Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0124


Copyright © 2020 Elena Phipps and Caroline Solazzo


Since the sixteenth century, references by Spanish chroniclers to the use of chinchilla hair (Andean rodents of several species including viscacha) by Andean weavers indicate that the fine hair of these animals had been incorporated into textiles. Their fine soft hair, often mottled in color, has distinctive characteristics which vary and, as a result, make them difficult to identify. Some archaeological finds, primarily in Chile have reported viscacha skins and fur bags, but few if any reports have identified the presence of textiles or spun yarns that incorporate this special fiber. The depiction of the animal takes on special meaning in tapestries from the colonial era, though to date, its identification as a material component in these works has not been possible. A long-term project of several stages involved the search for potential items in museum collections of pre-Columbian textiles where viscacha hair might have been used. Collaboration with scientific study in the field of proteomics has enabled the establishment of protocols for species identification, enabling a more precise method to confirm their use. We are establishing the beginning of a group of textiles that have been positively identified, which will be presented in this paper. The special character of the fiber has been confirmed in ethnographic study where, even today, the fine hair is used in special ways, including the direction of spin of its yarns and its use as special amulets for luck in love and health. The illusive meaning of this animal, that lives in remote rocky areas, thriving in regions with little water, may play a role in its significance and efficacy as a conveyor of symbolic meaning can now be confirmed through its use and presence in ritual textiles of the Andean past.