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Jane Feltham

Pre-Columbian culture of South America. It centered on the Chancay Valley of the central Peruvian coast, ranging north and south to the Fortaleza and Lurín valleys, and is known for its distinctive pottery and textile styles. Chancay culture flourished between c. 1100 and 1470 ce, under Chimu rulership in the 15th century. Vessels and textiles have been found at such sites as Cerro Trinidad, Lauri, and Pisquillo, mostly in graves covered with stout timbers and a layer of earth.

Chancay vessels were made by coiling; modeled features sometimes occur, but elaborate jars were molded. The fabric, fired to a light orange, is thin and porous. Some vessels are covered with a plain white slip, but most are also painted with brownish-black designs. Forms include bowls, goblets, tumblers, cylindrical jars, and ovoid jars with rounded bases and narrow, bulging necks that sometimes end in a flaring rim. Vessel heights range from 60 mm for bowls to 750 mm for jars. Animals (especially birds and reptiles) and humans are frequently modeled on the upper shoulder or around a handle. More elaborate jars are zoomorphic or consist of two flasks connected by a bridge. Some show scenes, such as a dignitary being carried on a litter. Vertical black bands often divide design areas, within which are patterns of stripes, wavy lines, crosshatching, diamonds, triangles and dots, checkers, volutes, and stylized birds or fishes, sometimes in asymmetrical halves. Characteristic of the style are large, necked jars with faces (known as ...



Helaine Silverman

Name given to a Pre-Columbian culture of the Central Andean area. The culture is named after the Paracas peninsula in Peru, 300 km south of Lima, the location of an important Pre-Columbian site discovered by Julio C. Tello and S. K. Lothrop in 1925 (see also South America, Pre-Columbian). By 1927 three distinct cemetery areas on the peninsula, known as Cabeza Larga, Cavernas and Necropolis, had been located and excavated. Each contained mummy bundles or ‘fardels’ wrapped in exceptionally fine multicoloured embroidered cloths (see fig.). The Necropolis area contained more than 400 conical bundles. Some were noticeably richer than others and were composed of up to several hundred textiles, arranged in layers of plain cloths and decorated mantles, shirts, loin cloths, ponchos, skirts, turbans and belts. Together, the three Paracas peninsula burial areas yielded thousands of iconographically complex, technically excellent textiles, now in museums throughout the world. The Paracas textiles varied in style over the time during which the burial grounds were used. The earliest (...


Textiles played a fundamental role in the social, aesthetic, and economic life of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Unfortunately, in the absence of the combination of burial practices and dry climate that preserved textiles in Egypt and coastal Peru, only fragments have survived, mainly in dry caves or in watery, oxygen-deprived environments, such as the “Sacred Cenote” at Chichen Itza. The earliest textile fragments (ex-Mus. Reg., Oaxaca) were found at the cave site of Guilá Naquitz in Oaxaca; they include examples dating to c. 8000 BCE of materials produced by techniques that did not require looms—knotted netting, cordage, coiled basketry. Similar pieces from Peru and the Great Basin, Nevada, have comparable dates. King (1973) suggested that certain non-loom techniques may have been brought across the Bering Strait into the Americas by early migrants. However, the earliest piece of Mesoamerican loom-woven cloth, which contains both cotton and yucca threads, dates to c. 1500 BCE, well after the appearance of cotton textiles in Peru (...



Gary Urton

[khipu; Quecha: “knot”]

Knotted string constructions made of cotton or camelid (llama or alpaca) fibers that were the principal devices used for record keeping in the Inka Empire of Pre-Columbian South America. The typical structure of a quipu is built on a multistrand spun and plied cord, called a primary cord, that usually has a radius of around a half-centimeter and an average length of some 85 cm. Thinner spun and plied cords, called pendant strings/cords, are knotted onto the primary cord. When the primary cord is suspended between the hands, the pendant cords hang pendant. Quipus have been found with as few as 2 and as many as 1500 pendant strings. Secondary, or subsidiary, cords may be tied onto pendant strings, while some carry third-, fourth-, and up to sixth-order subsidiaries. Thus, the structure of quipus may be likened to rhizomes, with linear and horizontal stems from which roots shoot downwards.

The pendant strings of quipus are usually knotted in complex patterns, most commonly with clusters of knots in tiers (about a palm’s width apart) down the length of the strings. In the majority of quipus, the tiered knot clusters signified numerical values in the base-10 (decimal) place value system used by Inka cord keepers—called ...