Paracas Culture

The Paracas culture was a Pre-Inca society between approximately 750 BCE and 100 CE that developed in the Paracas Peninsula, located in what today is the Paracas District of the Pisco Province in the Ica Region, Peru.

Most of our information about the lives of the Paracas people comes from excavations at the large seaside Paracas necropolis, first investigated by the Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello in the 1950s.

The necropolis consisted of multitudes of large subterranean burial chambers, with an average capacity of about forty mummies. It is theorized that each large chamber would be owned by a specific family or clan, who would place their dead ancestors in the burial over the course of many generations. Each mummy was bound with cord to hold it in place, and then wrapped in many layers of incredibly intricate, ornate, and finely woven textiles.
 

Paracas Textile

Paracas TextileTheir textile art is considered as the best of all ancient cultures. They used vicuņa wool or cotton; harmonious and with many colors, animal designs, anthropomorphous and geometric, some included feathers.

One of the main reasons why the Paracas Culture is well known is for the quality of its textiles, especially those belonging to the "Paracas Necropolis" period, dating from 500 BC and constituting an exceptionally beautiful expression of this culture.

As from the period of the Spanish conquest, the existence of these textiles, used as bartering items for diplomatic and military negotiations, as well as votive offerings in religious ceremonies and death shrouds, has been amply documented.

It is important to stress that these textiles are constantly associated with circles of power. The most important rulers owned a greater number of them during their life, and were buried with a greater number at their death. Thus they may be considered to be a symbol of wealth. In some religious rites, textile items were actually "sacrificed", showing their primordial importance in the Paracas Culture.
 

Paracas Skulls

Paracas SkullsThe Paracas employed methods to alter the shape of the skull, elongating it with weights and boards, to connote social status. Many of the skulls found in the Paracas Necropolis have stretched and sloped craniums.

The Paracas people also practiced a crude form of brain surgery called trepanation. Like medieval physicians, who believed bloodletting aimed at the forehead was a cure-all, Paracas doctors surgically drilled holes in the skull to treat both physical trauma and, it seems, psychological disorders. The formation of scar tissue indicates that many of the patients actually survived the operations, although, of course, it's impossible to say how their physical or behavioral problems were affected.


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Last updated: September 8, 2008