The textiles of ancient Peru, woven in every known technique for over three thousand years, represent the highest achievement of their civilization. Textiles were the most highly prized objects after gold in Peruvian cultures. Most Peruvian textiles were produced on simple backstrap looms.
The Paracas culture was located on the south coast of Peru. The name translates from the Quechuan dialect to “sand falling like rain,” due to the frequent sandstorms characteristic of the area. The Paracas elevated textile art to some of its highest levels of sophistication, and had the longest continuous tradition of textile art in history. In fact, textiles were developed to a high degree of refinement long before ceramics (the Paracas also developed improvements in the kiln-firing of ceramics). Textiles were used for trading purposes, commemorated attainment of certain societal rank (such as attaining adulthood), used to mark a person’s status or achievements, and celebrated familial events. Thousands of Peruvian textiles have come down to us because the mummified bodies of Paracas society were wrapped in multiple layers of cloth on burial.
The Paracas believed that nature and humankind shared the same attributes of the spiritual world. While many textiles display animal forms, there are many, like this example, that seem to blur the boundaries between human and animal. Such forms are called “anthropomorphic,” or “zoomorphic.” The dry climate of the Peruvian coast helped to preserve the large numbers of textiles seen in museums today. The period of production of this beautiful piece roughly coincides with the Roman Empire in Europe, the Nok culture in Nigeria, and the Han Dynasty in China.