Stanford archaeologist says the origins of authority trace back to the Andes of Peru

Ever wondered how authoritarianism rose, or why a single person or a small group of people make decisions on behalf of other people.

An associate professor of anthropology at Stanford, John Rick, has studied Chavin de Huantar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Peru, for the last 20 years. Rick has studied the large amount of evidence from more than two decades of work at Chavin, where that culture developed approximately from 900 BC to 200 BC.

“More than 5,000 and certainly 10,000 years ago, no where in the world was anyone living under a concerted authority. Today we expect that. It is the essence of our organization”, he said. Chavin was a religious centre run by a detailed priesthood.

The priesthood would subject its visitors to an incredible variety of routines from manipulating light to water and to sound.

Rick stated the priesthood purposely worked with underground spaces, architectural stone work, a system of water canals, psychoactive drugs and animal iconography to increase their demonstrations of power.

Rick and his team estimate the presence of two kilometres of underground labyrinth , gallery-like spaces, which were definitely created to constrain and deceive those who entered.

The priesthood also manipulated its visitors with psychoactive drugs. According to Rick the evidence represented in stone engravings show with clear illustrations the effects of paraphernalia and drugs on human beings.

Through a sophisticated hydraulic system and under water canals, water was used as another deceptive tool.

“They were playing with this stuff. They were using water pressure 3,000 years ago to elevate water, to bring it up where it shouldn’t be. They’re using it as an agent to wash away offerings,” he said.

Excavation still continues and these are only a few examples Rick and his team have uncovered.

Excavations still continue at the site. (Photo courtesy of:

Excavation still continues at the site.
(Photo courtesy of:

They think instead of common people, visitors were elite pilgrims, local leaders from far away parts of the Central Andes. The visitors were looking to justify the elevation of their own authoritarian power.

“They’re basically in a process of developing a hierarchy, a real social structure that has strong political power at the top,” Rick said.

He believes Chavin was where human psychology was analyzed and experiments were held to see how people reacted to certain stimuli.

Hence the rituals were effective and dramatic in altering ideas about the nature of human authoritative relationships.