Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


Introduction to Session and South America

The regions of South America specific to our session concerning extraordinary textiles from the Southern Andes include the dry Pacific coast of southern Peru and northern Chile. Among the earliest inhabited sites of South America are those from the coast near Arica, Chile and the interior desert of the Pampa de Tamarugal. It is here that Chinchorro (9000-3000 B.P.) burials and later Formative (3000-1,500 B.P.) cemeteries of closely related coastal people known as Quiani and Fladas del Morro have been excavated (Fig. 1).

Although humans inhabited the coast and highlands of South America for several millennia before the earliest dated Chinchorro mummies, it is the Chinchorro who left the earliest evidence of material culture, especially in objects of a usually perishable nature including twined textiles like those discussed by Vicki Cassman, Nancy Odegaard, and Bernardo Arriaza in this session. The Chinchorro settled along the Pacific coast of what is today northern Chile in a region known as among the driest areas on earth. Because of this aridity and the careful Chinchorro burial preparation, it is possible to identify prehistoric garments covering individuals in periods beginning around 9,000 years ago. Chilean textile scholars like Liliana Ulloa (1982) have traced the development of textile styles through successive millennia, research rarely available to textile specialists in other parts of the world. Max Uhle (1917) began Chinchorro and Formative investigations during the early part of the twentieth century followed by Junius Bird (1943), Percy Daulsberg (1963), Guillermo Foccaci (1974) and others (Munoz 1989). The greatest concentration of Chinchorro mummies was discovered by accident on the Morro of Arica in the early 1980’s and reported on by Bernardo Arriaza (1995). The recently published Handbook of South American Archaeology contains an excellent overview of Chinchorro culture written by Arriaza (2008:45-58) and his colleagues. Vivian Standen (2003) has published a detailed discussion of Chinchorro artifacts from the Morro 1 cemetery.