Monday, December 29, 2014

Cultures of the Ancient Americas: A Series in Parts... (Part 4)

The Arizona Museum of Natural History has recently received major donations of objects from the American Southwest, Mesoamerica, and the Andes region of South America. The museum has opened a new exhibition, Cultures of the Ancient Americas, created solely from the new gifts. These magnificent objects offer insights into the cultures that produced them and underscore the monumental achievements of ancient peoples from New Mexico to Bolivia. We also celebrate the extraordinary generosity of our donors, who made the exhibition possible. Moche materials are the gift of Walter Knox of Scottsdale, AZ. Over the next several weeks AzMNH’s Museum Musings will highlight these objects and the cultures they represent, and suggest the special experience awaiting visitors to the exhibition.
Wari Empire and Regional States  (Section 3)
The capital of Chimú was Chan Chan, situated at the mouth of the Moche Valley.  Begun around 850 CE, Chan Chan grew to cover about eight square miles, and Chimú culture ultimately extended 800 miles along the Peruvian coast, with major expansions about 1200 and 1400.   Chan Chan’s architecture is notable for large residential palace compounds of adobe brick, perhaps the homes of elite lords and their descent groups.  Artisans produced metallurgy and textiles of the highest quality, and the city had specified areas for trade.  Llamas, the pack animals of ancient Peru, were buried in platforms at these terminals.  Craft production and trade were major elements of the Chimú economy.  Although there are fine examples of Chimú pottery, much ceramic production was mold-made and mass produced in a smudging atmosphere yielding a black finish.

Stirrup Vessel with Toucans and Monkey
Early Chimú, 900-1250 CE
North Coast of Peru

The little monkey at the junction between the stirrup and spout is characteristic of Chimú ceramics, as are the toucans at the intersection of the stirrup and the body of the jar.  Chimú ceramics are mold-made and mass produced.  Most are fired in a reducing atmosphere, which produced a black color.  A small percentage were fired in an oxidizing atmosphere, which produced reddish-brown pottery.

Stirrup Vessel
Chimú, 900-1450 CE
North Coast of Peru

A characteristic form of Chimú ceramics was the stirrup and spout vessel with a spherical body.  The upper half of the body of this bottle is divided into four areas, two on each side of the stirrup.  The right-hand image on each side depicts a human form with headdress; the left-hand image shows a seabird and fish.  The dots defining the background are a common feature of Chimú pottery, as is the little knob at the intersection of the stirrup and spout.  The bands around the bottom and across the top of the jar are carelessly painted black.

Effigy Bottle with Strap Handle
Chimú, 900-1450 CE
North Coast of Peru

This is the typical mold-made black Chimú ceramic.  The animal’s head resembles a sea lion, but its arms have digits rather than flippers, so the animal could be a generic feline.  It has a long tail.  Under the neck, one may see the line where the two clay halves from the mold were carelessly joined.  The raised stippling on the body of the animal is characteristic of Chimú ceramics, and could provide visual effect or texture to facilitate gripping.

Gift of Linda Gonzalez, Los Angeles, CA
(Join us in 2 weeks for Part 4, section 4 of Wari Empire and Regional States.)

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