Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Peters, Ann. “Paracas Cavernas, Paracas Necroplis, and Ocucaje: Looking at Appropriation and Identity with Only Material Remains.” Contact, Crossover, Continuity: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 22–24, 1994 (Los Angeles, CA: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1995), pp. 305–317.


Copyright © 1994 Ann Peters


Paracas Cavernas, Paracas Necropolis, and Ocucaje are groups of burials made some 2000 years ago on the south coast of Peru. The Peruvian coast is a desert, and textiles, basketry, and other artifacts made from plant fiber and animal fiber and other organic materials are preserved there in ancient tombs. The Andes is known for funerary traditions that emphasize the dressing of the dead, with documented preservation of mummified ancestors or funerary bundles, and in some cases their participation as ancestors in kin group and community ritual.

. . .

It is clear that there are continuing relations of contact, appropriation, and both social and ideological crossover occurring between ethnically and culturally distinct social groups associated with the "Paracas tradition" of the Cavemas and Ocucaje complexes and the "Topara tradition" of the Necropolis (and with some presence and influence at Ocucaje). People responsible for designing Necropolis Block Color embroideries are linked in some specific and ongoing relationship with people responsible for designing the polychrome ceramics of Cavemas and Ocucaje. Whatever parallel social institutions are connected to those production traditions, over this period they are associated with intense conceptual innovation. At the Necropolis, this process fosters the development and explosion of Block Color imagery and the production of vast quantities of embroidered textiles concentrated in high status burials of leaders associated with ritual and warfare. At Ocucaje, a parallel process fosters the cultural and social transformation from the locally diverse Paracas tradition to the more regionally unified Nasca tradition.

The extraordinary preservation of textiles in many of these burials enables this analysis of the "dress of the dead" through which I seek to define social institutions among communities only known through archaeology. I am confident that continuing research will enable us to develop more specific models of the social, cultural, and historical relations among those who buried their dead in the Paracas Cavernas, the Paracas Necropolis, the cemeteries of Ocucaje, and less well documented cemeteries of the region.