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.


Twined textile shrouds, beginning at least nine thousand years ago, were an integral and relatively unchanging feature of Chinchorro mummy bundles, though Chinchorro mummification practices dramatically varied through the millennia. Twined mats were used like casings, enshrouding the bodies, like a postmortem amniotic sack made from vegetal fibers. They carried the individuals to the after world protected in the belly of the earth. Chinchorro mummies beginning with the earliest dated individual, known as Acha Man, from 9,000 B.P. through and into to the next cultural phase, Formative 3,000 -1,500 B.P., were enveloped in a reed shroud. The use, materials, structures and overall forms of these textiles reveal aspects about the people who produced them and the people they protected in their journey to the after life.

Who used them?

In Arica, Chile there are at least 9,000 years of twined mats. Within this long period of sustained textile tradition most evidence comes from mortuary contexts. Though very little attention has been paid to the twined mats, they were the most enduring Chinchorro characteristic. The presence of a mat shroud is a constant and diagnostic feature of Chinchorro culture. The mummies themselves were found in a variety of styles according to Arriaza et al. (2008), Arriaza (1995), Guillen (1992), and Standen (1991) that range from natural mummies, complex black mummies, complex red mummies (see image), bandage/striped mummies, to mud or cement coated mummies that relate to some extent with temporal differences. However, all mummy styles were found in an extended position and wrapped in twined mats, the distinguishing mortuary characteristics denoting the Chinchorro. In contrast later Quiani peoples, with distinctive flexed burials, used camelid twined and woven cloth as well as dyed turbans of camelid yarns for personal adornment. The mortuary mat shrouds made of vegetable fibers were used for all burials of the Chinchorro period and continued to be common in this later culture known as Quiani (3000 BP) that marked a transition to the Formative Period and different mortuary traditions. Later in the Formative Period the mats became much coarser, and more like architectural features than shrouds. The twined mats were used as divisions between layers of individuals in mortuary mounds. Though little effort in the Formative Period (3000 – 1500 BP) was placed on mat making in terms of quality, loom weaving had arrived and basketry in general took on greater importance and was impressive in quality.