Photograph of a archeological site high in the Andean mountains.

From Chavin to the Inca, a timeline of the Central Andes

See the exhibition

Revisit our past exhibition:

Peru: a journey in time

Embark on a journey through time to South America and understand the fascinating cultures that emerged in the Central Andes, before the arrival of Europeans.

From the Paracas, Nasca and Moche, to the Wari and Inca Empire; explore these cultures unique ways of living, their system of beliefs and the legacies that remain. 


Around 16,000 BC

Human colonisation of South America

Photograph of the landscape of the archeological site at Caral Peru, with green fields and mountains in the background.
The 5,000-year-old early archaeological site of Caral, central coastal Peru. Daniel Silva / PROMPERÚ.
More than 15,000 years ago, people migrated to South America from the north, settling in the Central Andean region. They established settlements in the arid deserts along the Pacific Coast, in the high mountains across the Andes and the tropical forests to the east.

2500–1800 BC

First textiles and pottery

A black vessel in the shape of a transformed human body, head at the bottom legs vent over the head.
Pottery vessel in the shape of a contorted body, Cupisnique, Peru, 1000–500 BC. Museo de Arte de Lima. Donated by Petrus and Verónica Fernandini. Photo by Daniel Giannoni.
Towards 2500 BC, populations expanded and settled permanently across the region. They built residential and public spaces, developed agriculture, began producing textiles and making pottery vessels to store food and water. Andean societies had no writing, so textiles and ceramics also served as canvases for expressing symbolic meaning and communicating ideas and beliefs through images.

1200–200 BC

The influence of Chavin de Huantar

Two gold ear plates decorated with embossed motifs of human faces, feline fangs and snakes..
Gold alloy and shell ear plates with feline features, Peru, 800–550 BC. Museo Kuntur Wasi.
Towards 1200 BC, a new belief system spread rapidly from the pilgrimage centre of Chavin de Huantar, one of the most impressive early archaeological sites of the Andes. Chavin de Huantar served as a pilgrimage destination for local elites coming from distant regions. Visitors would come to consult the oracle, pleading for favourable weather and fertility. Its mythology merged human, feline, bird and snake imagery, which artists recreated in pottery and carved into stone walls.

Around 900 BC

Paracas funerary traditions

A rectangle shaped textile decorated with mythical beings holding severed heads.
Mantle depicting mythical beings holding severed heads. Museo de Arte de Lima. Prado Family Bequest. Restored with a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.
The Paracas society emerged along the arid desert coast of southern Peru around 900 BC. When a Paracas person died, the community came together to ensure their safe journey into the ancestral realm, where they could continue to protect the living. Skilled weavers made large, patterned textiles to wrap around the dead body, creating a funerary bundle to place in collective tombs. Inside they placed offerings, including headbands, waistbands, metal objects and ceramics. These would ensure the continuation of the cycles of life, death and rebirth.

200 BC–650 AD

The Nasca Lines

Aerial photograph of the Nasca geoglyphs, the figure is of a monkey.
The Monkey geoglyph, Nasca, Peru. ©Walter Wust / PROMPERÚ.
Following earlier Paracas traditions, the Nasca used the landscape as a canvas, creating massive lines and drawings known as geoglyphs, which could only be seen in their entirety from the sky. They did this by removing the top layer of earth and exposing the lighter sediment beneath. Ceramics, offerings of shells and post holes for roofs suggest people walked among the lines and performed rituals to celebrate their relationship with the living landscape. 

100–800 AD


A vessel with a spout, taken the form of a human head.
Vessel in the form of a human portrait. Moche AD 100 – 800.
Celebrated among the best potters of the Ancient World, the Moche lived in large settlements along the coast and inland valleys of northern Peru. The Moche took artistic production and design to greater creative heights, using ceramics to tell intriguing stories. Their symbolic images were also carved and incised on wood and metal, and painted on the walls of palaces, as seen in the Huaca de la Luna, located near the modern city of Trujillo in northern Peru.

600–900 AD


A painted male figure.
Figure of an elite male wearing a four cornered hat and ceremonial shirt. The Amano Pre-Columbian Textile Museum, Lima-Perú. Photo by Gabriel Herrera.
The Wari state developed in the region of Ayacucho around 600 AD and expanded to cover a large area, from the southern highlands to the northern coast. Wari officers, who wore fine ceremonial shirts and four-cornered hats, were in charge of controlling different aspects of Wari society. This involved the administration of a state with urban planned cities and special religious ceremonies that followed strict artistic rules.

900–1470 AD

Chan Chan

A roofed sandstone space with sandstone structures and wooden scaffolding.
The audiencias sector of the Tschudi Palace (also known as the Nik-an, or the 'house of the sea') in Chan Chan, Huanchaco, Peru. Antonio Escalante / PROMPERÚ.
The coastal kingdom of Chimú was based in northern Peru between the 10th and 15th centuries. Its capital, Chan Chan, grew to more than 24 square kilometres and had an estimated population of 50,000 to 75,000 inhabitants, the largest cosmopolitan city in South America at the time. It was a cosmopolitan city, whose residents came from across the Chimú territory. The beige colour of Chan Chan’s adobe brick walls served as a canvas for images that were replicated on ceramics and textiles.


The Inca Empire

A miniature gold llama figurine.
Miniature gold figure of a llama, Peru, Inca, about 1500.
About 1400, the Inca Empire emerged in the highlands of the Central Andes, covering a vast expanse of territory that included parts of modern-day Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and all of Peru. From their capital in Cusco, the Inca expanded their empire through negotiation and alliances, connecting their territories of influence through an extensive network of roads that bound together diverse communities and cultures.

Around 1450

The building of Machu Picchu

Photograph of a archeological site high in the Andean mountains.
The Inca site of Machu Picchu. © Sébastien Lecocq/Alamy stock photo.
Meaning ‘ancient mountain’, the citadel of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century during the expansion of the Inca Empire. The site includes around two hundred buildings – built with polished stone walls in the classical architecture style of the Inca, which were strategically adapted to fit the landscape. Its builders wisely modified the topography, creating a system of artificial mounds and terraced pyramids in order to create multiple areas of level terrain.


European encounter

A red drinking vessel with painted with a scene featuring human figures.
Kero (drinking vessel) with painted scene showing a human figure wearing both Western and Inca attire, Colonial, 18th century.
The Spanish conquest resulted in an incalculable loss of lives and the brutal repression of Indigenous ways of life. Although Andean practices were subjugated under the new regimes, communities continued to thrive through endurance, adaptation and transformation. Cultural practices and beliefs were so deeply rooted that the construction of a new colonial society was only possible through the formation of alliances with Indigenous elites. For example, Inca iconography was maintained for many decades in textiles, as well as 'keros' and 'pacchas' – ritual drinking vessels that had been used for centuries and continued to endure.