Temple architecture

Mysterious Passageways in a Pre-Columbian Temple May Have Been Used as Psychedelic Ritual Chambers

It is believed that the passages of the Chavín de Huántar temple were sealed around 3,000 years ago. Image credit: Mark Green/Shutterstock.com

A network of eerie chambers and passageways built in an enigmatic temple complex in the Peruvian Andes may have been used for ritual practices involving psychedelic plants, researchers say. The mysterious structures were discovered in 2019 deep within the Chavín de Huántar Temple, the largest religious site belonging to the Chavín culture, which occupied the area until around 2,200 years ago.

Although the passages are still being explored and no conclusive answers regarding their function have been obtained, Stanford archaeologist John Rick told Live Science that their purpose was almost certainly “linked to ritual activity. “. An expert on the site, Rick produced numerous studies and book chapters describing how Chavín de Huántar’s layout was central to its ceremonial effectiveness.

For example, in 2006 he wrote that “architecture plays a major role in the mood of rituals that have the primary function of reinforcing the authority and power of the leadership of Chavín”. To illustrate this point, he cites the strategic placement of “ventilation ducts” which allowed rays of sunlight to illuminate certain ceremonial spaces, thus reinforcing the impact of certain psychoactive plants ingested during these singular rituals.

The newly discovered passages vary in length, with the longest being around 100 meters (300 ft). Many include dizzying twists and may have served to create feelings of disorientation or confusion in people under the influence of mind-altering substances.

Exactly which psychedelic plants were ingested in Chavín de Huántar remains a matter of debate, although it is widely believed that the mescaline-containing San Pedro cactus was among the sacraments used during rituals. Native to the region, the cactus is depicted on stone carvings and textiles inside the temple, although no trace of actual plant material has ever been found at the site.

Sculpture by Chavin de Huantar

Some Chavín de Huántar carvings appear to have mucus dripping from their nostrils, potentially indicating the use of a psychedelic snuff called vilca. Image credit: el parajo lindo/Shutterstock.com

Other researchers argue that those attending the ceremony may have snorted a psychoactive snuff made from the pods of the vilca tree, which contains a DMT derivative known as bufotenin. Although evidence for the use of this drug is thin, a sculpture discovered in Chavín de Huántar in 1975 appears to depict vilca pods.

A series of sculpted heads, with what appears to be mucus dripping from their nostrils, have been interpreted as further evidence of the use of the vilca, as sniffing snuff tends to cause the nose to run excessively. Other tools such as small grinding mortars and “snuff spoons” have also been found at Chavín de Huántar, although in the absence of plant remains it is impossible to say with certainty which plants were eaten inside the temple.

“There are no finds of actual plant remains from the plants, but paraphernalia for drug use, depictions of plants in Chavín graphic art, and documentation of drug effects in art are widely recognized,” Rick explained in an email to IFLScience.

Given the lack of a gun, it’s hard to say for sure what exactly happened inside the temple, but whatever they were doing in there must have been pretty wild.

[H/T: Live Science]