leaves
(n=6), suggesting that the pods were of greater signi-
cance to the artist. is is not surprising considering
that the economically valuable portion of Anadenan-
thera sp. were the seeds in the pods, rather than the foli-
age (Figure 5). On the sculpture, the pods are shown as
containing either three or two seeds; this is also true of
the Moche depictions of Anadenanthera sp. However,
in the modern botanical descriptions, the pods of this
plant are said to contain 8-16 seeds. is discrepancy
may be due simply to artistic conventions. Alternative-
ly, the small number of seeds may reect varieties of
the shrub or tree that existed three thousand years ago,
but have been gradually replaced by varieties with more
abundant seeds. e edible fruits of many cultigens,
such as peanuts and pacae, are signicantly smaller and
the seeds fewer when found in the middens of Initial
Period and Early Horizon sites than those found at late
prehispanic sites and in modern elds as a result of hu-
man intervention. It is possible that analogous process-
es may have occurred with the pods of Anadenanthera
sp.
Traditionally, botanists divide Anadenanthera sp.
into two species and within each of these, two varieties.
Anadenanthera peregrina var. peregrina and Anadenan-
thera colubrina var. Cebil are well known to ethnobota-
nists because of their widespread use as hallucinogens
in indigenous ritual. e main way of telling these spe-
cies apart has to do with the texture of the pods and
the presence of a gland on each anther of Anadenan-
thera colubrina (Torres and Repke 2006); neither of
these traits would be visible in the prehispanic iconog-
raphy. Nonetheless, since both plants have very simi-
lar morphology and chemistry, species dierentiation
is perhaps less relevant than it might be. In both species
of Anadenanthera, the seeds contain high quantities of
bufotenine (5-hydroxy-N, N-dimethyl-tryptamine), a
powerful psychoactive tryptamine alkaloid.
Fortunately for the archaeologist interested in de-
termining which species was depicted on the Chavín
sculpture, the two closely related species of Anadenan-
thera have diering distributions. Anadenanthera pereg-
rina is found in the lowlands of Colombia, Venezuela,
British Guiana and northern Brazil, as well the Carib-
Figure 5. Photograph of Anadenanthera colubrina seeds (Courtesy
of Constantino Torres.)
Burger: Hallucinogenic snu used at Chavín de Huántar
129
bean, while Anadenanthera colubrina is known from
Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay. Anadenan-
thera colubrina var. Cebil grows as far north as the Up-
per Ucayali and the Marañon drainages. Given these
geographical distributions, it is likely that the variety
of Anadenanthera utilized at Chavín de Huántar was
Anadenanthera colubrina var. Cebil. It was probably
obtained from the Marañon drainage. ere is historic
evidence that Anadenanthera colubrina was known in
Inca and early Colonial times and was referred to by
the term vilca or willca. It was mentioned in several ear-
ly historical writings including those of Jose de Acosta,
Cristobal de Albornoz and Polo de Ondegardo (Torres
and Repke 2006: 25-29).
Anadenanthera colubrina Snuff
Consumption at Chavín de Huántar
e identication in this article of Anadenanthera col-
ubrina var. Cebil as the botanic source of the hallu-
cinogenic snu utilized at Chavín de Huántar is by
no means revolutionary. Many scholars had already
assumed this given the clear evidence of snung at
Chavín de Huántar and the widespread use of Anade-
nanthera colubrina in later prehispanic cultures of the
Central and South-Central Andes (e.g., Rick 2006;
Torres 2008). Several decades ago the great antiquity of
Anadenanthera sp. consumption as a hallucinogen was
established at the site of Inca Cueva in the Jujuy region
of northwest Argentina. It was utilized there by 2,000
BC (Fernandez Distel 1980). Moreover, its presence in
prehispanic Peru had been explicitly identied for the
Moche, Huari and Inca cultures (Donnan 1976, 1978;
Knobloch 2000).
But while the iconographic identication of
Anadenanthera colubrina at Chavín de Huántar is not
surprising, it is noteworthy since possible botanical al-
ternatives exist that could have been used as the source
for Chavín’s hallucinogenic snu. Ayahuasca (Baniste-
riopsis caapi) is probably the most popular hallucino-
gen consumed in South America and it was widely uti-
lized in ceremonies throughout western Amazonia, and
the Pacic coast of Ecuador and Colombia. However,
it was mostly consumed as liquid potion in combina-
tion with other plants. It was sometimes included as
a component in Anadenathera-based snu among the
Piaroa of the Orinoco Basin and neighboring tripes
(Constantino Torres, personal communication). Un-
like Anadenanthera sp., ayahuasca is made from vines
rather than seeds (Schultes and Hofmann 1992: 27,
35). Another plant that was widely used in lowland
South America for the production of hallucinogen-
ic snu was Virola theiodora and its related species; in
this case, the snu, sometimes known as epena, was
made from tree resin (Schultes and Hofmann 1992:
59). And these are by no means the only other plants
used to produce hallucinogenic snu in aboriginal
South America. Each of the alternatives to Anadenan-
thera has its own distinctive distribution and chemistry.
us, specifying Anadenanthera colubrina as the source
of hallucinogenic snu based on iconographic analysis
allows a detailed discussion of the psychoactive snu’s
acquisition and ritual usage at Chavín de Huántar for
the rst time. ese themes will be the focus of the fol-
lowing discussion, beginning with the question of how
the hallucinogenic snu was obtained.
Unlike the San Pedro cactus, Anadenanthera col-
ubrina var. Cebil is not found within the catchment
area of Chavín de Huántar. However, its distribution
in Peru includes the eastern Andean slopes of Peru in-
cluding those in the Marañon and the Upper Ucayali.
Both of these zones are part of the Amazonian drain-
age and traditionally were corridors of trade for tropical
goods produced for exchange with highland peoples as
well as for other lowland groups (Lathrap 1973). e
prominence of tropical forest iconography in the re-
ligious art of Chavín de Huántar suggests that ele-
ments of Chavín mythology and ritual were inspired
by tropical forest groups and exchange networks be-
tween Chavín de Huántar and the eastern lowlands
has frequently postulated (e.g., Burger 1992; Lathrap
1985). Unfortunately, many of the goods that prob-
ably were involved in the commerce, such as feathers,
animal skins, and medicinal plants, were perishable
and unlikely to survive in the archaeological record.
Archaeologists have documented denite Amazonian
imports for Chavín de Huántar. One of the few known
instances of such an import is a stone dish in the form
of a sh found in the Ofrendas Gallery (Lumbreras
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
130
2007); it strongly resembles numerous stone plates on
display in the local museum of Jaen and it likely comes
from a site, such as Huayurco, in the ceja de selva of
the Department of Cajamarca (Ryan Clasby, personal
communication). Knowledge that the religious special-
ists of the Chavín temple were utilizing Anadenanthera
colubrina conrms that the frequently postulated high-
land-lowland trade network actually existed during the
late Initial Period and Early Horizon. However, the fact
that the source of the hallucinogenic snu was vilca
rather than ayahuasca or epena means that it would
have been possible to acquire it from groups in the ceja
de selva environments bordering the Marañon River
rather than having to obtain it from more distant tropi-
cal forest groups deep in the Amazonian rainforest.
But what was the nature of trade in Anadenan-
thera colubrina? In modern times, ethnographers report
that there was an active trade in the seeds of Anade-
nanthera peregrina by groups such as the Yanomamo of
the upper Orinoco. ey removed the seeds from the
pods and packed them in foot-long cylinders for trade
“over an extensive range”. e trade in the seeds was
so important that the Yanomamo actively introduced
Anadenanthera trees into new areas when warfare pat-
terns interrupted the exchange networks (Chagnon et
al 1970). Similarly, the Piaroa in the Orinoco drainage
of Venezuela were said to sometimes obtain Anadenan-
thera seeds from other cultural groups in exchange for
hunting poison (curare), which was locally produced
(Torres and Repke 2006:73).
e small size of Anadenantheras thin circular
seeds (12-20 mm in diameter), their portability, and
their resistance to spoilage would have made them an
ideal trade item. Since the pods themselves and the
other parts of the tree were not used in the produc-
tion of the hallucinogenic snu, it would have made
sense to extract the seeds for trade, thereby reducing
the bulk and weight of the trade goods. e fact that
Anadenanthera seeds were an item being traded in an-
tiquity is conrmed by the discovery of the distinctive
seeds in San Pedro de Atacama burials, along with the
appropriate snung paraphernalia (Torres 2008); this
area on the arid western slopes of the south-central An-
des is outside the natural habitat of Anadenanthera sp..
e plant does occur northwest Argentina in the Ju-
juy and Salta provinces and could have been acquired
from there by the inhabitants of San Pedro de Atacama
(Constantino Torres, personal communication).
If the primary item of exchange were seeds, it
would help to explain the lack of accuracy in the por-
trayal of the tree’s leaves and pods in the Chavín sculp-
ture (if the reduced number of seeds shown is, in fact,
an inaccuracy; see earlier discussion). Long-distance
trade in the seeds of Anadenanthera colubrina con-
tinued into modern times since they were apparent-
ly available from herb dealers in Peruvian markets in
1915 and continue to be sold for ritual and medicinal
purposes in the native markets of La Paz (Torres and
Repke 2006: 29).
Once the seeds were brought to Chavín de
Huántar during the late Initial Period and Early Ho-
rizon, they would have been toasted and then pulver-
ized into ne powder. Ethnographically, in the South
American lowlands, elaborately crafted small mortars
and pestles were used for this purpose (e.g., Torres and
Repke 2006: Plate 55). Special mortars were likewise
observed in the Central Andes by the extirpator of idol-
atries, Cristobal de Albornoz, who wrote in 1580:
It should be noted that some wood or stone
carvings resembling sheep and with a hole as
in an inkwell (which is where the vilca is pul-
verized), must be found and destroyed. is is
called vilcana and it is adored and revered. e
vilcanas are made out of many dierent stones
and strong woods (Duviols 1967:22; transla-
tion Torres and Repke 2006:28).
e existence of vilcanas at the Chavín temple has been
conrmed by the discovery of a series of ne small mor-
tars in the form of animals carved from hard stone. Per-
haps the best known of these is an elaborately carved
mortar in the form of a jaguar said to have been found
at Chavín de Huántar and currently in the collection
of the University of Pennsylvania (Figure 6; Tello 1960:
301, g. 128). Judging from its style, it was made in
early Chavín times (Phase AB) (Rowe 1967). e Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania mortar is only 22 cm in length
and 16.5 cm in height and the small size of the de-
pression (12.8 cm in diameter) and its shallowness (8
cm) would make it inappropriate for grinding grains
Burger: Hallucinogenic snu used at Chavín de Huántar
131
or other staples, but would have been ideal for prepar-
ing psychotropic snu. Excavations of the collapsed
architecture of the Old Temple of Chavín de Huán-
tar revealed still another large fragment of a miniature
ceremonial mortar in the form of a jaguar (Lumbreras
2007: 139-140, gs. 100-102).
A third nearly complete vilcana in the form of
jaguar was encountered downriver from Chavín de
Huántar at Olayán near the town of San Marcos (Tel-
lo 1960: XLIV B). Tello published an additional small
ceremonial mortar with similar dimensions but this
time carved in the form of a “mythological bird” that
he believed to be an eagle or a condor (Tello 1960: g.
127, Lamina XLIV A). is avian mortar was discov-
ered in 1934 in the church of the town of Matibamba,
which is located in the lower Puccha drainage below
Huántar; a similar but still unpublished avian mortar
was found at Chavín de Huántar itself (Tello 1960:
303). It is signicant that the Chavín-style vilcanas
that have been published are among the nest portable
stone carvings known from the Chavín area.
Once the Anadenanthera colubrina seeds had
been pulverized in a vilcana, the resulting powder may
have been mixed with calcium carbonate or ash (as oc-
curs in some ethnographic cases) to produce the nal
hallucinogenic snu, although this is not necessary.
e powder was probably then transferred to a leather
pouch for storage using a small bone spoon. At some
later time, when the appropriate ritual called for it, the
hallucinogenic snu would have been transferred onto
a small tray or spatula, from which it could be inhaled
directly by individuals into their nostrils using a cylin-
drical tube usually made of bird bone. A small bone
spoon would have been used to help transfer the pow-
der to the tray or spatula and to manipulate it.
us far, no leather pouches are known to have
survived at Chavín de Huántar, although prehistoric
examples of them have been recovered in the dry caves
of Bolivia and in the burials at San Pedro de Atacama.
Bone trays, bone spatulas, small bone spoons, and cy-
lindrical bone tubes all have been recovered at Chavín
de Huántar (Burger 1998: 202, Cuadro 13, gs. 409,
414-418, Tello 1960:353-357). In some cases these are
incised with Chavín motifs, while in most instances
they are polished but left undecorated. Signicantly,
in the excavations in the area adjacent to the north-
ern edge of the Temple architecture, referred to as the
Huachecsa Sector, Cristian Mesía encountered dense
refuse, most of which appears to have come from the
Temple rituals. In this refuse, he encountered 62 bone
artifacts. Many of the bone tools are small fragmented
spoons and tubes of dierent sizes (Mesía 2007: 133,
gs. 171-174). Mesía reasonably interpreted these as
indicating the presence of drug consumption during
feasting activities at the Temple.
On the other side of the Mosna, the excavations
of Matthew Sayre in the La Banda sector of Chavín
de Huántar likewise produced a small bone spoon like
those “utilized for serving tobacco or hallucinogenic
snu compounds” (Sayre 2010: 155, g. 8.8). is
small snu spoon came from a domestic area that ap-
pears to have been producing bone tools.
In summary, with the exception of leather pouches,
the entire kit of snung paraphernalia has been encoun-
tered in refuse from Chavín de Huántar and snung
tools are especially abundant in the refuse immediately
adjacent to the Temple. is suggests that the consump-
tion of Anadenanthera snu was a signicant part of the
rituals held at the site. e particular tools that have been
recovered by archaeologists (trays, spatulas, small spoons
and short cylindrical tubes) are signicant because they
help to reconstruct how the vilca was consumed. In the
ethnographic record, vilca is ingested either by inhala-
tion through the nose or by smoking it in pipes or, more
rarely, cigars. While pipes are commonly found in the ar-
chaeological sites of northwest Argentina and northern
Figure 6. Small stone mortar in the form a jaguar believed to
have used to pulverize plant materials for hallucinogenic snu.
(Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania.)
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
132
Chile (e.g., Torres and Repke 2006: Plate 45), they have
never been found in highland Peru, and the presence of
abundant snung items at Chavín de Huántar leaves
little doubt that the technique used there was inhalation
through the nose. It should be noted that in the ethno-
graphic literature there are two means of nasal inhala-
tion; one is self-administered, the other is collaborative.
Collaborative administration of the drug refers to when
snu is blown into the nostril by another individual us-
ing unusually long tubes. e short cylindrical tubes
found at Chavín de Huántar imply that the snu was
self-administered. It is also worth noting that unlike the
mescaline-rich San Pedro cactus, Anadenanthera gener-
ally was not usually consumed as a beverage because hu-
man stomach enzymes modify its chemistry and degrade
its potency (Torres and Repke 2006:86). Based on a pos-
sibly analogous situation with ayahuasca among some
Amazonian groups, Knobloch (2000:398) suggests that
it may have been possible to consume Anadenanthera sp.
as a beverage without loss of its potency by adding other
plants such as Banisteriopsis caapi, which“contains an al-
kaloid known as harmine …[that] will inhibit the stom-
ach’s MAOs [the enzyme, monoamine oxidase] and al-
low the activation of the tryptamine.”
is plant contains harmine which inhibits the
stomach’s MAO’s and permits the activation of the
tryptamine. While this may be true, there seems to be
no evidence that such mixed tryptamine beverages were
consumed during the Initial Period or Early Horizon.
Chemical studies of Anadenanthera have demon-
strated that the primary source of the hallucinogenic ef-
fects is the bufotenine found in the seeds. e amount of
bufotenine varies between plants and even between seeds
from the same plant, but it can be as much as 12.4% or
as little as 3.5%. One distinctive feature of Anadenan-
thera colubrina when compared to other well-known
hallucinogens is that its eects are relatively short-lived
(i.e., measured in minutes rather than hours) and as a
result, most ethnographic descriptions describe repeated
use of the snu during lengthy sessions that sometimes
lasted throughout the night. Moreover, as multiple doses
are administered, the eects of the hallucinogen inten-
sify. One clinical study of bufotenine concluded:
… that the drug is hallucinogenic, that there is
a linear progression in symptoms as the doses
increases, and that its eects are reminiscent of
LSD and mescaline but develop and disappear
more quickly, indicating rapid central action
and rapid degradation (Fabing and Hawkins
1956; cited in Torres and Repke 2006:177).
Given the need to repeatedly replenish the dosage of
the snu to achieve the desired eect, it is not surpris-
ing that the tools used to administer the drug are rela-
tively common in the archaeological record.
Prior to 1941, Juan Dalmau purchased a group
of nineteen precious metal artifacts in Chavín style
during a trip to Recuay, in the Callejon de Huaylas.
He was informed that these objects were uncovered at
Chavín de Huántar and it seems likely that they came
from an elite tomb (Burger 1996: 55-59; Larco 1941:
140-141; Lothrop 1951). Among these materials was
a remarkable snung spoon made of gold and sil-
ver (Figure 7a). e handle of this unique spoon was
shaped in the form of a priest blowing a strombus shell
trumpet (pututu); on the back of the priest was a clas-
sic Chavín representation of a harpy eagle, probably re-
ferring to the intended transformation of the religious
specialist as a result of the hallucinogenic snu. is
artifact, currently in the collection of the Dumbarton
Oaks Research Collection and Library, has dual perfo-
rations so that it could be suspended around the neck
as a pendant. It can be speculated that religious special-
ists may have administered their own dose of Anade-
nanthera colubrina snu utilizing precious metal tools
like this one, while the visitors to the Temple made do
with more practical bone tools. In the lot of nineteen
gold objects from Chavín de Huántar there were three
other precious metal snung spoons (Figure 7b-d).
e handle of one of these is modeled as a priestly g-
ure with a top-knot hairstyle and large circular ear or-
naments. Another spoon shows the head of a Chavín
style cat-snake in prole, while the fourth represents a
stylized bird on its handle. It is noteworthy that of the
assemblages of Early Horizon gold that have been exca-
vated and looted in Peru, only the group from Chavín
de Huántar includes snung spoons (Alva 1992).
e implication of the above discussion is that
visitors to the Temple as well as the Temple’s priests
partook in the snung of hallucinogenic powder. is
is not an unreasonable conclusion given the distribu-
Burger: Hallucinogenic snu used at Chavín de Huántar
133
tion and frequency of the snung paraphernalia. e
possibility that a signicant segment of a population
might utilize hallucinogens within ceremonial contexts
is also plausible. Based on an analysis of the Middle
Horizon tombs in San Pedro de Atacama, investigators
concluded that some 20-22% of the male population
used vilca snu between the 3rd and 10th centuries
AD (Llagostera et al. 1988). A review of the ethno-
graphic cases where Anadenanthera sp. snu have been
documented reveals considerable diversity in its con-
sumption. Among some groups, such as the Tune-
bo, the snu was used only by religious practitioners,
while among the Otomacs it was used by the entire
male community (Torres and Repke 2006: 71). Given
the widespread presence of snung equipment in the
Temple refuse, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that
like the religious specialists at the Chavín de Huántar
Temple many of the worshippers ingested hallucino-
genic snu from pulverized Anadenanthera colubrina
seeds, perhaps in all night sessions in the open plazas.
Figure 7. a-d Four gold snu
spoons acquired by Juan Dalmau
prior to 1941and said to be from
Chavín de Huántar (after Lothrop
1951). Spoon (a) is currently in the
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library
and Collection.
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
134
e Snung Experience at Chavín
de Huántar
Is it possible to better understand what the experience of
these worshippers was like after ingesting the vilca snu?
One way of approaching this question is by treating the
stone sculptures that decorated the walls of the Chavín
de Huántar temple as a visual record of that experience.
e main iconographic evidence consists of a series of
three-dimensional carved heads that were hung from the
upper portions of the Temple walls using a mortise and
tenon technique; in the literature, these are frequently
referred to as tenon heads. ese heads are generally an-
thropomorphic although many have elements suggest-
ing supernatural qualities, such as large fangs and eyes
with eccentric pupils. At the same time, many of these
same sculptures have their hair arranged in a topknot,
a distinctive style hypothesized to be a characteristic of
priests or religious specialists in the Formative Andes
(Burger 1992; Burger and Salazar 1998). ese sculpted
heads may represent the priestly leaders at the Chavín
temple or, more likely, their mythical or historical fore-
runners; perhaps this representation can be considered as
analogous to the frequent representation of St. Peter and
St. Paul, the antecedents of modern Catholic priests, on
the walls of Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Eastern
Orthodox churches.
What is most relevant from the perspective of this
article is that many of these stone visages are shown with
mucus owing from their nostrils; in some case this na-
sal discharge is slight but in others it is substantial, run-
ning over their mouth and chin (Figure 8). is con-
spicuous and explicit representation of mucus ow is
reminiscent of the images captured by the well-known
photographic and video documentation of the Yanoma-
mo villagers of lowland Venezuela following their con-
sumption of Anadenanthera snu (Chagnon 1992). e
bulging eyes and wrinkled cheeks of the more anthropo-
morphic sculpted faces suggest a representation of the
actual physiological response to the stress caused by in-
gestion of the snu, just as the mucus depicted is an ac-
curate representation of the nasal ow resulting from the
irritation of the nasal membrane caused by the snu, a
reaction made more visually conspicuous by the dark-
ening of the mucus by its admixture with the ground
psychoactive plant material (Burger 1992: 156-159,
gs. 144, 147-155). Laboratory study of Anadenanthera
snu demonstrated that psychoactive powder could be
kept in the nostrils and sinus cavities for only about
three minutes before gagging and sneezing led to the re-
jection of most of the mass (Torres and Repke 2006:
183). is physiological response attracted the attention
of the 17th century friar Pedro Simon who oered the
following rst-hand description of the Muisca of Co-
lombia (Burger 1992: 157):
ey take these powders and put them in their
noses and which, because they are pungent,
make the mucus ow until hangs down to the
mouth, which they observe in the mirror, and
when it runs straight it is a good sign.
One reason for showing the mucus ow in such
detail on the sculptures is that the eect of psychoactive
drugs on an individual is, in most respects, largely invis-
ible to the casual observer. e presence of the mucus
discharge is perhaps the most conspicuous visible sign
of the altered mental state produced by the snu. If the
tenon heads are read as a series of frozen moments from
dierent points in the hallucinogenic experience of the
Temple priests then some idea of the visionary experi-
ence can be inferred. Following the phase of physical
stress just mentioned comes a phase in which the hu-
man identity begins to dissolve under the impact of the
drug. is is shown in the tenon heads by the transfor-
mation of the hair and tensed facial muscles into a pro-
liferation of snakes and the gradual shift in the shape
of the head from human to animal. Often the topknot
hairstyle is retained during this transformation as if to
underline the fact that the contorted monstrous visage
being shown is none other than a transformed priest.
Finally, some tenon heads represent the priest as
fully transformed into his animal alter ego, usually a
jaguar or harpy eagle. is transformation is consis-
tent with the carving of vilcanas in the form of jaguars
and birds. It also resonates with numerous accounts of
curers and shamans from coastal, highland and east-
ern lowland groups in South America who have de-
scribed to ethnographers how they leave their human
bodies and transform themselves into jaguars or birds
following the ingestion of Anadenanthera snu (Tor-
Burger: Hallucinogenic snu used at Chavín de Huántar
135
res and Repke 2006:89; cf. Reichel Dolmato 1975).
Among the indigenous people of contemporary South
America, the reason for doing this varies between
groups. Among the most common reasons given are
to cure the sick, to benet and protect the communi-
ty through weather control, to forestall or dispel fam-
ines, and to engage in oracular predictions (Torres and
Repke 2006:59-89).
Some idea of the actual sensation provoked by in-
gestion of Anadenanthera colubrina snu can be gath-
ered from some of the rst-hand accounts by Westerners
who have taken it. Christian Ratsch, a German anthro-
pologist specializing in ethnopharmacology, described
the experience as follows:
Initially I noted that my body felt heavier.
Particularly the arms and legs assumed a lead-
en weight, but the sensation in the body was
characterized by a quite pleasant warmth. ...
After about ve minutes I grew aware of swirl-
ing, dancing phosphenes in my visual eld.
At this point they were bright pinpoints on
a deep blue backdrop. e darting points of
light associated into owing, liquid forms and
patterns. It was as though the ood gates of
the Universe had been thrown open. A rush-
ing tumult of patterns poured across my visual
eld. Every point was the source of streams
and rivers of braided ropes of light. ese
braided and unbraided themselves in a vast
tangle. All this took place at breakneck speed.
A panorama of owing designs-the exact pat-
terns depicted in the nimbus surrounding
the head of the Chavín deity! I marveled for
minutes at the tessellation of these geometric
shapes. …e rapidly shifting array of pat-
terns transformed itself into a chaotic current
of spermatozoa. ese teemed and writhed in
all directions at once, giving the sensation that
they were on a (almost aggressive) mission to
fertilize the entire cosmos. (Ratsch 1996:60-
61 cited in Torres and Repke 2006:185)
Constantino Torres and Jonathan Ott also exper-
imented with hallucinogenic snu made from Anade-
nanthera colubrina and they characterize their vision-
ary experience in the following way (Torres and Repke
2006: 201):
Nasal inhalation of 100 mg bufotenine free
base elicited brilliantly swirling geometric
patterns accompanied by synesthesia at four
minutes. …Geometric patterns subsided at
approximately 25 minutes, after a period of
pronounced spatial and temporal disorienta-
tion. e profound visionary stimuli that fol-
lowed were not as colorful and full of light as
those caused by psilocybin, mescaline, and
LSD. Instead, the psychoptic space was dimly
illuminated and completely removed from the
familiar, its components barely visible in the
threshold between light and dark.
Figure 8. Drawing of a stone tenon head from Chavín de Huántar showing a priest
with mucus owing from his nostrils in the process of becoming a jaguar.
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
136
Obviously, the sensations and visions undergone
by an ancient visitor to the Chavín de Huántar temple
might have diered from those registered above, given
the cultural dierences and especially if they were ex-
perienced under the guidance of a religious specialist
trained in channeling the reactions to the hallucino-
genic snu in ways consistent with the Temple’s system
of beliefs. Nevertheless, the descriptions provided by
these dedicated scholars are a useful rst-step in better
understanding the mental state of those ingesting the
hallucinogenic snu nearly three thousand years ago.
Hallucinogenic Snu at Other Early
Horizon Religious Centers
While this article has focused on the Temple at Chavín
de Huántar, it is important to note that other coeval
centers appear to have shared some of the same ceremo-
nial practices involving the psychoactive snu Anade-
nanthera colubrina. It has long been acknowledged that
many of these sites were linked to Chavín de Huán-
tar by elements of a shared religious ideology, artistic
style and by ties of long-distance exchange (e.g., Burger
1992; Kaumann Doig 2002; Tello 1960), and it has
been proposed that some or all of these centers partici-
pated in a regional cult involving both an oracle and
a pilgrimage center at the Chavín de Huántar temple
(Burger 1988; 1992). In this article, I will only briey
consider the evidence from three of these other centers:
Pacopampa, Kuntur Wasi and Campanayuq Rumi.
Located in the Province of Chota, Department
of Cajamarca, Pacopampa is one of the northernmost
highland centers participating in the Chavín sphere of
interaction. In some of the earliest investigations at the
site, Rafael Larco recovered a matching pair of beauti-
fully carved small stone mortars, one shaped as a jag-
uar, the other as a bird (Larco 1946: Plate 65; Burger
1992:200, g. 217). e pestles used with these mor-
tars were shaped as cat-snakes. is set of vilcanas is
similar to those published by Julio C. Tello for the
Chavín de Huántar area. Subsequent excavations in the
main plaza of Pacopampa recovered four polished bone
spatulas dating to the Early Horizon (Rosas and Shady
2005: 54, gs. 20c-d, g-h); apparently, spatulas were
one of the most common types of bone tool encoun-
tered during these investigations. A small stone snu
spoon was also found (Rosas and Shady 2005: 56, g.
21d, Burger 1992: 107, g. 96). In addition, during
a visit to the site with archaeologist Daniel Morales,
I was shown a small bone spoon whose shaft was en-
graved with a classic Chavín serpent image; this appar-
ently had been found in the Temple area. As discussed
previously, these three classes of tools (small mortars,
spatulas, and small spoons) are characteristic of the tra-
ditional snung kit and their presence at Pacopam-
pa suggest that snung practices similar to those al-
ready described for Chavín de Huántar were carried
out there.
e same may be said of the public center of
Kuntur Wasi, located in the upper Jequetepeque Valley
(Onuki 1995). As at Pacopampa, numerous bone tools
from snung kits were recovered, but perhaps most
noteworthy were a series of bone spatulas, small spoons
and bone trays that were deeply carved with Chavín
iconography (Onuki et al. 2000: 130-131, cf. Onuki
1995:19, Lam.17-18). An especially interesting one is
a carved bone snu tray decorated with the head of a
fanged supernatural (Figure 9; Onuki et al. 2000: 131,
g. 175). For the purpose of this article, what is most
fascinating about it is the botanical headdress worn
by the supernatural. Atop its head are four compos-
ite laurel-shaped leaves, each with a large central vein
anked by diagonal veining or secondary leaves. Hang-
ing from each of these plants are two incised circular
or oval forms that can be interpreted as Anadenanthera
pods holding two seeds. e representation of Ande-
nanthera colubrina in this case is less accurate than in
the Chavín sculpture, but the identication proposed
here is still compelling, particularly given the alterna-
tives. e stylized representation of Anadenanthera col-
ubrina on a bone snu tray is particularly appropriate
and it strengthens condence in the iconographic in-
terpretation proposed here.
Campanayuq Rumi is a recently investigated Ear-
ly Horizon ceremonial complex (Matsumoto and Cave-
ro 2011). Located in the highlands of Ayacucho above
the town of Vilcashuaman, Campanayuq Rumi has
a U-shaped ground-plan and other elements strongly
reminiscent of Chavín de Huántar, such as a subterra-
Burger: Hallucinogenic snu used at Chavín de Huántar
137
nean gallery. Although located 550 km to the south of
Chavín de Huántar, the history and culture of Campa-
nayuq Rumi appears to have been entangled with that
of the better known northern center from the Campa-
nayuq Rumi’s initial public constructions around 1,000
BC until its abandonment around 500 BC.
e investigations at Campanayuq Rumi focused
on both the temple architecture and the surrounding
domestic area. Although the excavations were modest in
scale, they yielded 62 bone artifacts, including many of
the items characteristic of snung. Among the items re-
covered were a bone tube, sixteen spatulas and six small
spoons. Yuichi Matsumoto (2010: 308) concluded that
“these artifacts were probably used to inhale hallucino-
gens for ritual activities.” Most of the snung parapher-
nalia came from a rich midden (P2) found alongside the
western platform at Campanayuq Rumi. As Matusu-
moto observed (2010:314), this distribution of snung
artifacts suggests that the inhalation of hallucinogenic
powder played an important role in the public rituals
at the temple, much as it did at Chavín de Huántar, Pa-
copampa and Kuntur Wasi. e practice of consuming
hallucinogenic snu in the rituals of these various cen-
ters constitutes still another element they shared in their
religious practices, despite their dierent radically histo-
ries and contrasting ecologies.
Concluding Remarks
It is helpful to place the prehistoric evidence for the
consumption of hallucinogenic snu at Chavín de
Huántar and related centers within the context of what
we know of religious systems in the tropical lowlands
where the ingestion of hallucinogens still plays a piv-
otal role in ceremonial life. Among these groups, it is
through the visions induced by the psychoactive sub-
stances that their worldview of a multilayered uni-
verse inhabited by supernatural spirits becomes real for
them. As E. Jean Langdon (1981) has observed, from
the experiences produced by these drugs there is the
resulting certainty that the visionary world known un-
der the inuence of these powerful substances is the
real world. For these groups, the rituals involving the
hallucinogens explain the structure of the world and
its events. Given the centrality of their role, the acqui-
sition of psychoactive substances would have been of
enormous importance and their systematic use in ritu-
als would have created a constant demand for them.
During the late Initial Period and Early Horizon,
the consumption of vilca snu from the Anadenanthera
colubrina tree would have required the existence of a re-
liable network of the exchange between the highlands
and the adjacent lowland environments, where the plant
ourished. is pattern has parallels in the 20th centu-
ry. In much of the Amazon and Orinoco basin there is
or once was a widespread trade in hallucinogenic drugs,
including the seeds of Anadenanthera sp. In the high-
lands of Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru there persists the
widespread belief that the lowland religious practitioners
(or shamans) are more powerful than those of the high-
lands (Harner 1972; Langdon 1981; Lyon 1974:345;
Figure 9. Bone snu spoon decorated with a supernatural head
decorated with stylized Anadenanthera sp. (Courtesy of Yoshio
Onuki.)
Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology Volume 31, Number 2
138
Oberem 1974). As a result of this belief, highland-
ers sometimes travel into the lowlands and apprentice
themselves to shamans for extended periods of time. Af-
ter their return to the highlands, they either continue to
visit the lowlands to bring back hallucinogens and other
ritual trade items (both tangible and intangible); in other
cases, lowland religious specialists bring these items to
their highland contacts.
Judging from the ethnographic and historic evi-
dence, the trade in Anadenanthera sp. seeds and other
hallucinogenic plants were part of a larger trade in both
tangible and intangible items. Among the tangible, but
highly perishable, items are medicinal plants and ritual
objects, including crowns and other adornments made
from the feathers of tropical forest birds. e intangible
trade items included the visions, songs, and folklore that
accompanied the ceremonies in which the hallucinogens
were consumed (Langdon 1981:11).
e depiction on Chavín sculptures from the
Circular Plaza showing priests (or their mythical ances-
tors) wearing ritual regalia that incorporate large feath-
ers and jaguar pelts reinforces the likelihood that, as
in the ethnographic cases, the exchange in the seeds
of the hallucinogenic Anadenanthera colubrina for the
production of psychoactive snu was probably only
one element in a much larger ritual trading system that
linked Chavín de Huántar and the other highland cer-
emonial centers with the religious specialists of the for-
ested eastern slopes and Amazonian lowlands.
In her review of Huari consumption of Anadenan-
thera colubrina, Patricia Knobloch (2000) distinguishes
between the “snung complex” typical of San Pedro de
Atacama and Tiahuanaco and the “drinking complex”
typical of the Huari culture. In the drinking complex,
vilca and other drugs were added to corn beer (chicha)
to produce visionary experiences. She uses this distinc-
tion to highlight a major contrast in the ritual practices
of these related but distinctive Middle Horizon cultures.
e evidence presented here regarding Anade-
nanthera colubrina consumption suggests that when
considered from a diachronic perspective, the “snu-
ing complex” seems to have characterized much of the
central and south-central Andes during the Initial Pe-
riod and Early Horizon, and it was only during post-
Chavin times, perhaps during the Early Intermediate
Period, that vilca began to be ingested as a beverage
rather than as snu in central and northern Peru. Fur-
ther south, the “snung complex” continued uninter-
rupted into late prehistoric times. In the tropical for-
est, the ingestion of Anadenanthera sp. snu survives
today in the lowland environments of the Orinocco
Basin and Gran Chaco (Constantino Torres, personal
communication).
Acknowledgments
Special thanks to Constantino Torres, Jerey Quilter, Ja-
son Nesbitt, Jerry Moore, and the anonymous reviewers
for their valuable comments on the manuscript and to
Federico Kaumann Doig and Yoshio Onuki for their
permission to use their images to illustrate this article.
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This article reports on the identification and associations of the “legume pod” motif seen in pre-Columbian Andean iconography as representing the hallucinogenic vilca (Anadenanthera spp.) seeds. The earliest known occurrences of the legume pod motif appear in Paracas textiles associated with figures referred to as mythical, supernatural, or anthropomorphic, including recognizable beings as the Ecstatic Shaman and the Oculate or Masked Being. Symbolic analysis leads to a convincing interpretation of these figures as shamans in the act of transformation upon ingesting a hallucinogenic plant, specifically, vilca. Additional insight comes from individual textiles depicting the legume pod motif featured alongside culturally significant plants and shamanic snuffing paraphernalia, further indicating that this motif represents a hallucinogenic plant. Appearances of the legume pod motif continue through the Early Intermediate Period in Nazca culture, and terminate at the end of the Middle Horizon with the Tiwanaku and Wari cultures.
Book
A multidisciplinary study of pre-Columbian South America—centering on the psychoactive plant genus Anadenanthera As cultures formed and evolved in pre-Columbian South America, Anadenanthera became one of the most widely used shamanic inebriants. Anadenanthera: Visionary Plant of Ancient South America is more than a comprehensive reference on shamanic visionary substances; it is a useful tool for archeologists and pre-Columbian art historians. This thorough book examines the ritual and cultural use of Anadenanthera from prehistory to the present, along with its botany, chemistry, pharmacology, anthropology, and archeology. The earliest evidence for the use of psychoactive plants in South America is provided by remains of seeds and pods recovered from archeological sites four millennia old. Various preparations were derived from it with the intent of being a shamanic inebriant. Inhaled through the nose, smoked in pipes or as cigars, and prepared in fermented drinks, Anadenanthera served a central role in the cultural development of indigenous societies in South America. Anadenanthera: Visionary Plant of Ancient South America explores the full spectrum of information gleaned from research, covering numerous archeological sites in the Andean region, as well as discussing Amazonian shamanic rituals and lore. Analyses of the artistic expressions within the decorations of associated ceremonial paraphernalia such as ritual snuffing tubes and snuff trays are included. The text is richly illustrated with photographs and images of decorated ritual implements, and provides a comprehensive bibliography. Anadenanthera: Visionary Plant of Ancient South America explores: • botanical aspects, taxonomy, and geographical distribution of Anadenanthera • ethnographical, historical, and traditional aspects of Anadenanthera use • chemical and pharmacological investigations of the genus and the various visionary preparations derived from it—with emphasis on the biologically active constituents • theories of the mechanisms of action of the active tryptamines and carboline alkaloids • comparisons of wood anatomy, morphology, and percentage of alkaloid content • evaluation of stylistic and iconographic traits Anadenanthera: Visionary Plant of Ancient South America is a thorough, useful resource for archeologists, anthropologists, chemists, researchers, pre-Columbian art historians, and any layperson interested in pre-Columbian art, archeology, or visionary plants.