South America

Ceramics in Early South America

The ceramic objects of the Paracas, Nazca, and Moche communities of Peru vary in artistic forms and were important cultural artifacts. Like the Tiwanaku and Waki people of Bolivia and their contemporaries, the Wari people of Peru produced pottery that was multifaceted in both aesthetics and utility.

Learning Objectives

Compare the aesthetic style, technique, and function of ceramics made by the Paracas, Nazcu, Moche, Tiwanaku, Waki, and Wari cultures

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Paracas culture (from 800 to 100 BCE) immediately preceded and heavily influenced the Nazca culture.
  • The art of the Paracas culture has mainly been preserved in tombs and on mummies .
  • The Nazca, like all Pre-Columbian societies in South America including the Inca , had no writing system, in contrast to the contemporary Maya of Mesoamerica . The iconography or symbols on their ceramics served as a means of communication.
  • As in other cultures,  Moche  ceramics were probably used for educational purposes and communication.
  • The Moche culture used mold technology to replicate ceramic  forms .
  • Irrigation and the passage of fluids in the human body are important themes in Moche culture and artwork.
  • The realistic detail in Moche ceramics may have helped them serve as didactic models.
  • The Tiwanaku state was an important  precursor  to the Inca Empire.
  • Small decorative objects that held  ritual  religious meaning were used to spread the influence of the  capital  city of Tiwanaku to surrounding communities.
  • The Tiwanaku and  Wari  cultures must have interacted, given the similarities in the  artifacts  of each culture, but whether their relationship was amicable or antagonistic is unknown.

Key Terms

  • slip painting: A type of pottery decoration in which a liquid mixture of clay and/or other materials suspended in water is applied to wet clay before it is fired in a kiln.
  • Huacas: In Quechua, a Native American language of South America, a huaca or waqa is an object that represents something revered, typically a monument of some kind. The term huaca can refer to natural locations, such as immense rocks.
  • Middle Horizon: Cultural period of Peru and the Andean region lasting from 600 to 1000 CE.
  • resin painting: A type of pottery decoration in which ceramics are painted after they are fired in a kiln with a sticky organic substance exuded by trees and other plants.
  • Wari: A Middle Horizon civilization that flourished in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about 500 to 1000 CE.
  • kero: A type of wooden drinking vessel produced by the Incas and earlier Andean cultures.
  • phytomorphic: Having the attributes of a plant.
  • Moche: A civilization that flourished in northern Peru from about 100 to 800 AD, particularly noted for their elaborately painted ceramics, gold work, monumental constructions (huacas), and irrigation systems.
  • Andean: Of or pertaining to the Andes mountains in South America.

Paracas and Nazca Cultures

The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 800 and 100 BCE, with an extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. It developed in the Paracas Peninsula in the Ica Region of Peru.

The Nazca culture flourished from 100 to 800 CE beside the dry southern coast of Peru in the river valleys of the Rio Grande de Nazca drainage and the Ica Valley. Heavily influenced by the preceding Paracas culture, the Nazca produced an array of beautiful crafts and technologies such as ceramics, textiles, and geoglyphs (most commonly known as the Nazca lines ).

Paracas Ceramics

Many ceramics of the Paracas have been found in tombs, particularly in the Paracas Cavernas. These are shaft tombs set into the top of Cerro Colorado, each containing multiple burial sites. The associated ceramics include incised polychrome (the surface has been incised with a sharp tool and painted multiple colors), “negative” resist decoration (pottery is covered in material, then painted and uncovered to reveal a pattern of negative and positive space), and other techniques of the Paracas tradition.

Nazca Ceramics

The Nazca culture is characterized by its beautiful polychrome pottery, painted with at least 15 distinct colors. The shift from post-fire resin painting to pre-fire slip painting marked the end of Paracas- style pottery and the beginning of Nazca-style pottery. Archaeologists have excavated highly valued polychrome pottery among all classes of Nazca society, illustrating that it was not just the elite that had access to these pieces.

The Nazca pottery sequence has been divided into nine phases, progressing from realistic subject matter such as fruits, plants, people, and animals to motifs that included abstract elements as part of the design and geometric iconography. The Nazca, like all Pre-Columbian societies in South America including the Inca, had no writing system, in contrast to the contemporary Maya of Mesoamerica. The iconography or symbols on their ceramics served as a means of communication.

Moche Ceramics

From 100 to 800 CE, Moche civilization flourished in northern Peru with its capital, Huacas  del Sol y de la Luna, located near present-day Trujillo.

Exterior view of the temple, which looks like large mounds.

Huaca del Sol: Huaca del Sol, “Temple of the Sun,” was the Mochica political capital.

Traditional North Coast Peruvian ceramic art uses a limited palette , relying primarily on red and white, fine line painting, fully modeled clay, naturalistic figures, and stirrup spouts (in which the stirrup handle forms part of the spout, which emanates from the top of the stirrup). Moche ceramics created between 150 and 800 AD epitomize this style. These realistic pots have been found not only in major North Coast archaeological sites, such as Huaca de la luna, Huaca del Sol, and Sipan, but at small villages and unrecorded burial sites as well.

The realistic detail in Moche ceramics may have helped them serve as didactic models. Older generations could pass down general knowledge about reciprocity and embodiment to younger generations through such portrayals. Important social activities are documented in Moche pottery, including war, sex, metalwork , and weaving. Moche ceramics vary widely in shape and theme and are not generally uniform, although the use of mold technology did enable for mass production.

This pot depicts a male and female in a sexual position underneath a blanket.

Erotic Moche Pot: This piece is an example of the didactic role of ceramics in Moche culture.

Because irrigation was the source of wealth and foundation of the empire, Moche culture emphasized the importance of circulation and flow. Expanding upon this, the Moche focused on the passage of fluids in their artwork, particularly life fluids through vulnerable human orifices.

The coloration of Moche pottery is often simple and follows the Peruvian tradition with yellowish cream and rich red used almost exclusively on elite pieces and with white and black used rarely. Their adobe buildings have been mostly destroyed by looters and natural forces over the last 1300 years, but the huacas that remain show that their murals featured vibrant colors.

Tiwanaku and Waki Cultures

Tiwanaku is an important Pre-Columbian archaeological site in western Bolivia, South America. Tiwanaku is recognized by Andean scholars as one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire, flourishing as the ritual and administrative capital of a major state power for approximately 500 years.

A stone archway with a central figure carved above the archway. Other characters are carved into the stone on either side of the central figure.

The “Gate of the Sun”: This site was the spiritual and political center of the Tiwanaku culture.

The city and its inhabitants left no written history, and the modern locals know little about the ancient city and its activities. An archaeologically based theory asserts that around 400 CE, Tiwanaku went from a locally dominant force to a predatory state. Tiwanaku expanded its reaches into the Yungas and brought its culture and way of life to many other cultures in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. However, Tiwanaku was not exclusively a violent culture. To expand its reach, Tiwanaku used politics to create colonies, negotiate trade agreements (which made the other cultures rather dependent), and establish state cults. Many others were drawn into the Tiwanaku empire due to religious beliefs.

Ceramics & Textiles

Tiwanaku ceramics and textiles were composed of bright colors and stepped patterns. An important ceramic artifact is the kero , a drinking cup that was ritually smashed after ceremonies and placed in burials. Tapestries and tunics provide examples of textiles found at Tiwanaku.

These decorative objects typically depicted herders, effigies , trophy heads, sacrificial victims, and felines. Religion and influence from the main site to the satellite centers were spread through small portable objects that held ritual religious meaning. They were created in wood, engraved bone, and cloth and depicted puma and jaguar effigies, incense burners, carved wooden hallucinogenic snuff tablets, and human portrait vessels .

The Wari

Throughout their imperial reign, the Tiwanaku shared domination of the Middle Horizon with the Wari, whose culture rose and fell around the same time and was centered 500 miles north in the southern highlands of Peru. It is unknown whether the relationship between the two empires was cooperative or antagonistic. Definite interaction between the two is proved by their shared iconography in art. Significant elements of both styles (the split eye, trophy heads, and staff-bearing profile figures, for example) seem to have been derived from the earlier Pukara culture in the northern Titicaca Basin.

A pot with a colorful face painted on the side.

Wari earthenware pot with painted design, 650-800 CE (Middle Horizon): The Wari shared much in common aesthetically with the Tiwanaku.

Textiles in Early South America

The intricate, complex textiles of the Paracas and Nazca cultures were often associated with a burial ritual.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the distinguishing characteristics of textiles in pre-Colombian Andean society

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Both the Nazca and preceding Paracas culture created intricate textiles,  most likely produced by women using a backstrap loom .
  • Like the two cultures’ ceramics , many of their textiles were associated with burial rituals .
  • Because of the dry climate in southern Peru, many Nazca and Paracas textiles have been well-preserved.
  • The so-called “Paracas Textile” tells modern scholars a great deal about the inhabitants of ancient Peru. For instance, they traded extensively with people who lived well outside their territory.

Key Terms

  • Andean: Of or pertaining to the Andes mountains in South America.
  • backstrap loom: A simple loom with roots in ancient civilizations, consisting of two sticks or bars between which the warps are stretched. One bar is attached to a fixed object, and the other to the weaver through a strap around the back.

Textiles of Andean Cultures

The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 800 and 100 BCE, with an extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. It developed in the Paracas Peninsula in the Ica Region of Peru.

Many ceramics and textiles of the Paracas have been found in tombs, particularly in the Paracas Cavernas. These shaft tombs, set into the top of Cerro Colorado, each contain multiple burial sites. The associated ceramics include incised polychrome, “negative” resist decoration, and other wares of the Paracas tradition. The associated textiles include many complex weave structures and elaborate plaiting and knotting techniques.

The later Nazca people also produced technically complex textiles. The Nazca flourished from 100 to 800 CE beside the dry southern coast of Peru in the river valleys of the Rio Grande de Nazca and the Ica Valley. Heavily influenced by the preceding Paracas culture, the Nazca produced an array of beautiful crafts and technologies such as ceramics, textiles, and geoglyphs (most commonly known as the Nazca lines).

Woman weaving a textile using a backstrap loom.

Woman weaving a textile using a backstrap loom:

Nazca textiles were most likely woven from spun cotton and wool by women at habitation sites. The textiles would have been made using a backstrap loom, similar to the way textiles are made in the region today. Textiles were woven with the common motifs before these appeared on painted pottery. The dry desert has preserved the textiles of both the Nazca and Paracas cultures, which comprise most of what is known about early textiles in the region. Shawls, dresses, tunics , belts, and bags have been found through excavations at Cahuachi and elsewhere. Many textiles associated with the Nazca culture are garments that were included with grave goods found at burial sites.

Mummy Bundles on the Paracas Peninsula

One of the most extraordinary masterpieces of Andean textiles is a nearly 2,000-year-old cloth from the South Coast of Peru. Despite its small size (about two by five feet), it contains a vast amount of information about the people who lived in ancient Peru, and despite its great age and delicacy, its colors are brilliant and tiny details amazingly intact. The arid environment of southern Peru along the Pacific shore allows organic material buried in the sand to remain well-preserved for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Many figures are embroidered around the border of the textile, and inside the border are colorful geometric designs.

Nasca, Mantle (“The Paracas Textile”) : 100-300 C.E., cotton, camelid fiber, 58-1/4 x 24-1/2 inches / 148 x 62.2 cm, found south coast, Paracas, Peru (Brooklyn Museum)

In the ancient cemeteries on the Paracas Peninsula, the dead were wrapped into “mummy bundles” with layers of cloth and clothing. The largest and richest mummy bundles contained hundreds of brightly embroidered textiles, feathered costumes, and fine jewelry, interspersed with food offerings such as beans. Early reports claimed that this cloth came from the Paracas peninsula, so it was called “THE Paracas textile,” to mark its excellence and uniqueness. Currently, scholars have revised this provenance and now attribute the cloth to the Nasca culture.

A close-up of a detailed and colorful figure on the border of the textile. He is wearing a headdress and is holding an object in each hand.

Detail of border figure on The Paracas Textile:

Like other very fine cloths, the Paracas Textile is finished so carefully on both sides that it is almost impossible to distinguish which is the correct side. Although the central cloth and its framing border are created by different techniques, both display perfect reversibility—except for three border figures. These three appear in back view on one side of the cloth, thereby designating a “front” and “back” to the textile.

Architecture in Early South America

Chavín de Huántar and Tiwanaku were important ceremonial centers in pre-Inca South America.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the multiple functions of architecture in early South America

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During its heyday, Chavín de Huántar was used as a religious center for ceremonies and events or consultation with an oracle.
  • The temple at Chavín de Huántar is a massive flat-topped pyramid surrounded by lower platforms, along with a U-shaped plaza with a sunken circular court in the center.
  • Tiwanaku is recognized as one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire.
  • Archaeologists still struggle to understand how the megaliths used to construct Tiwanaku were transported to the site.

Key Terms

  • Chavin: A civilization that developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 900 to 200 BCE. Their influence extended to other civilizations along the coast.
  • megalith: A gigantic stone, often weighing several tons.
  • trilithon: A megalithic post-and-lintel structure.

Chavín de Huántar and Tiwanaku were important ceremonial centers in pre-Inca South America.

Chavín de Huántar

Chavín de Huántar is an archaeological site containing ruins and artifacts , constructed circa 1200 BCE and occupied until around 400-500 BCE by the Chavín, a major pre-Inca culture . The site is located 160 miles north of Lima, Peru at an elevation of 10,000 feet, on the edge of the Conchucos Valley.

A view of the ruins of Chavin de Huantar with mountains in the background.

The site of Chavín de Huántar: Chavín de Huántar was of both geographical and religious significance to the Chavín.

Occupation at Chavín de Huántar has been carbon dated to at least 3000 BCE, with ceremonial activity occurring primarily toward the end of the second millennium and through the middle of the first millennium BCE. While the fairly large population was based on an agricultural economy, the city’s location at the headwaters of the Marañn River, between the coast and the jungle, made it ideal for the dissemination and collection of both ideas and material goods. This archaeological site has revealed a great deal about the Chavín culture. The transformation of the center into a valley-dominating monument had a complex effect. Chavín de Huántar became a pan-regional place of importance. People used it to gather, attend and participate in rituals , and consult with oracles.

Findings at Chavín de Huántar indicate that social instability and upheaval began between 500 and 300 BCE, at the same time the larger Chavín civilization began to decline. Large ceremonial sites were abandoned, some unfinished, and were replaced by villages and agricultural land.

The temple at Chavín de Huántar was the religious center of the Chavín people and the capital of the Chavín culture. This massive flat-topped pyramid is surrounded by lower platforms and located in a U-shaped plaza with a sunken circular court in the center. The inside of the temple walls are decorated with sculptures and carvings. Chavín de Huántar was constructed over many stages, starting prior to 1200 BCE, with most major construction over by 750 BCE. The site continued as a ceremonial center until around 500 BCE.

image

The Circular Plaza at Chavín de Huantar: The Circular Plaza Terrace was built up around the Circular Plaza in order to make the 21-meter diameter plaza artificially sunken.

Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku is an important Pre-Columbian archaeological site in western Bolivia. It is recognized by Andean scholars as one of the most important precursors to the Inca Empire, flourishing as the ritual and administrative capital of a major state power for approximately 500 years.

The city and its inhabitants left no written history, and the modern locals know little about the ancient city and its activities. However, the site might have been inhabited as early as 1500 BCE. An archaeological theory asserts that around 400 CE, Tiwanaku went from a locally dominant force to a predatory state. It expanded its reaches into the Yungas and brought its culture and way of life to many cultures in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. However, Tiwanaku was not exclusively a violent culture. To expand its reach, Tiwanaku used politics to create colonies, negotiate trade agreements (which made the other cultures rather dependent), and establish state cults. Many were drawn into the Tiwanaku empire by their religious beliefs.

Architecture

Tiwanaku monumental architecture is characterized by megaliths of exceptional workmanship. The main architectural appeal of the site comes from the carved images and designs on carved doorways and megalithic constructions such as the Gate of the Sun. Tiwanaku’s architecture and skill in stone-cutting reveals a knowledge of descriptive geometry.

The Gate of the Sun is a trilithon that stands nearly 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide. Its weight is estimated at approximately 10 tons. Although there have been various modern interpretations of its mysterious inscriptions, the carvings that decorate the gate are believed to possess astronomical significance and may have served a calendrical purpose.

A stone archway with a central figure carved into the center with smaller carvings on either side of it.

The Gate of the Sun: This site was the spiritual and political center of the Tiwanaku culture.

The Gate of the Sun shares its location with the Kalasasaya, a temple in a megalithic courtyard more than 300 feet long. Since the late 20th century, researchers have theorized that this was not the gateway’s original location. The walls are covered with tenon heads of many styles , suggesting that the structure was reused for different purposes over time. What stands today is not the original configuration of the megaliths that comprise the Kalasasaya. Scholars believe it was originally constructed in a similar fashion as Stonehenge, with its stones spaced evenly apart and standing vertically.

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Walls around the temple Kalasasaya at Tiwanaku: The Kalasasaya temple at Tiwanaku was used as a ceremonial center.

The quarries from which the stone blocks used in the construction of structures at Tiwanaku came lie at significant distances from this site, which has led scholars to speculate on how they could have been moved. One theory is that giant andesite stones weighing more than 40 tons were transported some 90 kilometers across Lake Titicaca on reed boats and then laboriously dragged another 10 kilometers to the city.