Ica, Pre-Columbian

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Ica, Pre-Columbian

Pre-Columbian Ica. The Ica Valley of the Peruvian south coast has been continuously inhabited for more than four thousand years. The Ica pottery-making tradition, which began about 2500 bce, has been studied more intensively than that of any other part of the Andes. It provides a chronological yardstick, divided into three periods and three horizons, against which other local pottery-style sequences can be measured in a system of relative chronology. From earliest to latest are the Initial Period, Early Horizon, Early Intermediate Period, Middle Horizon, Late Intermediate Period, and Late Horizon.

Ica was occasionally subjected to outside influence: from Chavín in the Early Horizon, from Moche near the end of the Early Intermediate Period, from Huari in the Middle Horizon, and finally as a result of the Inca conquest in the Late Horizon. Such influence is reflected in pottery form and decoration as well as other aspects of culture. Changes in the pottery of Ica are used to mark the beginnings of the periods and horizons.

New religious elements from Chavín reached Ica around 1500 bce, perhaps brought by missionaries. Moche influence, arriving around ce 100, was weaker but also involved religious elements. The Huari state, which conquered Ica around ce 600, also brought religious changes, which are reflected in the art; but after the fall of Huari, around ce 800, Ica potters abandoned these foreign symbols, creating geometric decoration executed in red, black, and white on an unpolished surface.

The Ica style of pottery began some hundred years later when Ica artists revived some of the colors and designs from Huari art, including mythical birds and animals. The interpretation of these designs suggests that they were copied from older objects with no understanding of their earlier meanings. Such archaism, or copying from earlier art styles, was not uncommon in pre-Columbian Peru. From this archaized base, then, the Ica style developed and changed throughout the Late Intermediate Period and beyond. The animal figures were soon dropped, as were the additional colors, but the bird figures changed and multiplied, and to them were added fishes, indicating the importance of the sea to these people. Combined with geometric designs, these figures were applied to elegantly shaped and highly polished vessels, which acquired considerable prestige outside the valley. The wide distribution of Ica-style pottery indicates far-flung contacts and the possibility of a growing influence of the Ica Valley polities in the Late Intermediate Period, an influence cut short by the Inca conquest of Ica and the rest of the south coast about 1476.

The Incas involved some of the Ica nobility in the local administrative organization, and Inca shapes and designs were mingled with those of the local art style. Nevertheless, when the Inca Empire fell, Ica artists again rejected the foreign elements and returned to their own pre-Conquest trends. Their persistence in abolishing the symbols of conquest provides us with a key to the nature of the proud and independent people of Ica before their culture was destroyed by the Europeans.

See alsoArt: Pre-Columbian Art of South America .


Dorothy Menzel et al., The Paracas Pottery of Ica: A Study in Style and Time, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 50 (1964).

Patricia J. Lyon, "Innovation Through Archaism: The Origins of the Ica Pottery Style," in Nawpa Pacha 4 (1966): 31-62.

Donald A. Proulx, Local Differences and Time Differences in Nasca Pottery, University of California Publications in Anthropology, 5 (1968).

Dorothy Menzel, Pottery Style and Society in Ancient Peru: Art as a Mirror of History in the Ica Valley, 1350–1570 (1976) and The Archaeology of Ancient Peru and the Work of Max Uhle (1977).

Additional Bibliography

Tiballi, Anne E. Castoffs and Snippets: The Textile Evidence from Casa Vieja, Ica Valley, Peru. Thesis (M.A.,) State University of New York at Binghamton, Department of Anthropology, 2005.

                                             Patricia J. Lyon