Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Silk Roads, Other Roads: Textile Society of America 8th Biennial Symposium, Sept. 26–28, 2002, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.


Copyright 2002 by the author(s). Used by permission of TSA.


The "rayed head" image has long been identified as a central symbol associated with the Paracas tradition, also called the "sun face" and associated with the concept of "Oculate Being" developed by the Berkeley School. Prominently repeated on the central ground of the famous "Paracas Textile" at the Brooklyn Museum, this image has much earlier antecedents in the region. Scholars disagree on the extent to which many Paracas, Topara and early Nasca images with large round eyes, grinning mouths, and serpentlike appendages emitting from the head and body may also be manifestations of a particular "Oculate Being" or of more general concepts of natural or supernatural power. Recently, contemporary textiles found in the Sihuas valley to the south (see Haeberli in this volume) challenge us to reexamine the similarities and distinctions among rayed heads.

One of the great challenges of the history of material culture, envisioned as a history of philosophical concepts, social values and cultural practices through their inscription in material objects, is the degree to which a recurrent image, pattern or special arrangement reflects a similar idea. A number of quite different images have been associated with the concept of an "Oculate Being" proposed by John Rowe and others of the Berkeley school based on their analysis of lea valley ceramics and Ocucaje gravelots in the 1 950s. I here trace the rayed head or "sun face" image as it occurs over at least 500 years in the region of lea and Paracas. I then briefly consider its relationship to other contemporary imagery and later imagery featuring ray-like elements emitted from the head, both in the same contexts where the "rayed head" appears, and in other cemeteries to the south in southern Peru and northern Chile.

All the imagery discussed here is associated with a period between about 450 BC and AD 450 called the Formative in the South Central Andes (Bolivia and northern Chile) and called the Early Horizon (or late Formative) and Early Intermediate or Regional Development) Period in the Central Andes. Most of the images I discuss are created on textiles. While only recovered from burials on the desert coast, textile materials draw on relationships of production and exchange that spanned the Andean cordillera to the montane rainforest to the east, and stretched to the north and south. Either as clothing or cargo, textiles themselves traveled and were no doubt a primary , source of non-local imagery.