Chancay, culture of ancient Peru that developed in the central coast valleys of Chancay and Chillón at the southern end of Chimú territory. This culture, which appears to have originated after the Huari collapse (c. 900 ce), was incorporated by the Chimú Empire and ultimately was conquered by the Incas around 1470.
Chancay culture is defined archaeologically by a distinctive and homogeneous ceramic style. These ceramics are known from extensive cemeteries in the Chancay region, where they were included in burials as grave goods. They are generally mold-made of a peculiarly gritty clay that leaves an unpolished matte surface, sometimes as rough as sandpaper. Over this is painted a white slip, decorated with black or dark brown designs, in a style known as Chancay Black on White. Vessel forms included both single- and double-chambered bottles, face-neck jars, ring-based plates, and open bowls. Clay figurines representing humans and animals also were produced. These often had yarn hair attached to a row of holes along the top of the head and were clothed in miniature textiles. One theory is that the llamas and human figurines were sacrificial surrogates for living animals and people, and as such were interred to accompany the dead.
The major artistic achievement for which the Chancay are known is their mastery of textiles. They produced plain weave, brocade, and openwork textiles in which open spaces were deliberately woven into the cloth as part of the decorative design. Plain woven cloth was also decorated with painted designs. Chancay weavers specialized particularly in delicate gauze work. Cloth was produced for clothing and decoration, and no doubt served the typical pre-Columbian function as a medium of value and prestige. Curious small dolls or human figurines made of cloth were included in burials. These figurines were sometimes arranged in scenes of activities perhaps suggesting the daily life of the deceased.
Beyond their art, little is known of the Chancay people; they seem to have left no cities nor great architectural monuments. Like all peoples of the dry desert coast, however, they must have been irrigation farmers and must have derived part of their living from the sea as well. They probably exploited the same food crops as other coastal peoples, growing cotton and importing wool for textiles.
Sources on the Chancay are few. See Edward P. Lanning, Peru Before the Incas (1967); and Luis G. Lumbreras, The Peoples and Cultures of Ancient Peru, translated by Betty J. Meggars (1974).
Fernando Márquez, Miranda, Grete Stern, and Horacio Coppola. Huacos, cultura chancay (1943).
Gordon F. McEwan