Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Clark, Niki R., and Amy Oakland Rodman. “Ancient Andean Headgear: Medium and Measure of Cultural Identity.” 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. 293–304.


Copyright © 1994 Niki R. Clark and Amy Oakland Rodman


From the earliest recorded periods of southern Andean history, distinctive clothing styles have served to identity specific socio-cultural groups and provide clues about cultural origins. Unique environmental conditions, especially present along the arid Pacific coast of South America, have allowed the preservation of a vast archive of usually perishable material. From the far south coast of Peru to the northern desert regions of Chile, textiles, and especially headgear forms were worn to distinguish between the diverse populations who established permanent settlements along the narrow river valleys linking highland regions and the coast.

The south central Andes region has always known a considerable amount of cultural contact, and a similar widespread textile tradition developed within the area. In most archaeological collections, warp-faced woven camelid-fiber cloth predominates, created with 2-ply yarns first spun in the Z direction and plied S. It is generally assumed that during many periods highland cultures based around Lake Titicaca exerted considerable influence upon the coast, and this basic woven tradition may have originated there. However, the criteria used to identify highland and coastal traits remains elusive. Textiles, the artifacts most useful in discussing cultural and ethnic identity, are preserved only along the coast. Perishable materials are rarely found in highland contexts, where seasonal rains destroy organic artifacts. The most easily recognized highland traits are those found in designs which imitate images carved on highland stone sculptures or painted on ceramics. However, most textile remains are simple, unpatterned fabrics. Within archaeological collections, we must identify traits, other than design, which might be site- or region-specific, and which might suggest borrowing between regions, or blending of cultural groups; traits such as form, fiber, and structure.

In an attempt to read the message of cultural identity with the medium of archaeological textiles, we present data from collections excavated in two separate river valleys, representing two distinct periods in Andean cultural history. Evidence of an early coastal-related culture (dated 800 BC–AD 100) has been found at the Caserones site in the Tarapaca Valley of northern Chile, while the late prehistoric Estuquina site in the Moquegua Valley of far southern Peru (dated AD 1100–1450) is a small, locally adapted, mid-valley village with basic highland attributes. To illuminate the specific ways in which pre-conquest Andeans presented themselves to others, we have chosen to examine headgear, or gorros, a traditional male Andean accessory and an object especially sensitive to ethnic identity.