Among the vast treasures discovered in Peru since its conquest by Pizarro, only a small fraction has been excavated scientifically. The Art and Archaeology of Pashash is an account of the discovery and excavation of one of the richest Pre-Columbian burials ever scientifically excavated in Peru. The tomb and its offerings unearthed at Pashash, in the northern Andes, provide new perspectives on the cultural meaning of Andean funerary treasure.
About A.D. 500 the flexed body of an aristocrat was wrapped in cloth and set in a small tomb sealed by a heavy stone. Three separate offerings were put in place during the construction of the funerary temple above the tomb. Near the body were placed about fifty large gold pins with elaborately sculptured heads, the most important set of Peruvian metalwork scientifically recorded in context. Decorated pottery also accompanied the body. Beneath the doorway to the temple chamber above the tomb a second offering was placed, composed of vessels modeled as jaguars, snakes, and dragonlike combinations of the two, with other fine pottery, unfired clay bowls, and stone bowls. The images in this offering represented the theology of a shamanistic religion. A third offering of broken ritual vessels was placed in the earth fill just before the temple floor was built.
This collection of several hundred works of art found together and dated by radiocarbon, related to a stratigraphic sequence for the site as a whole, makes possible a unique history of the art of this highland Andean region. Grieder describes the phases of development and the symbolism of the previously little-known Recuay style of pottery and attributes many works to individuals, illuminating the role of artists and their relations with their patrons. Among the author's discoveries is evidence of the use of potters' wheels and lathes to make ceramic and stone vessels and ritual objects, reversing the long-held contention that these tools were unknown in Pre-Columbian America.
The Art and Archaeology of Pashash will be valuable to specialists in Andean archaeology as well as to those interested in the art and culture of Pre-Columbian America.
By Terence Grieder
Terence Grieder is Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at the University of Texas at Austin.
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