The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples

By George Kubler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
THE SOUTH COAST VALLEYS

POLYCHROME ceramics and bright-hued textiles characterize the southern regions of the central Andes as decisively as bichrome pottery and large urban groupings do the ancient civilizations of northern Peru. Such many-coloured vessels, and the textiles, were traditional products as early as the fifth century B.C. We define these southern regions as extending from the Cañete Valley on the Pacific Coast of Peru, east and south to Bolivia, the north-west Argentine, and northern Chile. As in the rest of Peru, the important centres of artistic activity were either in the coastal valleys, or in widely separated highland basins. In the south, too, the coastal peoples were under the rule of highland masters late in pre-Columbian history, much as in the north, so that the same division by coast and highland regions, and by early and late periods, is practical.


PARACAS AND NAZCA

Two river valleys sheltered the early civilizations of southern Peru. The Ica river, which flows south to the coast through desert plateau country, is lined by the oldest known settlements on the south coast. Many remnants of these earliest urban societies were buried in graves on the distant wastes of the Paracas peninsula, isolated by deserts from both the Pisco and Ica river valleys. The other river is the Río Grande de Nazca, emptying into the Pacific some 20 miles south-east of the Ica estuary. Its upper course receives many confluents, separated by barren pampas and mountain ranges. Each of these upper valleys was settled by groups of people sharing the same culture, and flourishing much later than the earliest settlements in the Ica Valley. Students of the archaeology of this region are now agreed upon naming the oldest Ica culture after its great burial ground on the Paracas Peninsula, and the more recent one after its main habitat in the upper Nazca valley.1 As we shall see, the two overlapped considerably. For certain periods the Nazca style was common in Ica. Conversely Paracas embroideries were deposited in Nazca tombs during the centuries just before and after the fifth century A.D.

The whole chronological question is exceptionally complex because of the disparity between absolute dates given by radiocarbon measurements, and the different relative datings based upon typology alone. As in northern Peru, students have tended on typological grounds to put in series a number of events which were actually contemporary. Thus, regional variants have gained acceptance as historical sequences. On the Paracas peninsula, Tello recognized two periods, represented by the Cavernas burials and by the Necropolis burials (Plate 144, A and B). The latter occupied refuse layers of older Cavernas dates. Cavernas and Necropolis therefore form a true sequence.2 Absolute Paracas dates are more problematic. Early (Cavernas) and Late (Necropolis) stages

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