Camelid wool on cotton
Dimensions: 36 x 34 1/2 inches (91.4 x 87.6 cm)
Bequest of Michael A. McCarthy, Class of 1956
This is a section of a tunic from the coastal area of northern Peru, likely made during the early part of the Late Intermediate Period. The Late Intermediate Period is a chronological period used in Andean archeology that extends from circa AD 1000 to 1470.
WHERE WAS IT MADE?
This tunic was made along the North Coast of what is now Peru. We know this because—although tapestries have been found in burials at some distance from their points of origin—tapestries woven in coastal regions were made using a technique that left vertical slits between different sections of color. This particular tapestry fragment has such slits. Although we do not know the exact provenance of the piece (where it was found) it was likely found along the coast, since the dry climate helped preserve buried textiles that would have otherwise decomposed in more humid regions.
HOW WAS IT MADE?
Notice that this textile is composed of five strips of woven cloth that have been sewn together. These long, narrow strips were woven on backstrap looms. The loose unwoven end is attached to a stake in the ground while the woven section is secured around the weaver’s waist, stretching the long warp yarns taut.
The weaver must pull hard on the stick with loops around every other warp yarn ("heddles") in order to open a space between the odd and even sets of yarns. The opening created is called the "shed." The horizontal weft yarn goes through the open shed, then the second stick with the other warp yarns is lifted, and the weft yarn passed back through in the other direction.
The warp threads of coastal textiles (the vertical threads of the weaving) were generally made of cotton, while the weft threads (woven in between the warp threads) were made of dyed alpaca wool or cotton. Alpaca wool was likely produced in the highland regions of Peru, which has a climate in which alpaca thrive. Because archeologists have not found spindles with alpaca wool in coastal areas (cotton is far more common), it has been surmised that the alpaca wool was spun and dyed in the highlands before being exported to coastal regions. Dyes were derived from natural sources, such as the indigo plant for blue and cochineal insects for red.
HOW WAS IT USED?
This textile fragment is approximately one half of a poncho or tunic. The intact garment would have had a center slit for the neck opening, and may have been sewn together down the sides to form a tunic.
Colorful tunics, such as this one, may have been worn by elite members of society. Textiles of higher status individuals in coastal areas of northern Peru were generally made with camelid fibers and dyes from highland sources, whereas the textiles of lower status individuals were made primarily from cotton and dyed with local dyes.
WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?
The body of this tunic is a decorated with a step-fret pattern woven in blue, red, tan, and brown. Notice the stylized figure, possibly a double-headed snake, repeated along the bottom border panel of the tunic. Each side of the border panel is itself bordered in a tan and red interlocking wave motif. A series of tan, blue, and red stripes lie between the border panel and the thick red fringe at the bottom of the garment.
NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.