Meow! Ancient Peruvian Textile

February 10, 2012

As I mentioned in my staff introduction, I am working at the University Of Pennsylvania Museum Of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum) on a IMLS funded post-graduate conservation fellowship.  During this one year fellowship, my responsibilities include conducting a conservation assessment of approximately 2900 archeological textiles from Max Uhle’s excavation at Pachacamac, Peru.  The overarching goals of the project are to document the current condition, improve the collections storage solutions and increase research accessibility.

Here’s a brief history of the collection to bring you up to speed.  Pachacamac is recognized as the most important pre-Columbian ceremonial center in South America that drew pilgrims and worshipers from ethnically diverse communities across the Andes Mountains.  Between 1986 – 1899, Max Uhle, a professional archeologist, mapped and excavated Pachacamac for the Penn Museum.  The resulting excavated material is important for many reasons.  For one, Max Uhle took meticulous notes, including maps of the locations and object lists, providing a unique situation where this large collection has known provenience and contextual data. Additionally, since Max Uhle collected everything, the resulting sheer number and range of textiles (approximately 2900) provides an extraordinary glance at the wide range of weaving and dyeing techniques used on the Central Coast of Peru and other regions of the Andes over a period of nearly two millennia!  These textiles are associated with funerary rituals and found in “mummy bundles” or “mummy bales”.  Burials in the coastal sand dunes have helped preserve these fragile textiles which range in date from pre-Inca to Inca period up to the Conquest, with the most concentration of material from the Late Intermediate Period (1000 – 1476 CE).

Two mummy bales and a workman from Max Uhle’s excavation at Pachacamac, Peru. Penn Museum Image 140697.

I will occasionally be posting glimpses into this collection of ancient Andean textiles as I go along.  Since I am not only a conservator, but also a craftsman and seamstress, I can’t help but be influenced by these beautiful and historic pieces.  Every day, I am amazed at the weaving and dyeing techniques, craftsmanship, and the complex ancient Andean aesthetic.  I am constantly blown away by the bold compositions, geometric forms and expressive systems.

Yesterday, I came across this lovely little fragment.  Notice the six-headed cat as a design element!  Thus…my first blog post should really just be titled “MEOW”!

Detail of textile fragment #29894.