After the decline of the unifying Chavín influence, much of Peru is marked by cultural diversification and the emergence of independent regional societies. In the southern Andes, local peoples, who have had their own traditions for centuries, continue to flourish. Population grows throughout the region, and territorial warfare becomes frequent. Fortified sites and defensive walls are common. Urban sites are fully established on the northern and southern coasts of Peru and in the southern Andean highlands. Governed by local elites, the accumulations of wealth and the display of luxuries show their privileged status.
Artistic production flourishes, with ethnic diversity reflected by stylistic diversity. Skilled specialists produce fine ceramic vessels using a wide range of techniques. Stone sculpture, brilliantly colored textiles, and works in metal bearing esoteric imagery are made for use in rituals and to honor the dead. Metalworkers in northern Peru, in particular, excel in creativity and technical mastery, producing some of the most spectacular works in metal ever made in the Americas. Battle scenes and trophy heads begin to appear on many works as evidence of a new ideology.
The Vicús people in Peru’s upper Piura Valley bury their dead in shaft-and-chamber tombs as deep as twenty-nine feet. Among the rich grave goods are hand-modeled ceramics with negative, or resist, decoration depicting human and animal forms. Some show similarities to contemporary late Chorrera ceramics produced in Ecuador, while others resemble styles made by more southern peoples.
At the site of Sipán in the Lambayeque Valley, a powerful ruler of the Moche people is laid to rest accompanied by a female attendant and a sacrificial llama. Covered with lavish amounts of finely crafted ornaments, the approximately 50-year old ruler wears necklaces, ear and nose ornaments, and headdresses of gold, silver, turquoise, and shell. Entirely enveloped in reed mats and textiles, the funerary bundle thus formed is encircled by a necklace consisting of ten gold beads each measuring 3 1/4 inches in diameter; they represent spiders with human faces on their backs.
The Moche build urban centers in the northern coastal valleys. In the Moche Valley, construction begins on the Huaca del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and Huaca de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon). Mold-made sun-dried adobe bricks carry distinctive maker’s marks, ranging from hand- and footprints to circles and squiggles. Laid in tall, columnlike segments, they create terraced mounds. At completion, the Huaca del Sol consists of an estimated 143 million individual adobe bricks painted red on the outside.
The site of Gallinazo in the middle Virú Valley covers approximately three square miles; it is one of the first urban centers in the central Andes. Its ceremonial heart is a complex of adobe structures, pyramids up to seventy-five feet high, platforms, and walled courtyards. Surrounding it are apartment-like rooms, presumably dwellings for a resident population. Gallinazo may be the capital of the first multivalley state in the central Andes.
Cahuachi, on the south bank of the Nazca River, is the dominant ceremonial site in southern Peru. Sprawling over forty low-lying hills capped with adobe structures, it is a pilgrimage center that attracts hundreds of worshippers to the region.
Gallinazo ceramics emphasize modeling and resist, or negative, painting. Bottles with strap handles and single, tapering spouts, decorated with a variety of animals and humans, are typical; trophy heads and erotic scenes are new subjects.
At Cerro Callingará, close to the town of Frías near the Ecuadorian/Peruvian border, an impressive number of exquisitely crafted gold objects, totaling 3.7 kg in weight, are buried. Stylistically and technologically related to gold works from Ecuador and Colombia, the remarkable pieces are sizable headdresses, ear ornaments, staff decorations, and sculptures of humans and animals. The objects are made of individually shaped pieces of sheet gold joined mechanically or by soldering.
In the desert region of the Pampa of Nazca, south coast peoples create a labyrinth of large-scale geoglyphs, or ground drawings, of animals, birds, straight lines, and geometric shapes, by removing the dark surface layer revealing the lighter colored soil beneath.
The ruling elite of the northernmost province of the Moche state is buried in the cemetery known as Loma Negra in the Piura Valley. Sumptuous tomb furnishings include large numbers of gold and silver ornaments, and sizable decorated gilt-copper disks and emblems.
A funerary chamber measuring about 15 by 15 feet is built of sun-dried bricks at Sipán, perhaps the seat of a regional Moche court in the Lambayeque Valley. The wooden coffin of the ruler is surrounded by numerous offerings and the mortal remains of eight retainers. The ruler’s body is enveloped in a rich and varied array of finery, emblems, metallic vestments, and ornaments made of precious materials.
Fine ceramics, brilliantly colored with mineral-based pigments before firing, are produced by Nazca potters on Peru’s south coast. Vessel forms are double-spout-and-bridge bottles, bowls, and tall vases with round bottoms. Subject matter ranges from naturalistically rendered plants and animals to complex mythological beings wearing masks and elaborate costumes.
Metalworking is well established in northwest Argentina. Condorhuasi metalsmiths produce ornaments of hammered gold, copper, and silver; plaques, probably worn as pendants, in the form of elongated hexagons with an hourglass-shaped cutout in the center, are typical.
The Huarpa people live in small, scattered residential communities in the Ayacucho area of the Peruvian highlands, where they build agricultural terraces. Their ceramics are embellished with red and black designs on white-slipped surfaces. They show a mix of local styles and Nazca influence from the coast.
In central Tiwanaku, the impressive ceremonial/civic structures of the Kalasasaya platform, the Akapana, and the semi-subterranean temple, are constructed using architectural forms characteristic of the earlier, local Yama-Mama tradition. Precisely cut stone and grand monolithic gateways, some carved with sacred imagery, are featured.
In the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile, located 7,800 feet above sea level, farmers and herders live in small villages of single architectural complexes build around patios and passages. Decorated wooden snuff trays and clay pipes for the consumption of hallucinogenic substances and tobacco are in use.
Maranga in the Rímac Valley is the preeminent center on Peru’s central coast. Several tiered platform mounds are constructed of thousands of adobe bricks (some are still visible within modern Lima). The largest measures about 840 by 320 feet at its base and is covered with plaster and painted yellow.
The Tafí culture of northwest Argentina produces a wide range of works in stone. Geometricized masks of human faces, ceremonial vessels and mortars in the form of humans and animals, and stelae up to five feet tall, bearing relief carvings of human faces and snakes, are among them.
The Huaca de la Luna at Moche and the principle temple mound at El Brujo in the Chicama Valley are decorated with polychrome adobe friezes and murals depicting deities and rituals.
In the Callejón de Huaylas in the central highlands, small independent militaristic polities, such as Recuay, produce sculpture depicting squat human figures, about three feet tall, carrying clubs, shields, and trophy heads. Ceramics made of a white kaolin clay are decorated with tricolor resist painting. A feline creature with a curled tail, large clawed paws, a round eye, and an open, heavily toothed mouth is a prominent image.
The largest administrative and ceremonial center of the Moche in the Moche Valley has an urban population of some 10,000 people. Highly skilled, full-time craft specialists produce large amounts of modeled and painted ceramic vessels, colorful textiles, and grand metal ornaments bearing religious images for the rulers and deities.
“Central and Southern Andes, 1–500 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=05®ion=sac (October 2004)