In celebration of the 2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, we looked deep into our anthropology collections for some amazing Peruvian objects to highlight. Here are some of our coolest finds!
As part of my research, I was able to visit the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center (MSC) to look at the actual objects. I met David Rosenthal, our Anthropology Collections Manager, who was kind enough to guide me through the process and give me a tour of the Anthropology Collection!
The MSC is a massive storage center, research facility, and library that holds the collections of the Smithsonian Institution! We have approximately two million objects in the archaeology collection, two hundred and fifty thousand objects in the ethnology collection, and nearly 33,000 specimens in the physical anthropology collection. You can search through our anthropology collections on our website.
1: Chimu Ceramic Vessel
This ceramic vessel originated from the Chimu culture on the North Coast of Peru. The Chimu people were an agricultural community and their pottery was often in the shape of fruits, vegetables, and other foods. This vessel features a squatting figure playing panpipes and holding a rattle. The Andes region of Peru had highly developed wind instruments, and instruments such as the panpipe held on this figurine was used to provide musical accompaniment to rituals, feasts, and warfare.
This object was one of the many collected items during the 1838-1842 United States Exploring Expedition, which formed the foundation of the Anthropology collection here at the Smithsonian Institution. The expedition was led by Lt. Charles Wilkes, and they travelled from Norfolk, Virginia, east to the islands off the coast of Portugal, around the tip of South America to Antarctica, and then up the west coast of South America. The expedition also included travels to Australia and New Zealand, the South Pacific islands, the Philippines, Singapore, Hawaii, and North America's West Coast. The vessel was once exhibited here in Magnificent Voyagers,from 1985-86, which displayed a number of items from the expedition.
2: Hand woven embroidered textile
This textile made of cotton and wool was woven by the Paracas people of southern Peru who were very skilled embroiderers. The Andean region of Peru has a long tradition of textile production and used advanced techniques that are unknown elsewhere. They have a distinct combination of colors and design motifs.
I chose this piece because of the interesting figures, the intricate sewing details, and because it was amazing to see how the colors and details remained on the cloth for such a long time! I also thought that it was interesting how the figurine had a snake coming out of its mouth as I remember reading how the iconography of Nazca culture (which is also in southern Peru) often depicted anthromorphic characters with tongues sticking out, vomiting blood, or had hands that were ready to trap or catch. Perhaps this character sewn by the Paracas people were influenced by the Nazca culture!
3: Quipu (or Khipu)
Similar to the Chinese abacus, the Quipu was used by the Incas as an accounting system. The Inca Empire at its height had consisted of modern Peru, southern Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, northern Chile, and highland Argentina. Each of these strings would have a series of knots and the strings would be tied together as a bundle. After the Spanish invasion of Peru in 1532, this system began to be phased out. However, in some traditional communities today, they continue to use this 16th century accounting method!
This beautiful feather-embroidered poncho originated from the Chimu culture and was collected in 1913. Ponchos were often used for special ceremonies and funerary coverings. This poncho was made in the Chancay style (AD 1000-1400) which consists of geometric patterns and geometric portrayals of plants, animals, and humans.
Looking up-close at the embroidery details, the number of little feathers that were sewn on to the cloth are truly phenomenal. I couldn’t begin to imagine the amount of work and time one would have spent creating such a beautiful poncho, when I can barely sew buttons on properly!
5: Textile tools and Unku
Andean weaving was highly developed and they made beautiful garments and tapestries from simple tools such as these knitting and crochet needles. They often used a combination of wool and cotton, and this shirt, or Unku, was made for everyday use, as the Andean peoples would wear clothing of higher quality for special occasions. I was drawn to this Unku because of the geometric shapes featured. We still see these patterns used in clothing today as a fashion trend, when these shapes and patterns have been used for centuries!
Since textiles were an important aspect of the Andean culture, weaving tools would even be included among the weaver’s burial offerings demonstrating the importance of this industry in the society.
I hope you enjoyed looking at some of these objects as much as I did! Join us at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Peru, Pachamama, to explore the many diverse cultures, food, songs, music, and dance that make up Peru!
Special thanks to David Rosenthal, Anthropology Collections Manager, for guiding me through the anthropology collections! Information sourced from Timelines of the Ancient World, Smithsonian Publications.
By Jessica Lam, Social Media and Public Affairs Intern, National Museum of Natural History