Chan Chan

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For other uses, see Chan Chan (disambiguation).
Chan Chan
Chan chan view, capital of Kingdom Chimu
Chan chan wall Chan chan wall
Adobe detail at Chan Chan Chan Chan
Chan Chan panel
Pelican in chan chan Chan Chan Chanchan carvings
From top: Chan chan view, capital of Kingdom Chimu, Chan chan walls, Adobe detail at Chan Chan, Panel of warriors detail of wall , Pelican in chan chan, Chan Chan Model, a wall in Chan Chan
Map showing location in Peru
Map showing location in Peru
Shown within Peru
Location La Libertad Region, Peru
Coordinates 8°6′38″S 79°4′30″W / 8.11056°S 79.07500°W / -8.11056; -79.07500Coordinates: 8°6′38″S 79°4′30″W / 8.11056°S 79.07500°W / -8.11056; -79.07500
Founded AD 850
Cultures Chimor
Official name: Chan Chan Archaeological Zone
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iii
Designated 1986 (10th session)
Reference No. 366
Region Latin America and the Caribbean
Endangered 1986–present

The largest Pre-Columbian city in South America, Chan Chan is an archaeological site in the Peruvian region of La Libertad, five km west of Trujillo.[1] Chan Chan covers 20 km² and had a dense urban center of 6 km².[2] Chan Chan was constructed by the Chimor (the kingdom of the Chimú), a late intermediate period civilization which grew out of the remnants of the Moche civilization. Chan Chan is the largest adobe city in the world and was built around AD 850. It lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470. It was the imperial capital where 30,000 people lived.

Chan Chan was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on November 28 of 1986.[3] The city is severely threatened by storms from El Niño, which cause heavy rains and flooding on the Peruvian coast. It is in a fertile, well-watered section of the coastal plain.[4] The city's ruins are threatened by earthquakes and looters. Visitors to Chan Chan can enter the Tschudi Complex, a later citadel. There are other Chimú and Moche ruins in the area around Trujillo. This site was discovered by conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

History of the Site[edit]

The site of Chan Chan was first excavated by the Harvard University Chan Chan/Moche Valley Project which was led by the archaeologists Michael E. Moseley and Carol Mackey. The project which began in June 1969 was supported by the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation. The main mission of the project stated by Moseley was “The project is a multidisciplinary inquiry of human adaptation within the Moche Valley from man’s first appearances through the development and course of urban life. The study is designed to provide a basic understanding of the history and functioning of Chan Chan in the context of its rural sustaining communities and to trace the antecedents of urban-rural relationships back in time to their beginnings within the Moche Valley.” (Moseley 1968: 317). The data gathered at this first excavation centered around “architectural features, crafts, rituals, diet, resource exploitation” and much more.

The methodology of these first excavations was the “horizontal study” which was focused on putting artifacts and findings into sequences. This led to some harmful conclusions and improper assumptions that would later have to be investigated and proven wrong. They were concerned about understanding and gathering the big picture which would later be picked apart and researched further by other field archaeologists (Narvaez 1989: 131).

These first studies and excavations gathered large amounts of diverse material. However, later studies were done to fill in the blanks and to gain a broader understanding of the culture that had occupied this city. K.C. Day created a scheme for the development of the city and how the buildings and palaces were constructed. His conclusions were based on “the degree of variation of the tripartite internal division, on the disposition of annexes and ‘extensions’, on the type of audiencias, and on other features” (Narvaez 1989: 131).

Conrad studied the burial platforms in great detail. He also used a temporal methodology which was focused on the sequencing of architectural variations. He made sequences for the material he was finding, however, after testing material objects using C14 radiocarbon dating, the absolute dates did not fit with his relative sequential dates. John Topic established five phases of the ceramics found at Chan Chan. His ceramic sequencing, he hoped, would become the primary and master stratigraphic column. He paralleled the changes and sequential growth of ceramics with the growth of the city and the architectural growth as well (Narvaez 1989: 133-135)

One last archaeologist that worked on this project was Alan Kolata. His contribution to the extensive study of Chan Chan was affirm the “stratigraphic superposition of the three basic adobe types. (Narvaez 1989: 135). From his interpretations and chronological dating of the adobe types he found that the city had progressively grown to the north and had undergone several spurts.

Agriculture and Economy[edit]

In the Moche Valley there were some major economic and agricultural shifts, resulting in dramatic changes in the economic organization and the subsistence base of these communities. The first shift occurred when the settlements first became permanent. The entire diet of these coastal communities came primarily from the sea and included such foods as sea lion, shore birds, mussels, and shallow-water fish. In terms of plant foods cotton, gourds, and squash were cultivated on this river flood plain and made up a small portion of the diet. When the first permanent settlements began forming the subsistence changed. There was a decline in the local shellfish population which forced the people to find other food to make up for this destruction of a major part of their diet. The first three crops remained important, but chili peppers, common beans, pacae, cansaboca, lucuma, guayaba, and avocado were added to the diet as supplementary goods. The next stage occurred with the invention and creation of irrigation agriculture which was a large shift in this river valley. There were early irrigation systems that allowed some cultivation, but the people were still heavily reliant on marine life at this point. Eventually, with increased irrigation and a more efficient system the people were able to move more inland and away from the coast. Added to the earlier stated crops peanuts and maize began to be cultivated at this time. At this time there was a switch of focus on fruits to field crop species, especially those that were storable such as cotton, gourds, and peanuts. Along with the addition of the llama into the subsistence strategy, the reliance on marine goods was greatly decreased. However, it is true that Chan Chan relied heavily on trading with other cities for their main sources of food (Moseley and Day 1982: 177-182).

Plant species data that was collected in this region indicate an increase in seeds and plant-part sizes which hints at the increase of overall yield that occurred during the switch into irrigation agriculture. The plant cultigens found in Chan Chan included maize, common beans, squash, gourd, cotton, peanuts, and aji. Also, there is evidence of cansaboca, lucuma, avocado, pacae, and guanabana which were all plants eaten in earlier times. Also important was the finding of wild plant remains which included cane, algarroba, local grass, and burrs. From the collection of remains the data indicates that tree fruit was of more abundance than the plants at this time (Moseley and Day 1982:182-184). Also, large irrigation canals were found surrounding and running through the city to allow for proper irrigation and consistent water supplies from the Rio Moche (Moseley 1985: 118-120).

Animals Eaten[edit]

The main type of animals being eaten was marine wildlife. This included species such as “small amounts of sea lion; many shore birds and shallow-water fishes such as sharks, rays, and mullet; and very large numbers of a large purple mussel.” Much of the animal protein eaten at this time was from fish. This was because of the close proximity of the sea, as well as the lack of irrigation and the beginning of the city’s settlement. However, there was a major transition of subsistence with the advent of the irrigation system. Now along with the crops being cultivated more animals were being eaten. The main meat being eaten was that of llamas. These were locally domesticated animals which contributed 55% to 80% of the protein intake of this time. This dependence of llama meat is reflected by the large amount of animals bones collected during the SIAR (Small Irregularly Agglutinated Rooms) excavations. Dog bones and guinea pig bones were also found but the small amounts indicated that they were by far not as crucial as llama meat. Fish and bird bones were also found in the area which support the previous reliance on marine food (Moseley and Day 1982: 182-183)


From the data collected during excavations there is clear evidence that shows that Chan Chan was trading with neighboring areas. There was Moche artifacts found in the guano deposits of the Chincha Islands off the south coast of Peru, proving that Chan Chan had traded with these Chincha peoples at some point. Exotic items that were found in burials or in offerings were quite substantial. There were Spondylus, beads and pendants, from Ecuador which was found in certain graves in the burial mounds of Chan Chan. Copper, gold, and silver were also commonly found in these graves as well as some indication of copper used for domestic purposes. Copper ore would have had to have been traded form the North coast and the other metals would have a sierra source. There are also Cajamarca pottery sherds found in the area. These were found in Site A as well as Site 4 (Moseley and Day 1982: 273-274).


It is very obvious from the remains excavated at Chan Chan that there was occupational specialization within society. The majority of the people were full-time agricultural specialists. “The numerous small villages and isolated homesteads in the Moche region point to this, as well as to the relatively high degree of self-sufficiency for these farmers.” Other specialties included ceramic and metal production. Ceramics are found to be of very fine quality and there is great evidence for mass production. Evidence for this ceramic specialization is a ceramic discard pile found with twenty-nine different pieces. There is also hints to craft specialization in the area. There were surface concentrations of turquoise that was formed into beads, bead blanks, and un-worked fragments. There were needles and spindle whorls found in domestic areas which indicated that weaving was being done both in the home as well as on a specialist level. There were also religious and administrative specialists in the city (Moseley and Day 1982: 275-276). Also, there were specific parts of the city called Barrios in which the occupants were solely responsible for their craft production. These specialists were of the urban lower class and all resided together in these specified areas (Moseley 1983: 155-156).


Museum of Chan Chan

The city has ten walled citadels which housed ceremonial rooms, burial chambers, temples, reservoirs and residences. It is triangular, surrounded by 50–60 foot walls. There are no enclosures opening north. The tallest walls shelter against south-westerly winds from the coast. North-facing walls have the greatest sun exposure, serving to block wind and absorb sunlight where fog is frequent. The numerous walls throughout the city create a labyrinth of passages.

The walls are adobe brick covered with a smooth surface into which intricate designs are carved. There are two styles of carving design: one a realistic representation of subjects such as birds, fish, and small mammals, the other a more graphic, stylized representation of the same subjects. The carvings at Chan Chan depict crabs, turtles, and nets for catching sea monsters. Chan Chan, unlike most coastal ruins in Peru, is very close to the Pacific Ocean. In 1998, The "Master Plan for Conservation and Management of the Chan Chan Archeological Complex" is drawn up by the Freedom National Culture Institute of Peru with contributions from the World Heritage Foundation - WHR, ICCROM and GCI. The plan is approved by the Peruvian Government.

Chan Chan, capital of kingdom Chimu

Monumental Architecture[edit]


The great city of Chan Chan spans a distance of about 20 square kilometers. The monumental architecture of Chan Chan contains various types of buildings within its enclosures. The very center and hub of the city of Chan Chan spans six square kilometers and is made up of ten large enclosures which are known as cuidadelas (Kolata 1990: 107). This is the traditional monumental format, with the enclosures locking together as a unit, and being surrounded by smaller architectural units. The different sectors and ciudadelas that make up the main form of Chan Chan are named “Squier, Gran Chimu, Bandelier, Uhle, Chayhuac, Tschudi, Rivero, Laberinto, and Velarde” (Moseley 1982: 55). There is one entrance into the ciudadela which is located on the North end. The structure is divided into northern, southern, and central sectors by large adobe walls. Each individual sector can be entered only through a central courtyard which is lined with benches along the three walls. Connected to these ciudadelas are large ramps which lead to a few U-shaped buildings as well as the storerooms. These storerooms are lined symmetrically with the ciudadela enclosures. The final feature of this type of architecture is the king’s burial platform which is in the central or southern sector, located within its own court (Topic and Moseley 1983:154).

Surrounding these ciudadelas are large adobe walls which separate these buildings from the “courts, storerooms, passageways, and other features.” They were about 4 m thick at the very base of the wall and tapered off to about 1.5 m thick near the very top and can be as tall as 9m. The point of these walls does not seem to be militarily related but instead purely socio-economic. Along with these adobe walls there were mud-plastered logs covered by reeds which made up some of the smaller interior walls of the ciudadelas as well as mud-plastered flooring (Keatinge and Day, 1973: 262)


Within the Ciudadelas lie the most common u-shaped structures of Chan Chan, the Audiencia. These are rectangular structures that have floor areas of about five to six square meters. The adobe walls are about one meter thick and are closed off except for one open end. Within these buildings is a pair of niches, each about 50–75 cm wide, 50–60 cm. deep, and at least 50–75 cm. high and which are raised about a meter from the floor and faces the inside of each wall (Keatinge and Day 1973:282). Each audiencia contains six symmetrically arranged niches. Atop large wooden posts hung the heavy roof which was made up of cane and reeds which were connected and tethered together by twine and covered by a thick layer of earth. These audiencias were connected by straight and narrow corridors which connected the courts as well as led to the storerooms. The storerooms ranged from two to four square meter in size, and had walls one meter thick. The rooms which had a single entrance, were arranged in rows and faced the interior of the court (Moseley 1982: 55-60).

Intermediate Architecture[edit]

The intermediate architecture resembles the monumental architecture of audiencias and ciudadelas in their most basic forms. These rectilinear enclosures are smaller and less massive with shorter and less thick walls. They are divided into higher and lower units and this is where most of the differences show up. Unlike the monumental architecture there is no set layout or structure that dominates this area of buildings. However, the higher units show more organization and complexity with a large amount of formally organized courts, passageways and storerooms (Andrews 1974: 244).

Slum Architecture[edit]

This architecture is more commonly termed SIAR. These were small irregular rooms that were not surrounded by the walls of Chan Chan and were delineated rooms. There is a lack of any planning or elaboration of any kind. These are found mainly on the western edge of the city and prove to be the smallest and crudest constructed buildings of Chan Chan (Andrews 1974: 244)

Changes in Architecture[edit]

A major part of architecture that gradually changed over time was the construction of the audiencias. The major change that occurs is the increasing amount of standardization in the planning of this form of architecture. The very first audiencias are only found in Uhle and come in a variety of forms, with only three out of the total twenty-two buildings being completely identical. They were first only located near state administrative sites but were later constructed primarily in the palace annexes. During this time when they were being built in the within the palace walls, the standardized 6 niche audiencia was the formula used. Another change that occurred regarding audiencias is there connection with the storage facilities. In the very beginning of their creation there was no real connection. However, with time the audiencia was characterized by the close attachment and significance of the storage rooms that were reached by connected pathways. These storerooms were another important architectural building type within Chan Chan. These, however, remained quite stable in form and morphology. Their size, building products, and location remained the same. The only thing that did shift was an additional, larger storage room model was later added when the people needed more storage space for their goods. Finally, there was a slight change with the intermediate and SIAR architecture as well. They were expanded with the growing population, and saw a great increase of storage capacity in response to the large number of people occupying these areas (Kolata 1990: 128-137).

The reason for the changes that occurred in the architectural planning of the city was the great expansion Chan Chan experienced. Goods such as “fancy textiles, precious metals, and the like” were funneling in with great quantities into the city’s walls. This massive increase in portable wealth goods required more space to store these important items. Therefore, the storage was increased in all levels of architecture.

Another reason for the changes in architecture was military expansion. Between the years of A.D. 1300 and A.D. 1370 the administration was on a conquest to overthrow the Lambayeque. This led to a great increase of wealth and capital. With this money the city was expanded and beautified. During this time more than 65% of the intermediate architecture found in Chan Chan was built, as well as the majority of the SIAR buildings. The storage facilities within the Intermediate architecture became the primary storage area, which differed from the early history where the monumental buildings held most of the valuable goods (Kolata 1990: 133-138).


There was a large amount of artifacts found within the site of Chan Chan. Because many of the structures were used as storage facilities we see a wide range of uses for individual storage niches or pits. One example of this would be about half of the storage facilities show evidence of craft production. The artifacts found in the complexes 1, 2, 4 and only in the storage facilities of complex 3 are items like “ingots, scrap copper, hammers, beads, bangles, rings, and tweezers for metalworking; spindles, unspun and spun cotton for spinning; wool yarn in balls, skeins, and wrapped on spindles, loom parts, weaving tools, textiles, tapes, and tassels for weaving; wooden blocks, bone gouges, coral rasps, and wooded artifacts for woodworking.” When the artifacts line the floors it looks as though this room would have been used as a workshop, whereas storage areas showed a more residential use (Moseley 1982: 153).

Another type of artifact that was prevalent in Chan Chan was the surprisingly large amount of textile finds. “The materials include tapestry and brocade with complicated decorative motifs, fringed tapes that often border elaborate textiles, and tassels that consumed large quantities of rare wool yarn, as well as a variety of cotton plain weaves.” There were not many textiles tools found, however. There were some indications of weaving such as “…three combs (to beat down sectional wefts in tapestry weaving), 20 wooden stakes ( for warping or anchoring looms), and eight wooden and 44 copper needles…”(Moseley 1982: 163-164)

The last type of artifacts that is of interest when discussing Chan Chan is the evidence for the creating or manufacturing as well as the distribution of the wooden eartubes. These eartubes are hollow, wooden, and cylindrical. They range in size from “about two and one-half to four and one-half centimeters in diameter and four to five centimeters in length.” These eartubes are found in the SIAR region of the city and are associate with woodworking (Moseley 1982: 164). The artifacts did not seem to have a system or classification system associated with them. I did not find a mention of changes in artifacts through time. I did, however, read that the main change was just the amount of each artifact found in a certain architectural area. For example, when the city began expanding the intermediate as well as the SIAR architecture the craft artifacts shifted over to these areas from the monumental sites. This shows the change in importance from one area to the next and what jobs were being done where.


There are four governmental principles that were identified in Chimu culture which would have existed in Chan Chan. These included “divine kingship, a view of property as a divine right, split inheritance, and military expansionism.” These four criteria split the levels of government and dictated the rulership. The first of these principles is divine kingship. The Kingdom of Chimor, which ruled over the expansive city of Chan Chan, was led by kings. There were ten recorded kings written on the king’s list and power would have been passed down based on birth. Later in the inequality section I will go into further detail about the significance of burial mounds in relation to kingship and how we can determine that these men were in fact the rulers of the great city (Moseley 1982: 87).

Based on these intricate burials archaeologists have determined that the position of king was passed down based on the principle of split inheritance. This means that the principle heir came to the throne and ruled over the people, but did not inherit the wealth or property of the past king. Instead the king’s estate was given to the secondary heirs, the other descendants of the king, who cared for the ancestors, property, and the mummy of their father the king. The new king would gain his own personal wealth by putting new taxes on his people or conquering new lands (Kolata 1990: 132-133). Another important aspect of the government was the rural administrative centers which were located and headquartered in the ciudadelas of Chan Chan. These centers were meant to place state presence within the rural areas of the kingdom, which allowed the state government to maintain power over the land, water, and plentiful resources. There are three known sites, El Milagro de San Jose, Quebrada del Oso, and Querbracha Katuay, which would have functioned as rural administrative center (Keatinge and Day 1973: 286). The ethnohistory of the Chimu kingdom indicates a great number of important things about the Chan Chan government, but it should be noted that this information has been taken from the Inca empires interpretations because of the sketchy nature of the rest of the ethnohistoric information found elsewhere. The local government was run by caciques and curacas who were also responsible for collecting the tribute. These men were either nobles of Chan Chan or members of the local indigenous nobility. The caciques had control over a set amount of land and used the surplus taxes they collected to pay off the people who labored for the state. The Archaeologists who have interpreted this site believe that there were more positions of authority within the city that have not been noted in any of the readings, but would have served more specific purposes distinct from the caciques and curacas.

Power was bestowed based on lineage. The highest position on the political and social hierarchy was the divine son of the god, Sapa Inca, who would have been the ruling king. These emperors were broken up into two types or classes: the Inca nobility and the local rulers. Kinship ties were the most important determinant for one’s social rank and postiion in society. Families were ranked on a hierarchical scale, and this determine what jobs they could perform, the amount of taxes they would have to pay, and how severely they could be punished for crimes (Moseley 1982: 120-124).



SIAR units, or the slum architectural areas of Chan Chan, indicates the presence of inequality based on living arrangements and residential areas. These SIAR units, also known as barrios, were located mainly on the south, west, and northwest edges of the city and housed about 20,000 individuals. The alleyways were littered with refuse and led to one central well used for the population. The units were cramped and small with flimsy and haphazardly thrown together architecture. Another distinct form of architecture was the intermediate architecture which consisted of 35 elite compounds. These units are distinctively much larger than the SIAR units, and are built out of adobe rather than mud thatching and other lesser techniques. There was a larger amount of open space and the alleyways were cleaner and wider for easier traveling within them. More storage space, which was vital to the city, can be found in these elite compounds. The buildings have a more uniform design, and more precision was taken in the construction of these buildings (Moseley 1982: 119-120).

These differences within architectural construction and location, archaeologists have determined a few interpretations about the social structure of the Chan Chan people. First, the residents of the SIAR units were a distinct social class, and second this class was part of the four hierarchical classes that were recognized in the state system. A wide range of variation in status and within social mobility was characteristic of this urban proletariat group, but they were defined in a ridge and caste-like way. And finally, these classes were based primarily on economic matters (Moseley 1982: 160).


We can verify the primary form of ruling, kingship, based on the archaeological find of the burial platforms located in all parts of the city. The most elaborate of these many burial mounds, placed on the bluff at the south end of the site, is the supposed location of king burials. There are nine of these elaborate and well stocked mounds hinting that the tenth king was the final ruler to reign over the Chan Chan people before its breakup. Within the mounds “fine pottery, fancy textiles, carved wood, weaving equipment, and metal objects, along with whole and ground Spondylus shell” were found in great numbers in all of these mounds, and this is even with a great amount of looting that has occurred over its history.

These burials indicate king burials based on the following reasons. First only one was built at a time because the city was only ruled by one individual at a time. Second, the kings list determines the number of deaths and burials of rulers during this time period. Third, the compounds show the evidence of wealth and the control and management of the king. Finally, there is indication and evidence that people continued to return to these specific burials to honor the dead kings that they within them(Moseley 1982: 108).

The remains of at least ninety-three individuals were found in all of the burials and this is the reason for the large amounts of human bone found in this area. In the cases where sex and age could be determined all were adolescent and young adult females, but this does not indicate anything about the cross-section of the population because there were many bones where the sex and age were undeterminable. Multiple bodies were stacked in individual chambers and it is estimated that there were between 200 and 300 burials within the site.

The burial mounds not made for the kings held highly esteemed and high-status citizens. We can tell that they were highly ranked individuals based on the valuables that were placed in the chambers during the complex funerary rituals that were practiced. These included offertory goods such as “fine pottery, quality textiles, carved wood, weaving equipment, metal objects, and whole and ground Spondylus shell.” These objects were thrown into the chambers in great quantities, along with the ritually sacrificed human bodies of young women who were killed for the deceased individual (Moseley 1982: 100-104).

Artifact Distributions[edit]

Artifacts were distributed throughout the city because of the distinctive storage facilities of all corners of the site. However, the majority of the valuables were excavated from the intermediate and elite architectural areas. More specifically they were placed in the burials of the high-ranking citizens of the city as well as in the kings’ chambers.

Skeletal Traits[edit]

The only indicated of the health of citizens and the correlation between heath and status was found in the age and sex of the individuals buried in the burial mounds. Again, young females were in abundance. This, however, indicates a ritualistic killing of these young women rather than a health issue among this age, class, or sex.

Religion and Ideology[edit]

There is not much evidence for religious practices within the grand city of Chan Chan. This is clearly evident in the lack of information given in my resources and the sparse amount of time spent on the research about the important aspect of culture. Within my resources only two even mentioned religion or religiously affiliated objects, and only two or three pages were dedicated to the topic. I believe that this is the case because Chan Chan was not being used as a religious center, but the people instead traveled to other areas of Peru such as the great cities of Pachacamac or Pacatnamu which were a few of the close pilgrimage centers (Moseley 1982:221). Even with this explanation I still find it difficult to believe that there was no archaeological data such as ethnohistory, paintings, or written records that mentioned any sort of religious activity. However, this is exactly the problem I have run into.

One indicator of religion that was mentioned was the change in architecture. At the beginning phases of the city pyramids were being built. These did not have any consequence to religion or religious practice. So the switch into a more religious city was marked by the arrival of smaller room with plasters and other features that point to a more organized religious activity area, and construction of pyramids was brought to a halt (West 1970: 82). The change in burial patterns is also a sign of religious shift. Bodies were originally buried in extended supine posture and later burials are placed in a flexed seated position. This later positioning can be seen after the Moche Phase V, which is the beginning of the Chimu dynasty. Now both upper and lower class citizens were being buried side by side and this reflects a great shift in belief systems. This is because of the change in opinion about how a body enters the afterlife (Moseley 1982: 19).

The most information was given on the influence religion played on the power structure and elites. Kings were seen and believed to be divine or semidivine beings. The connection between possibly religiously important objects and symbols and the state is quite strong. This is one reason why religion can only be determined so far. The sacred objects such as certain arts and crafts like textiles and ceramics which would normally show religious affiliation within a site, are actually connected with the state. These objects had the secular purpose of being payment, or mit’a for the services of the government and state. It is hard to draw the line, therefore, between sacred and secular meaning of these very objects (Moseley 1982: 18).


The site of Chan Chan is well known for its large amount of intact burial mounds and sub-floor burials. The burials range from quite simple to simply intricate and elaborate. The differences amongst the many burials of the city give a major view into the complex organization, both social and political. The burials that have been found within the city walls are found in a large cemetery near the south bluff, smaller cemeteries scattered about, burials in ramps, audiencias, and royal tombs (Moseley 1982: 87)

There are nine large burial mounds which are tombs in actuality. These T-shaped tombs were dedicated to the deceased kings. Each tomb, which is shaped in the form of truncated pyramid mounds and contains many cells, was buried beneath each of the large ciudadelas, and the hallways of the tomb spread out from the center and equaled the same amount of ground space that the above palace covered. Archaeologists have interpreted this as a clear symbol that the king ruled the palace even after death and no other king would rule in the same palace. These palaces became royal mausoleums which would have been looked after and maintained by his close kin (Kolata 109). Another significant type of burial is the sub-floor burials beneath audiencias. Audiencias were inhabited by the wealthiest and highly esteemed individuals within the city. This clearly indicates the disparity between burial patterns (Moseley 1982: 173) If any lower class individuals were buried they seemed to be placed in scattered cemeteries on the outskirts of the city. 93 individual bodies were found in the various burials across the city, but it is estimated that it is more likely that between 200 and 300 individuals were originally present (Moseley 1982: 100).

Funerary rites were only performed for the rich or powerful. These occurred over a long period of time and began at the death of the individual. The body of the principal individual was placed first in the main chamber. Large amounts of fine goods were then scattered around this individual. Following these two stages sacrifices began. Both young women and large amounts of llamas were the sacrificial victims of Chan Chan. Some time would pass and the platform would then be built atop this. The cells of the platform were then stocked up with more offertory goods and human sacrifices (Moseley 1982: 103). Along with the bones of the buried individuals, “textile, fine blackware ceramics, llama bone, shell bead, and Sondylus shells” were found (Moseley 1982: 203). Large amounts of carved wood, metal objects, and weaving equipment were also recovered from the mounds and pits. Looters are a major issue for this site. They hit every large burial and stole large amounts of the finer goods from the tombs. Luckily not everything was taken or destroyed so we can still gain a pretty good understanding of the goods that were placed with the deceased.

An interesting change within burial patterns occurred with the Chimu takeover. Like I mentioned earlier, the deceased were traditionally placed in an extended supine posture, which is the face up lying position. Later large amounts of the dead were instead buried in a flexed seated position. This shows a shift in religious beliefs and the new significance of the afterlife (Moseley 1982: 19). The differences in class are clearly evident regarding the burial patterns of the city. We can see differentiation as easily as by looking at the location of the burial. The richer or more powerful the individual was, the closer they were to the palaces in the center of the city. Also, they had more fine goods scattered about in their tombs or graves. Unfortunately, the nicer the tomb or grave the more looters focused on it. We lose a lot of key information because of this harmful activity.

I did not find mention of any reasons for the deaths in my resources. I think that because of the looting problem as well as a large amount of destroyed burials they were unable to determine if any disease or trauma existed among the Chan Chan people. The only cause of death that I did find was sacrifice. Young women, predominantly, were sacrificed and placed above the body of a deceased king. They were not previously injured or sick (Moseley 1982: 100-104).


Ruins of the citadel of Chan Chan in Trujillo, Peru.
Water reserve in Chan Chan.

To increase the farmland surrounding the city, a vast network of canals diverting water from the Moche river was created.[5] It was only with these canals that the city's population could increase. Before the canals, the city relied on wells dug up to 15 meters deep.[6] Many canals to the north were destroyed by a catastrophic flood c. 1100 AD, which was likely the key motivation for the Chimú to refocus their economy to one rooted in foreign resources rather than in subsistence farming.[6] Chan Chan has water reserves called huachaques.


The ancient structures of Chan Chan are threatened by erosion due to changes in weather patterns — heavy rains, flooding, and strong winds.[7][8]

Cultural Shows in Chan Chan[edit]

Chan Chan has cultural shows. In 1972 Ima Sumac sang in during "The Night Chimú" in the Spring Festival with the Trujillan tenor Fortunato de Orbegoso Gaillour. In 2002 Peruvian folklore singer Fabiola de la Cuba made the show "Fabiola ... Sigh and Mud". In November 2012 de la Cuba presented the "Men of Chan Chan" inspired by the painting of the same name of the painter Gerardo Chavez. The characters were alive and interacted with the audience. The show De La Cuba took place in the "Palace Nik-An" of Chan Chan.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Smithonian Staff (March 2010), "10 Must-See Endangered Cultural Treasures", Smithsonian 39 (12): 35  - Chan Chan, Peru, End of an Empire by Bruce Hathaway
  2. ^ Moore, J. D. (2005). Cultural Landscapes in the Ancient Andes. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  3. ^ "Chan Chan la ciudadela de barro que resiste al paso del tiempo". Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  4. ^ Holstein, Otto. 1927. Chan-chan: Capital of the great chimu. Geographical Review 17, (1) (January): 36-61.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b The Inca World: The development of pre-Columbian Peru, A.D. 1000-1534 by Laura Laurencich Minelli, Cecilia Bákula, Mireille Vautier – Google Books
  7. ^ Endangered Site: Chan Chan, Peru
  8. ^ Climate Change: Sites in Peril
  9. ^ "Fabiola de la Cuba cantará el 30 de noviembre en Chan Chan". Retrieved November 19, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kubler, George. (1962). The Art and Architecture of Ancient America, Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia Ltd., pp. 247–274

External links[edit]