The Archetypes of Chan Chan

Archaeologists Are Still Talking Bull…

Pelican carvings at Chan Chan, PeruOn the taxi-tour around Trujillo´s Chan Chan archaeological sites and museums, Americo drops me off at the Casenelli Museum. A group of guides sit on plastic chairs just beyond the front entrance.

“Hablas Ingles?” I ask one. I am met with blank stares, and all five women shake their heads.

I have no option other to investigate the museum alone to see what I could discover. However, as I ponder over a ceramic with trapeze shapes like the patterns I had seen etched into the dry sands of the Nazca plateau, a small woman with painted eyebrows and a coconut hat comes over and says:

“Are you looking for an English speaking guide?”

Clara has been a guide since 1969 and has worked with many archaeologists from all over the world. She spent eight years in the jungle learning about Shamanic cultures.

“The Chimu respected nature,” she told me. “You find it constantly in their culture. Even their name Chimu means Earth of the Moon. ”

The Secret Chakana

“Come here, I want to show you something,” Clara tells me. She opens a door marked “prohibo,” and holds it open for me to come inside. There is just enough light creeping in from the corridor for me to see a huge wall about six metres long and two metres tall. Etched into the wall are repeated shapes of the Andean Cross – and highly important symbol that was central to life in the Andean region. The symbol represents all aspects of life and features advanced mathematics the ancients were not supposed to know about. Read more about the Chakana here.

Secret artefact in hidden room at Chan Chan MuseumBut what is different about the Chakana on this wall to all the others I have seen during my research is the shapes have been put together so they appear as pelicans and fish – important archetypes to the Chimu as their diet mostly consisted of fish. Furthermore, they used pelicans tied to a rope to help them catch fish.

Another interesting artefact Clara shows me is headgear worn by Chimu priests. Cut around the edges are three steps representing the three worlds as we see in the Andean cross – the Upper World, the material world we live in and the Under World. The headdress also had four steps representing the elements, earth, air, fire and water.

Together the steps add up to seven. Clara tells me they represent the seven steps to spiritual enlightenment and the seven chakras we need to open to achieve the full understanding of the universe.


Another recurring theme I find is seashells with which the Chimu used to bury their dead. I wondered why.

“It was for the deceased to take with them into the next life,” Clara tells me.

“But why would the ancients want to take seashells with them into the next life?”

“They were symbolic of the ocean which the Chimu relied heavily upon for food,” Clara explains.

I am not convinced although it is true that the sea is represented tremendously throughout Chimu art, on their ceramics and in their temples. Being a coastal culture this makes sense, but later in my journey, I also found shells found in the tombs of inland cultures. It wouldn’t be until I get to Mexico that I discover the real meaning of shells.

Other explanations the guides have been told to say by museum archaeologists are also full of crap. Squiggles that look like snakes represent realistic waves and straight lines wrapping around itself represent geometric waves. The geometric waves have four steps representing the four elements. Why are they geometric waves then?

Chan Chan

Built around 1200 BCE, Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu culture. Legend talks of a man named, Takaynamo arriving on a boat in 900AD and founded Chan Chan.

The moon was central to the Chimu culture and a lot of jewellery in the shape of the moon was worn by both men and women. Clara tells me the moon shares direct relation to the sea. Ceremonies were typically held on nights when there was a full moon. In each of the ceremonial rooms, there are 28 moons.

Numbers also played a major part in Chimu culture.

“Look at the doors,” Clara tells me. “You see they have six pelicans either side. They represent the 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of the night.” In another part of the complex is a room that has 24 niches. “12 and 12, multiples of 6,” Clara tells me.

Towards the end of the tour, Clara takes me into another prohibited area to show me where the body of a mummy was found. Nobody knows why a solitary body was buried there. “Skeletons were also found in the walls nearby,” Clara said. “It’s a mystery.”

And for me, so is the Chimu culture. I can´t help feeling we are not been told the full story of ancient Andean peoples.

You can learn more about the Shaman of South America in my book available to buy now on Amazon,  Apple,  Barnes & Noble,  and Lulu

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