Pre-Columbian Art

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Pre-Columbian Art

The South American Andes was a harsh environment to live in thousands of years ago going from its dry coastal desert to its long steep mountains and billon acres of Amazonian jungle. The people living there must have had and expanse knowledge of agriculture, scavenging, trade, and will power in order to have lived in such harsh conditions for so long. With no written language to tell us what they thought or did we turn to the Andean artwork that is found as our insight into the past. The art found came in the forms of mostly textiles and ceramics. Among all the pieces found made from the different cultures living in the Andes, there seemed to be a common theme. It seems ritual sacrifice was a wide spread practice, from textiles depicting figures with detached heads, ceramics showing mythical beings having their own trophy heads, to other paintings displaying prisoners being sacrificed. The Paracas, Nazca, and Moche people had some form of sacrifice depicted in their artwork, but each culture had its own way of showing their rituals in either various art forms or use of imagery. Why is this common theme among these cultures? Was it for worship or was for wishes of prosperity? I will go through each culture and explore this theme.

The first culture spanning between 600-175 BC is the Paracas (Stone 56). Their name came from the place they inhabited, the Paracas Peninsula. “ ‘Paracas’ in Quechua means ‘sand falling like rain…’” as Stone quotes (57). Just the name itself shows how dry and arid the area they lived in was. They relied on fishing, farming in the Pisco Valley, and trading in order to make their life prosperous. As their numbers grew they began to bury their dead in “mummy bundles” due to the sandy a...

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...nd Nazca, the Moche used ritual sacrifice as what appears to be a way to ask for prosperity and well-being. The Moche also indicate that they used warrior captives as their sacrifices where as in the Paracas and Nazca it is unclear who they sacrificed.

Blood sacrifice was regarded as one of the highest offerings because of its direct link to life itself. Life is the most precious gift given to us, so the Andean cultures must have believed that in the process in “giving” it back, they would be blessed by the gods they worshipped. All of the cultures showed some form of anthropomorphic being in their textiles and ceramics, meaning they believed in a higher power. And in appeasing this higher power they could live comfortably.

Works Cited

Stone, Rebecca. Art of the Andes From Chavin to Inca. 3rd ed. New York, New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 1995. 1-248. Print.
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