Peru Material Culture

By | December 21, 2021

The news on the civilization of the Inca period necessarily refers to the last stage, that is, when they could be collected in the written narration of the chroniclers, both on the basis of direct observation of these, and on the basis of information obtained on the place from different sources. In general, the judgment that is made today of this culture is exaggerated, or in one sense or another much more often in the laudative, especially in writings of a literary nature. But even the Spanish chroniclers already sinned in this sense, apart from the religious theme, and it is quite natural that they, unconsciously, surrounded the institutions and deeds of the Inca with a classical frame, nourished as they were with erudite, biblical or classic. However, this does not mean that

Well-built palaces and fortresses of worked stone, dry and with mortar, well-trained and manageable armies, flourishing textile and ceramic industries and knowledge of metallurgy are in fact elements of an advanced civilization. The downside is given, however, in the technical field, by some shortcomings that are common to all civilized cohabitation of the American continent: absence of truly valid transport animals, absence of iron, ignorance of the wheel, which made any vehicle impossible, and of the lathe to make vases, not to mention the absence of writing, which none of the most astute chroniclers ever confused with the quipu, a simple mnemonic and registration system. In the social and spiritual field then, it should be remembered that the Peruvians practiced human sacrifice and the use of human parts (skulls, teeth and skin) as an ornament and trophy; that the exhibition of mummies for the adoration of the people was very extensive and that the economy and morality, even sexual, of the entire organism of the state, were based on an almost unbelievable form of parasitism of the ruling class. In conclusion, and balancing these unfavorable elements with the advantageous ones, we can say that the Peruvians were surprised by the conquest in a semi-barbaric condition, during the consolidation of a complex and effective state regime and in possession of some industries, such as textiles and figulina, really adult and refined. For Peru culture and traditions, please check

The conquest of the men of Cuzco led to the spread of the Quechúa language (called runa – simi by them) at the expense of the others previously existing, among which the very main language colla, typical of Collao and erroneously known as aymará. How much affinity there was between the quechúa and glue-speaking tribes originally is something very difficult to define today, due to the continuous loanwords and the vast cultural exchanges that transformed the conditions of the past; as regards the two languages, it seems that they are two related dialects. Somatically, the difference between the two peoples is not very sensitive.

The residents of the empire, according to the census ordered by the viceroy Francisco de Toledo (1569-1581), were 11,000,000; the city of Cuzco counted about 40,000 and the central district of the Inca power, called by the chroniclers “Inca nation”, 200,000; however, it is estimated that only 20 or 30 thousand belonged to the privileged caste of the Orejones, whose number, favored by the polygamy of the Incas, had continually increased.

Because of their economy, the Quechúa belong to a cycle of superior farmers, not because of their agricultural tool, which was a crude wooden spade, but for the artificial irrigation by means of canals and complicated systems of terraces on the sides of the mountains. (andenes), clear indications of intensive agriculture. Plants cultivated in Peru were beans (purutu), peppers, quinoa (a very substantial cereal), potatoes, sweet potatoes, and various fruits, but above all corn, the true basis of the Quechúa diet. Agave and coca, also cultivated, produced intoxicating and stimulating products. Fishing was regulated, indeed limited, by special officials; hunting is even prohibited, and reserved for an immense hunt officially organized every year (chacu), and personally directed by the Sapa Inca or by one of his lieutenants. The breeding of domestic animals included some fowl, the Indian rabbit, and the alcu (a kind of dog) and, most importantly, flocks of llamas and vicuñas, these for meat and wool, those also for the transport of small ones, not exceeding 35 kilos.

For the dwelling, three types are to be distinguished: 1. the hovels and huts of the common people, small in size, built of reeds and dry-stacked pebbles (pirca) or large sun-baked bricks (adobes), and covered with rushes; 2. the houses of adobes or stone of the ruling class, sometimes with two floors, with a terrace roof; 3. state buildings, such as sanctuaries, Inca palaces, convents and strongholds, which often take on monumental importance.

The dress was essentially made up of a tunic and a superimposed poncho ; for women instead of a rectangle like a shawl. Frequent use of the tupu, or pin with a flat head, more or less adorned and rich, intended to fix the parts of the clothing. Ribbons for supporting the hair, of fabric or metal, collars of teeth or worked stones, pectoral plates, earrings, bracelets, discs of wood or of fine earthenware for the earlobe; in some provinces nasal pending; headdresses of various models, some very complicated and with radial flails, with feathers and metallic applications, completed the personal ornament. The usuta, or sandal, more or less richly constructed, was the common shoe.

The weapons, especially maces, clubs and two-handed broadswords, were of very hard wood (chonta); maces with a head of stone and bronze, with six and eight points, like a star, or with a round or prismatic head, are very used; frequent the slingshot and the bow, as well as the spear, but above all the propeller, a simple machine capable of throwing jet projectiles and arrows.

In technology, alongside the use of metal, there were two great industrial activities in honor: ceramics and fabric. Gold and silver were used to make personal ornaments, jewels, breastplates, etc., but also for statuettes, idols, semilunar blade knives (tumi) used in worship, and cylindrical vases (silver) with human protomes with an aquiline nose; copper for making toilet articles, hair removal pliers, pins, etc., but mainly weapons, hatchets of various shapes, star club heads.

Peruvian fabrics, whose most delicate varieties equal and perhaps surpass the best products of peoples of other civilizations, are based on various textile fibers: cotton, agave and wool; the former most common in the warm lands, or yungas, the last in the breeding sectors of the vicuña and congeners. The Peruvian fabric, due to its technique, is more similar to the carpet-making system than to that of canvases; the frame was small and horizontally fixed to the ground; in the coloring mineral, vegetable and animal colors were used which proved to be so solid as to survive the long burial in the tombs from which tunics and cloaks are now exhumed; It is very common to find specimens of the spindles with which vicuña wool was spun, in nicely engraved wood, with a wooden or terracotta collar.

But ceramics is the true field of artistic specialization of the Peruvians, and it can be said that figuline creations of a delicacy comparable to those of Peru have come out only from the factories of Attica and Ruvo, both from the various areas of the coast and from the plateau. The perfection of the shape, the firing, the varnish and the decoration make them real jewels. Their immense variety and the peculiar style of each region have so far been the main basis for establishing the prehistory and chronology of ancient Peru. However, since the Inca era does not represent progress, but rather a decay of the ceramic industry, and having to isolate the creations of this period from the previous ones, we will describe vases from Cuzco trying to distinguish the various archaeological regions.

Peru Material Culture