Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Vicki Cassman, Nancy Odegaard, and Bernardo Arriaza


The first inhabitants of the South Central Andes arrived to the Pacific coast of what is now Northern Chile and Southern Peru about 8000 BC. The early Chinchorro were fisher-hunter-gatherers that made use of two media for their artistic expressions, their own bodies and large canvases made from twined reeds and sedges. Mats and textiles were used for a variety of domestic and personal uses, including shelter, packaging and shrouding the dead. It is likely they were used as blankets for the living as well. The textile shrouds and stylistic mummification techniques employed by the Chinchorro culture predate pottery, agriculture and metal work Large shrouds made of semi-processed sedge fiber were probably made with a basic warp-weighted loom and twinning. Evidence indicates that they were initially painted and by 6000 BC they were embroidered with dyed camelid hair in a variety of geometric designs.

Analyses of a decorated twined shroud from the Morro site in Arica, Chile together with contexts gathered from other archaeological evidence help build a more complex picture of the Chinchorros and their environment. Recent studies, including fiber, dye, construction and stylistic analyses reveal the experimentation and growth of technologies, materials and communication that are the beginning of the long and rich Andean coastal textile tradition. The textile studies plus the mortuary contexts provide new insight into the lives of these first settlers in the Americas.