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Pre-Inca People Stomped Salutes to Their Thunder God

Pre-Inca people danced on a unique platform in the Andes Mountains to worship their thunder God.
Pre-Inca people danced on a unique platform in the Andes Mountains to worship their thunder God. Credit: Rod Waddington / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Archaeologists discovered a fascinating occurrence in the Andes Mountains around seven hundred years ago long before the Inca Empire rose to prominence in 1400 A.D. New evidence suggests pre-Inca peoples produced human thunder on a ridge in the mountains.

Those who lived there, part of a group called the Chocorvos, created a unique platform on this high ridge in Peru, known as Viejo Sangayaico about a century prior to the establishment of the Inca Empire. They weren’t merely dancing, however; they were worshipping a thunder god.

Study of the pre-Inca dance site

Archaeologist Kevin Lane from the University of Buenos Aires has been studying this pre-Inca site. He found something quite intriguing. The floor these people made was like no other.

It was made of layers of different materials including soil, ash, and guano (which is bird droppings). These layers combined to form a floor that could take the pounding of people’s feet. When the floor was stomped on, it didn’t just absorb the impacts but made booming sounds much like thunder.

Think of it as a massive drum composed of the ground itself. A group of around twenty to twenty-five people could play this natural drum with their feet. It’s as if they were creating thunderous music while worshipping their thunder god.

This amusing discovery has been covered by a scientific journal called the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology in which Lane explains the findings.

Testing of the platform’s sound

In 2014, while working at Viejo Sangayaico, Kevin Lane and his team noticed something intriguing. They found that one of the two open-air platforms in a ritual area sounded hollow when people walked over it.

Later on, they dug into part of the platform to learn more about the pre-Inca ritual. What they found were six different layers of materials such as silty clay, sand, ash, and other things. Some of these layers had ash mixed with guano, which comes from animals like llamas and alpacas.

These ashy layers had small spaces that helped create drum-like sounds when the platform was stepped on. Lane’s team then tested the platform’s sound by stomping on it one person at a time as well as in groups of two to four people. They even had a group of four people do a stomping dance on the platform.

Chocorvos dancers’ belief system

The sounds of stomping on the platform had different levels of loudness, ranging from sixty to eighty decibels. This resembles the noise you’d hear during a loud conversation or at a restaurant where it’s a bit noisy, according to Lane.

When bigger groups of Chocorvos dancers were on that platform making their rhythmic stomping sounds, it would have been even louder.

There are old Spanish documents that refer to the beliefs of the Chocorvos, including their beliefs in powerful things like thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and water deities.

Lane has a theory that these might have led to special ceremonies at Viejo Sangayaico. These ceremonies involved the stomp dancing referred to previously. The goal was to imitate the booming sounds of a thunder god.

In support of this idea, there were remains of what might have been a temple near the platform where all the stomping happened. There were pieces of pottery in this area with images of snakes. In the local Quechua language, these snakes represented water, rivers, and even lightning.

Influence of the pre-Inca dance

There’s a strong possibility that the stomp dancing practiced prior to the Inca Empire may have influenced a dance that was popular with the Chorcovos and other Andean groups in the mid-1500s. This was after the Spanish took over the Inca Empire in 1532.

The Chorcovos were part of the Inca Empire for a long time. However, later, they resisted the Spanish way of life and became part of something called Taki Onqoy. In this, Andean people danced in circles and shook with joy. This might have been a way to connect with the spirits of their ancient gods.

Kevin Lane believes finding additional platforms such as the one where the stomp dancing occurred, along with objects linked to water and lightning rituals, would greatly support his speculations. He believes the platforms were used to honor the thunder god during grander ceremonies.

Researchers could dig up similar platforms at other old sites. They can look for signs such as layers of guano and other things that create drum-like floors for dancing. Kylie Quave, an archaeologist at George Washington University, thinks finding these things would help prove Lane’s point.

Archaeoacoustics of the platforms

Miriam Kolar, archaeoacoustics researcher at Stanford University, thinks that the platform at Viejo Sangayaico may have been built for the purpose of amplifying sounds.

However, even if this wasn’t the intention, the Chocorvos could have still figured out that the platform made drum-like sounds. They might have used this discovery for their special dancing ceremonies.

At Andean sites older than Viejo Sangayaico, there is evidence of other structures that could alter sounds. For example, at a place called Chavin de Huántar, which is around three thousand years old, conch-shell horns were found.

These horns could produce all types of sounds from especially pure tones to loud roars. Kolar and her team found that these sounds were important during special parts of ceremonies and at certain parts of the site that had air ventilation openings.

The folks who live close to Viejo Sangayaico today have mentioned that there is another old site nearby with a platform similar to the one that makes sounds when you step on it. However, Lane and his team haven’t had a chance to explore that site as of yet.

To find more platforms that make similar sounds, it’s important to listen closely to how different parts of a site sound, Lane explains. This is something to which archaeologists don’t usually pay much attention, but by training their ears to notice these things, they may discover more such noteworthy platforms in the future.

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