by Christopher B. Donnan
Pub. Date: September 1993
Publisher: University of California Los Angeles, Fowler Museum of Cult
When Europeans first entered the Andean area in the
early part of the sixteenth century, they encountered the
Inca Empire, a vast and powerful political domain that
incorporated the largest area in South America ever to
have been brought under one ruler. The Europeans were
extremely impressed with the political and economic
organization of the Inca. as well as with their artistic and
technological sophistication. The Spanish did not realize.
however, that the Inca were only the most recent in a long
series of civilizations that had inhabited the coastal and
highland areas of western South America. It was not until
the end of the nineteenth century that archaeologists began systematically to reconstruct the long and complex
story of the remarkable civilizations that preceded the Inca.
We now realize that highly developed artistic. technological. and religious traditions were flourishing in Peru as
early as 2000 B.C. Monumental religious architecture was
already present. as were weaving, jewelry made of shell.
bone, and stone. and elaborately pyroengraved gourds.
Before 1800 B.C. ceramics were being produced. and by
1500 B.C. sophisticated ceramic styles had evolved in many
areas. Over the next three millennia, through the arrival of Europeans in the
sixteenth century. Peruvian ceramics underwent an extraordinary
evolution. Although the potters employed relatively simple ceramic technology, their
remarkable mastery of technique was skillfully utilized to
create objects with aesthetically pleasing shapes. colors.
and textures This, combined with a superb sense of design
and scale, often produced ceramics of remarkable beauty.
About the Author: Christopher B. Donnan is a professor emeritus of anthropology at UCLA where he is also director of the Moche Archive at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.