A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Gourd Lord Volume 56 Number 3, May/June 2003
by Jonathan Haas, Winifred Creamer, and Alvaro Ruiz

A gourd fragment from Peru's coast incised with the oldest known depiction of the Staff God. (Photo by Jonathan Haas; drawing by Jill Seagard)

A four-thousand-year-old gourd fragment found on the Peruvian coast may push back the appearance of ancient Andean religion by a thousand years.

Archaeological teams from the Proyecto Arqueológico Norte Chico were conducting surface collections of looted cemeteries in Norte Chico, a region some 120 miles north of Lima, when they found the painted and incised fragment, once part of a gourd bowl. It features a fanged creature with splayed feet whose left arm appears to end in a snake's head and whose right hand holds a staff.

This figure appears to be the earliest depiction of the Staff God, interpreted as the principle deity of the Formative Period Chavín culture (ca. 1000-200 B.C.). Over the course of the following millennium, the Staff God appears in various manifestations in many Andean cultures, and reappears during the Wari and Tiwanaku empires of A.D. 600 to 1000.

A small, undecorated piece of the gourd was radiocarbon dated to 2250 B.C. An undated gourd fragment found at a nearby cemetery depicts a similar figure.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America