Date of Degree

9-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

Eloise Quiñones Keber

Committee Members

Judy Sund

Timothy Pugh

Cameron McNeil

Subject Categories

Art and Design | Ceramic Arts | Fiber, Textile, and Weaving Arts

Keywords

Pre-Columbian Art, Paracas, Avian Imagery

Abstract

In the first millennium BCE, an enigmatic cultural group now known as Paracas inhabited the remote desert coast of southern Peru. Following its disappearance, Paracas culture did not emerge in the historical record until 1927, when three burial centers were scientifically excavated on the arid Paracas peninsula that gave the culture its name. The burials contained over 400 mummy bundles that preserved the only physical remnants of this culture and its unique art forms. When unwrapped, mummy bundles of elite males revealed multiple layers of finely woven and elaborately embroidered textiles and painted ceramics, along with gold objects, feathers, and other finely crafted artifacts. Such items indicate that the individuals were part of a stratified village society whose members participated in complex ceremonial activities. The art works feature figural imagery based, to a great extent, on the numerous species of sea, air, and land fauna of the south coastal area. In fact, avian imagery and costumes, generally understood to represent humans impersonating supernaturals, dominate in Paracas iconography. The intensity of this interest in birds, demonstrated by their prominence in the art forms, indicates that they held special meaning and value in Paracas society.

In addition to art historical methodologies, this project investigates the emergence of avian imagery and costume in Paracas art by employing the approach of evolutionary aesthetics. It interprets these avian subjects and feathered accessories as reflections of evolved aesthetic inclinations, activated and amplified by the rich bird life in the Paracas region, local ideology, and social needs of the elite members of this hierarchical society. Inspired by the ecology of the Paracas coastal realm, the emergence of the bird in Paracas art initiated a break from an earlier supernatural triad of serpent, bird, and jaguar forged in the first millennium in the Andean highlands. This avian intervention thus reveals a previously unrecognized artistic and ideological agency among Paracas people that demonstrates that they were much more autonomous and inventive than previously acknowledged in scholarship. My study of the small-scale, coastal Paracas society, frequently overlooked in favor of larger highland cultures such as the earlier Chavín and later Inca, also enriches our understanding of the artistic contributions of the many diverse cultures of the South American Andes and the Pre-Columbian Americas as a whole.

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