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Paracas, a desert peninsula, a textile style, a ceramic style, and a society that emerged on the south coast of Peru with habitation and civic-ceremonial sites distributed most notably in six river valleys (Cañete, Topará, Chincha, Pisco, Ica, and the Río Grande de Nasca drainage area). The culture received its name from the location on the Paracas Peninsula of cemeteries that were used during the last phases of the Paracas period. The arid ecology in this area of the south Peruvian coast is affected by seasonal "Paracas" winds and negligible precipitation, providing among the best natural conditions for preservation of ancient remains.

Paracas culture (c. 800 bce–100 ce) falls mainly within the Early Horizon (c. 850 bce–1 ce). The chronology consists of a ten-phase stylistic sequence, but parts of the chronology will remain a source of debate until more radiocarbon dates become available. John H. Rowe suggested that the Early Horizon be defined as the time beginning with the first appearance of pan-regional Chavín influence in the Ica Valley and ending when incised, decorated ceramics (with polychrome paint that was applied after the vessels were fired) were replaced by polychrome slipped painted pottery.

The Early Horizon is best known in the northern highlands and central coast, where excavations have revealed an expansive religious cult tied to the site of Chavín De Huántar and evidence of exchange networks that originated in the preceding Initial Period. On the south coast, the early Paracas period vividly documents the southern quarter of this Chavín religious and ideological sphere of influence. Cotton, painted, Chavín-related textiles have been recovered only within the Paracas culture area, specifically at sites such as Karwa on the coast and Cerrillos in the Andean foothills of the Ica Valley. The Paracas textile tradition became more elaborate over time to include tie-dying, ornamentation with feathers, embroidery, tapestry; twill, gauze, twining, looping, and braiding. The study of these textiles was made possible because large numbers of mummy bundles were recovered from Paracas Peninsula sites, particularly the Wari-Kayan Necropolis, from which we have also gained knowledge on late Paracas garments. Skull deformation was a common aesthetic practice among Paracas peoples, as evidenced from burials, as was cranial surgery, or trephination.

Early Horizon Paracas architecture includes U-shaped and rectangular adobe civic-ceremonial buildings. At least one such building has been excavated at Animas Alta in the Callango sector of the Ica Valley to reveal a U-shaped atrium with an elaborate adobe frieze containing late Paracas iconography. Other similar edifices are visible at this same site and across the Ica River, where numerous Paracas settlements have been recorded. Semi-subterranean adobe structures are typical where stone is less abundant, while stone-faced house structures, as well as residential terraces on hill-slopes, are known from the Paracas Peninsula and in the middle and upper reaches of the valleys where Paracas settlements are located. Unlike the patterns described for the northern Chavín sphere, where it is argued that people lived in small, dispersed hamlets away from ceremonial centers, on the south coast, civic-ceremonial buildings are situated in very close proximity or within habitation sites.

See alsoChavín de Huántar .


Alfred L. Kroeber and William D. Strong, The Uhle Pottery Collections from Ica, with three appendixes by Max Uhle (1924).

John H. Rowe, "Stages and Periods in Archaeological Interpretation," in Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 18, no. 1 (1962): 40-54.

Dwight T. Wallace, "Cerrillos, an Early Paracas Site in Ica, Peru," in American Antiquity 27, no. 3 (1962): 303-314.

Dorothy Menzel et al., The Paracas Pottery of Ica: A Study in Style and Time (1964).

Luis Lumbreras, The Peoples and Cultures of Ancient Peru (1974).

Sarah Ann Massey, "Sociopolitical Change in the Upper Ica Valley, b.c. 400 to 400 a.d.: Regional States on the South Coast of Peru" (Ph.D. diss., UCLA, 1986).

Anne Paul, Paracas Ritual Attire: Symbols of Authority in Ancient Peru (1990), and ed., Paracas Art and Architecture (1991).

Richard Burger, Chavín and the Origins of Andean Civilization (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Benson, Elizabeth P., and Anita Gwynn Cook, eds. Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Engle, Frédéric André, Teresa Nicho N., and Edilberto Gutiérrez Ch. Un desierto en tiempos prehispá nicos: Rio Pisco, Paracas, Rio Ica. Lima: s.n. 2001.

Paul, Anne. "Symmetry on Paracas Necrópolis Textiles." In Embedded Symmetries: Natural and Cultural, edited by Dorothy Koster Washburn. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004.

Stone, Rebecca. Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1996.

                                         Anita Cook