Ancient Peruvian Cultures – The Chimu

New archaeological sites tend to raise more questions that answers and are found regularly. We have learned many things about the various cultures that have hailed from Peru but, as always, there’s a fair bit of missing information.

This is particularly evident in the north of Peru where there have been a number of civilizations to crop up and then disappear over time. One culture would often borrow from one before it or, in some cases, take on attributes from cultures that it conquered. Because of this, there has been some confusion and disagreement over where one started and another began.

For example, the Moche flourished from 100 to 800 AD. Some accounts say that the Sican or Lambayeque flourished from 750 to 1375 when they were conquered by the Chimu. The Chimu are sometimes said to have existed concurrently, from 850 to 1450, and other accounts give them a later start date of 1100 or 1150.

What is known is about the Chimu is that the Chan Chan was the capital city of the Chimu Empire. It is the largest prehispanic mudbrick settlement in America and covers about 20 square kilometers. Here can be found the palaces of the kings as well as the nobles. It appears that it began with one large citadel which continued to be added to until there were more than 10 of these structures called ciudadelas.

These ciudadelas were like self-contained little towns. Each had its own buildings, burial sites and water supply. In the other parts of the city are evidence of trade and artisanship in the form of spinning, weaving and metalwork. When the Inca conquered the Chimus around 1470, they had an empire that spanned approximately 1000 km along the Pacific coast.

This civilization was known for its artwork and there is evidence that they took on some of the art style and possibly artisans of the Sican culture that they conquered. For this reason, there were some pieces of Sican artwork that were originally labeled Chimu until new information came to light.

One of the other things that this civilization is known for is its irrigation system. Agriculture was an important part of their economy and they built many systems of canals in order to keep a vast area of land irrigated.

As the Chimu were to employ, forcibly or not, the artisans of the Sican, the Inca did the same to the Chimu. Due to the outstanding metalwork by the Chimu, the Inca took many of their artisans to Cusco by force which may have played a part in the ultimate destruction of the culture.