Paracas: Cultural Introduction

Paracas Worldview1The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 750 BCE and 100 CE that developed in the Paracas Peninsula, located in what today is the Paracas District of the Pisco Province in the Ica Region. Most of our information about the lives of the Paracas people comes from excavations at the large seaside Paracas necropolis, first investigated by the Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello in the 1920s. The necropolis of Wari Kayan consisted of multitudes of large subterranean burial chambers, with an average capacity of about forty mummies. It is theorized that each large chamber would be owned by a specific family or clan, who would place their dead ancestors in the burial over the course of many generations. Each mummy was bound with cord to hold it in place, and then wrapped in many layers of incredibly intricate, ornate, and finely woven textiles. These textiles are now known as some of the finest ever produced in the history of Pre-Columbian Andean societies, and are the primary works of art by which Paracas is known. They had extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management.

Paracas Worldview6Paracas geographically, 700 - 1 B.C., was a complex of cemeteries and habitation areas located on the arid Paracas Peninsula on the south coast of Peru. Paracas was discovered in 1925 by the famous Peruvian archaeologist, Julio C. Tello. Tello uncovered hundreds of mummy bundles wrapped in multiple layers of exquisitely decorated textiles, including mantles or shrouds. Sometimes more than sixty layers of textiles covered one mummy. These garments were elaborately embroidered in rich colors of red, dark blue, dark green and yellow. The textiles seem to have been made primarily for inclusion in the mummy bundles (rather than for use by the living). 

By 300 B.C., Paracas weavers were using camelid fibre (probably alpaca from the highlands) to fashion tiny figures that decorated the borders of mantles. Paracas ceramics include some post-fired painted pots decorated in earth tones, and monochrome pottery in the shapes of plants and animals. Birds were prominent in the Paracas landscape and appear more frequently than any other animal in Paracas ceramics. This example depicts a falcon, an impressive creature, which is known for its unusual ability to seize other birds in mid-flight.

Paracas Worldview
Through ceremonies, societies celebrated their relationships with nature. Ancient Andean potters and weavers created colorful and exquisitely crafted objects reflecting the natural world. Ancient peoples revealed much about their beliefs, rituals, gods, rulers, flora, fauna, architecture and many other aspects of their lives. Designs from pots and textiles were also depicted on and metalwork.

Paracas Worldview9The coastal environment isolated the early coastal cultures into separate independent units. People settled in coastal valleys, and used irrigation so they could cultivate the land. Settlements were concentrated around oases, where irrigation supported large agrarian populations. By 2500 B.C., the communal labour of village settlements had begun to build many large ceremonial buildings. As the centuries passed, monumental building projects became more and more elaborate.
Because coastal cultures were isolated, coastal art styles showed variety and uniqueness from one valley to the next. the Moche dominated the north coast between A.D. 1 and 800. These sea-oriented people are associated with a great art style and ideology. At the same time in the south, the Nasca chiefdoms, not politically unified like the Moche, left a permanent impression on their landscape. They are still famous today for their enormous geoglyphs (the "Nasca Lines" etched into the desert terrain), as well as their polychrome pottery and exquisite textiles.