Andean Textile Traditions Part I



James Blackmon Gallery presents

Andean Textile Traditions

Proto Nazca Tapestry Panel Detail Figure


The Andean textile tradition of South America forms the longest continuous textile record in world history. Fiber art survives in this region from approximately 10,000 B.C.  Plant fiber basketry from the Lithic Period (10,000 - 3000 B.C.) was found in the North Highlands of Peru in Guitarrero Cave.  Pre-loom textiles first appear in the Pre-Ceramic Period (3000 - 1800 B.C.) in Northern Peru.

By the Early Horizon Period (1800 B.C.- 0) loom woven textiles in nearly all techniques are found in the South highlands and Coastal Regions of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. In the Early Intermediate Period (0 - A.D. 500) the Andean textile tradition was fully developed with the addition of discontinuous warp and weft techniques and a focus on embroidery.  During the Middle Horizon Period, (A.D. 500 - 800), textiles were worked in almost all known textile structures.  Fine, "elite class" textiles were woven primarily in the interlocked tapestry technique in the South Central Andean region. Both Camilid fibers (Alpaca,Llama and Vicuna) and cotton were utilized.  Due to unique climatic conditions a surprisingly large number of these ancient textiles survive to this day.

For the Andean cultures textiles were always held in the highest esteem. Imbued with magical and religious significance, they played an essential role in all ritual and ceremonial acts.  Textiles were used as signifiers of rank and status and as conveyers of ritual and ideological concepts. They were given as gifts during rites of passage and were invaluable as tribute, in the pacification of neighboring tribes and as grave furnishings intended for the afterlife. Today it is understood by most Andean scholars that textiles were the primary art form of the Andean people.


Andean Textile imagery

Images depicted on pre-Columbian Andean textiles, unlike most of those found on tribal carpets from the Near East and Central Asian, can be read quite literally. They often depict distinct mythological beings, important deities, power animals, ritually attired shaman priests or warriors.

A common representational  convention was to combine in a single woven image various identifying or iconic traits of different power animals with human characteristics. Birds of prey are usually implied by wing and tail feather elements or head markings. Large cats like the cougar or leopard were suggested by spotted pelt-like designs or large feline tails and “V” shaped fangs or incisor motifs.  Snakes, sometimes double headed and various forms of marine life are also used in this way to create composite images that are modified and enhanced by various attributes of these creatures.  Images from some of the textiles on view in this exhibition illustrate this indigenous concept of design aesthetic and composition.


For the interested collector a unique opportunity exists to acquire beautiful and rare textiles that can be more than 2000 years old.  Indeed, the tradition of making exquisite textile art continued right up to the end of the 19th century in this region of the world.  The following textiles are available for sale and represent a portion of the inventory at the gallery.



1. Textile Tapestry Panel

Tiwanaku Culture


200–400 AD

26.5" x 3.5" (67 x 9 cm)


Early textiles from the Tiwanaku culture are among the rarest of all Andean textiles.  This detail from a Tiwanaku tapestry belt illustrates the concept mentioned above concerning composite images with both animal and human traits.  The yellow figure on the right shows a creature sporting a profile feline head, with winged back, a human hand grasping a staff of some sort and a tail feature with a snake headed appendage.  The foot is also human.  This composite creature could represent a mythological being or a shaman priest ”animal impersonator” in ritual attire.

PC759 Tiwanaku Textile Fragment Detail


Tiwanaku Textile Fragment



2. Diamond Waistband Tunic


Inca Period,  1470 - 1532 AD

31" x 74" (79 x 188 cm)

Camelid fiber – alpaca, cotton

Although late in the sequence of Pre-Columbian cultures, Incan textiles are not found in great numbers. This can be attributed in part to a disruption of  indigenous internment practices by the Spanish invaders. It was the dry burial customs practiced by Andean peoples which were largely responsible for helping preserve ancient textiles from the Andes. Diamond waistband tunics are an important style and they are rare.  This example is in near perfect condition, very finely woven and quite unusual since it was not sewn up into a finished garment.  It was never worn.  It remains essentially, a mint condition, 500 year old, "new” Incan shirt.  Note the eccentric wefting in the diamond waistband section of this tunic and throughout the garment.

Incan Diamond Waistband TunicIncan Diamond Waistband Tunic (Detail)



3. Embroidered Sash or Turban Fragment

South Coast Peru, Paracas Culture

300 BC – 100 AD

24" x 2" (61 x 5 cm)

Camelid fiber – alpaca


Paracas textiles are among the earliest and most revered of Pre-Columbian textiles.  Most were excavated at the beginning of the 20th century on the southern coast of Peru. Dating to the end of the last millennium BC, Paracas textiles are remarkably finely embroidered textiles with a surprisingly varied color palette.   This example depicts flying Cormorants or other water fowl.  It was part of a long strip or sash, another part of which is published in Animal Myth and Magic, Images from Pre-Columbian Textiles.




PCT761 Paracas Embroidered Textile (Detail 2)

PCT761 Paracas Embroidered Textile (Detail)


PCT761 Paracas Embroidered Textile



4. Proliferous Style Tapestry Panel

Peru,  Nasca Culture

0 – 400 AD

43" x 23" (109 x 58.4 cm)

This early tunic fragment is an exceptional example of the type.  It’s excellent color places it in the very top percentile of surviving examples.  The strong, clear green color and deeply saturated purple along with the warm apricot orange all are unusual in their clarity and are not often found in these pieces in such quantity.  The main damage aside from the fragmented nature of the shirt comes from losses in the oxidized corrosive brown dyed alpaca yarns.

The image is that of repeating Staff bearing figures with elaborate headdresses.  Note the head with eye, ear and mouth features topped with a massive headdress that also contains faces implied by rectangular shaped “eyes”.  The figure stands with hands at his sides grasping staffs with stylized plant motifs.  A garland of trophy heads, identified by three dots for eye and mouth markings drapes over his shoulders and down the front.  A sash at the waist trails off to one side and plantlike phallic or generative organs hang from between his bowed legs.  These staff bearing figures, symbols of fertility and regeneration, are often referred to as the proliferous Nasca style.


PCT765 Prolific Nazca Tapestry Panel (Detail)PCT765 Prolific Nazca Tapestry Panel

PCT765 Prolific Nazca Tapestry Panel (Detail 2)












5. Pre-Columbian Tunic (Cushma)

Peru, Nasca Culture

Early Intermediate Period

200 – 600 AD

5'3" x 8'10" (1.6 x 2.64 m)


This large Nasca ceremonial tunic has the bold geometric design typically found in such pieces.  The condition and color preservation are exceptional and the tone of color very pleasing. The textile is constructed in two panels joined down the center.  The offset between the design in the two halves is not typical.  The brown rectangle in the center of the weaving frames the neck opening of the tunic.  This tunic is woven in a technically complicated and very time consuming discontinuous warp and weft structure that is unique to the Andean region of South America.



Nazca Cushma (Detail)Nazca Cushma



6. Set of Pre-Columbian Dolls or Ritual Figures

Peru, North Coast, Chancay Culture

1000 – 1400 AD

Alpaca fiber, tapestry faces with fabric costume and wooden or reed support and human hair, cotton

*Spinner: Wool wrapped distaff and stuffed raw cotton fiber

Size: H. 14 inches (35.5 cm)


*Figure with turban: Striped tunic holding hank of dyed wool

Size: 12 inches (30.5 cm)


More information available on request


Chancay Doll with Turban



Chancay Doll with Turban (Detail)Chancay Doll with Turban (Detail)



Chancay Doll Spinning Wool


Chancay Doll Spinning Wool (Detail)Chancay Doll Spinning Wool (Detail)

























7. Discontinous Warp Tunic

South Coast Peru, Incan Culture

1375 – 1540 AD

23" x 32.5" (58.5 x 82 cm)


More information available on request


PCT467 Discontinuous Warp Tunic 

PCT467 Discontinuous Warp Tunic (Detail)



8. Pre-Columbian Coca Bag with Strap

South Coast Peru, Incan Culture

1300 – 1532 AD

8.75" x 7.5" (22 x 19 cm)

Camelid fiber, warp-faced plain weave with complimentary warp patterning


The Inka culture is the most well known of all the Andean cultures in South America.  Despite being a surprisingly short-lived civilization the Inka managed to consolidate most of the Andean region into an empire of tremendous scale forever leaving their mark across the length of the continent.  Of highland origin with their capitol in Cuzco, the Inkas administered their empire with such ordered discipline that surpluses of all goods and commodities were produced, stored and distributed throughout the empire.  The Coca bag described here is an example of the varied weaving tradition that was sponsored by the Inka. 

            The design of this bag is related to a style of decoration that is believed by some scholars to be part of a symbolic language reserved for the Inka and his officials.  Though not substantiated this theory has some credibility in academic circles.  The design is worked in complimentary warp patterning with narrow bands of red and blue warp faced plain weave separating the pattern areas.  What is most striking about the bag is its pristine condition.  It is like new.  The colors are unfaded and stain free, the fibers supple and show no sign of wear, the side, end finishes and shoulder strap are complete.  Pre-columbian coca bags from this or any other period are seldom in this kind of condition.  The colors of this bag are distinctive and indicate that the owner of this bag was probably of high status.  This bag is exceptional. 



PCT486 Incan Coca Bag with StrapPCT486 Incan Coca Bag with Strap (Detail)




















PCT486 Incan Coca Bag with Strap (Detail)PCT486 Incan Coca Bag with Strap