Sacred porter of Chan Chan?


Perfectly preserved wooden figure, potentially linked to ritual human sacrifice, found at Chan Chan, northern Peru.


Chan Chan, on the northern coast of Peru, was the imposing capital of the Chimor (c. AD 900-1470). The largest mudbrick city in the Americas, the site is notable for its nine imposing compounds where its leaders dwelt in magnificent isolation.


Recent excavations at the Huaca Takaynamo, a ceremonial structure to the north of the central complex, have unearthed a well-preserved wooden figurine (pictured). The date of the sculpture is not yet finally established, but its form and style date it to the time of the Chimor. The figure has a flat face and measures 46cm by 16cm. The eyes are almond-shaped, the face is painted red, and the nose protrudes. Its circular ears and the eyes are painted black, apparently so that resin, preserved with the find, could fix mother-of-pearl plates to the surface. The person wears a trapezoid-shaped cap adorned with seven vertical bands of alternating colours.


Its skirt is triangular-shaped, decorated with small bands along the edge and dark colour at the centre. Apparently, parts of the body were once painted red. A necklace of threaded nectandria seeds once lay around its neck. Nectandria was used in ancient times as a muscle relaxant and has been found in nearby burials of sacrificed children and adolescents. A small bag decorated with brown and white threads lay under the sculpture.


This unique figure is thought to represent a porter who carried sacred objects for the elite in rituals and ceremonies. It is certainly testimony to the elaborate ceremonial that surrounded the leaders of Chan Chan.


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Image: The well-preserved ‘porter’

Credit: Decentralized Directorate of Culture of La Libertad