Ancient temples designed for tripping

Acoustic archaeologists are exploring how the Chavin culture in Peru may have designed underground temples to blow worshippers' minds using low-tech sound and light shows. Of course, this thread continued in cathedrals with massive stained glass windows and organs all the way to today's high-end multimedia megachurches. According to Miriam Kolar of Stanford's Center for Computer Research and Acoustics, the temple's maze of tunnels "could be physically disorienting and the acoustic environment is very different than the natural world," and might be especially freaky for folks who were tripping balls.
 Archaeology 2010 11 16 Chavin-Head-Zoom "The iconography (of ancient Chavin drawings) shows people mixed with animal features in altered states of being," said Kolar, who is presenting her recent work at a conference in Cancun, Mexico this week. "There is peyote and mucus trails out of the nose indicative of people using psychoactive plant substances. They were taking drugs and having a hallucinogenic experience."

If that wasn't enough, the mazes at Chavin de Huantar also include air ducts that use sunlight to produce distorted shadows of the maze's human participants. And sound waves from giant marine shells found in the maze in 2001 may have produced a frequency that actually rattled the eyeballs of those peyote-using ancients, Kolar said...

The Chavin de Huantar site in Peru isn't the only place where sound played an important role. The Mayan rulers at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan also figured out how to use sound for crowd control. David Lubman, an acoustic engineer who has spent the past 12 years studying the Mayan site, says a strange bird-like echo from the Kukulkan temple was actually constructed on purpose.

"It's sort of spooky," Lubman said from Irvine, Calif. "It's not an ordinary echo."

Lubman's analysis compared the acoustic soundprint of the quetzal bird, which was revered by Mayans, to the sound of the echo at Chichen Itza. The two sounds matched. Lublin said the secret is in the acoustic properties of the steep staircase on the temple's front.

"Acoustic Archaeology Yielding Mind-Tripping Tricks" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)


  1. I once tripped hard in a 2 acre hay-maze with a couple hundred other similarly inebriated revelers. It was extremely disorienting and even more extremely awesome for it.

  2. In ancient Egypt, temple complexes included underground chambers with walls lined in clay that were kept cool and moist. Priests, nearly everyone shaved their body hair and became a priest for at least a year of their lives, would take a hallucinogen and be left in the underground chamber to be visited by gods. The clay was left soft so that they could draw on the walls while they were tripping. Many of these now-hardened walls remain, and yes, they’re completely trippy. See the work of Egyptologist Richard Wilkinson for more information.

  3. According to what I have heard, Peyote doesn’t grow south of the Sonoran Desert. There are other plants that could have been used, of course.

    1. Not likely to be ayahuasca as suggested below but San Pedro Cactus which is depicted on some of the art at Chavin de Huantar. It was mixed with datura to make a halluncingenic drink that is still used today by local curanderos or brujos.

      1. Yes. You can see this plant growing at the site. No danger in eating it raw it must be processed for quite a while before using it. It is still used in the coastal areas to the northwest of Chavin.

  4. The genius in this research for some time now is Paul Devereux. I went to a lecture of his years ago, and it was mind-boggling, a whole new dimension to ancient religious ceremony. I highly recommend his book “Stone Age Soundtracks”, or a look at his website:

  5. Hmm, I think the architect of my office building must be a reincarnated Mayan temple-builder; I feel disoriented and sick every time I walk in the door to work.

  6. When I used to trip, it was all about getting into nature. We went hiking.

    Since these people spent their ordinary time in the bush, its not surprising they sought techno weirdness.

    I’ll stay with the chaparall, if I am brave enough again.

    If it looks sharp, it probably is.

    1. It’s always best to have strippers at the controls whenever you’re strapped down and loaded into a psychedelic deprivation spheroid experiment.

  7. See the work of Egyptologist Richard Wilkinson for more information.

    There are a few books by Richard Wilkinson, which one has information on Egyptian tripped-out clay etchings?

  8. “Priests, nearly everyone shaved their body hair and became a priest for at least a year of their lives, would take a hallucinogen and be left in the underground chamber to be visited by gods.”

    We just called it undergrad hazing.

  9. Yes, it wouldn’t be peyote. In the highland there are many Trichochereus species (“San Pedro”). In the lowland there and many possibilities (some of the oldest hallucinogenic remains found have been yopo snuffs (made from the Anadenanthera species). Ayahuasca is a possibility, but there is little archaeological evidence on it’s use, and I wouldn’t think it would be the most likely plant preparation used.

  10. Peyote and mucous trails indicating psychedelic experiences? Have I missed out on something? Actually for Chavin the most likely plants used would be Ayahuasca, brought up from the Amazon, or, much more likely, Huachuma (San Pedro), which grows rather nicely in the area of Chavin.

  11. No hallucinogenics involved, but still the use of clever architecture to induce awe and the impression of magic… Hero of Alexandria built a temple where an air/water pressure chamber was placed in an altar beneath a sacrificial fire… you light the fire, the air expands, pushing water into a bucket which fills, pulling open the temple doors… the fire goes out, the air in the chamber cools, sucking the water back out of the bucket and closing the temple doors. Poor parishoners walk away, certain they’ve witnessed concrete proof of a supernatural presence when they’ve really witnessed awesome engineering. What a dude.

  12. For a second, I thought you meant the ancient temples were designed with the most passive aggressive security system ever. The bottom step of every stair is loose and wobbly, long corridors end with a series of tiles that are just slightly askew, so you are encouraged to run and fall. A pressure plate that activates a tripwire, that just doesn’t break.

  13. The same tricks happen today: Faith healers prey on the gullible using fancy robes, chanting, and a bunch of magic to convince people their woo worked.

    Problem is, it’s the woo-meister that has vanished, not the pain (or disease, etc.).

    Same thing applies to haunted houses and the like. Sorry Mr. Copperfield, but the mind is the best illusionist there is.

  14. The people who thought up this incredible architecture in the first place and actually built it were TRIPPING BALLS. I don’t think that’s getting enough emphasis here. Architects and designers, please take note.

  15. These stone heads must come with display cards (written in proto-Mayan of course) if you can tell a head with beans stuffed up its nose depicts mucus trails when it’s clearly snot.

  16. I studied this culture some years back and in a memorable class it was postulated that the underground passages at a temple to the crocodile god would occasionally roar as water passed through them, which could have been utilized when times were favourable, to emphasize the voice of said god.

  17. Well, it could easily have been peyote, because there was quite extensive trade throughout the Americas. It would only take a couple of trades and it could have easily been cultivated in gardens and such. Not that this all matters though, there are hallucinogens (by themselves or in mixtures) practically everywhere on earth.

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