Identity, Innovation and Textile Exchange Practicesat the Paracas Necropolis, 2000 BP

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Peters, Ann H.
article description
Elayne Zorn's detailed ethnographic research demonstrated interrelationships between the organization of textile production, exchange relationships within and beyond Andean communities, persistence and innovation in style, and the meanings ascribed to textile-based iconography. We seek to demonstrate that all these issues can - and should - be addressed in the analysis of textile assemblages from documented archaeological contexts in the southern Central Andes, revealing evidence for complex and historically dynamic socio-political relationships. The Paracas Necropolis cemetery, approximately 150BC-AD200, is the largest set of relatively well-preserved and well-recorded burials documenting early complex society on the desert coast of the Central Andes, one of the few regions of the world preserving evidence of textile history and its social contexts. In the Necropolis sectors, conical mortuary bundles constructed around each buried individual incorporate layers of large cotton plain-weaves, fine garments elaborately embroidered in polychrome camelid hair, and regalia created with diverse textile structures, product of one to six or more post-mortem rituals. Based on the physical evidence, we model production processes of the textile artifacts and their use to construct the mortuary bundles, transforming the recently deceased into an ancestral figure. Distinctions in technique and style permit us to construct style groups that can be traced among different burials, to consider the cemetery as the residue of practices that mobilized social networks and changing relationships of power among polities in the surrounding region. While our analysis includes all artifacts in each Paracas Necropolis assemblage, textiles appear consistently as the principal material agent of social significance.