Ancient America - Andean South America

Topic 2: Ancient America - Andean South America

  • The cultures of the ancient Central Andes occupied the region that now forms the country of Peru, southern Ecuador, western Bolivia, and northern Chile. These cultures shared many common characteristics, despite the extremely diverse and rugged terrain they occupied. The snowy peaks and arid intermountain valleys of the Andes divide the deserts of the Pacific coast from the western edge of the Amazon rainforest. Trade links and political alliances between these very different regions played a key role in Andean art and culture. Andean art usually focused on the terrestrial world - on mountains, plants and animals. As in other indigenous American cultures, art was also concerned with shamanistic and visionary experiences and the afterlife.

  • Among the earliest cultures in the region was that of the Chavín, which flourished from 1200-500 B.C.E., while the last and best known culture of the pre-contact period was that of the Inka (also spelled Inca), whose empire united much of the region in the years before European contact (1438-1534 B.C.E.). People of the Chavín culture built a massive stone complex, including temples and a pyramid, at Chavín de Huantar between 900 and 200 B.C.E., initiating an Andean tradition of monumental stone architecture.

  • The Inka are known for the high quality of their stone construction, with the best known examples found in the old Inka capital of Cusco and in the mountaintop city of Machu Picchu. Massive stones were cut individually to fit exactly into massive walls. As in Mesoamerica, the most important structures were usually temples or palaces, which provided the settings for religious and political rituals.

  • The dryness of the Andean climate has helped preserve many artifacts, especially textiles; these, along with many other forms of portable art, were often used as grave goods. The people of the Andes practiced mummification, which was highly successful in such an arid climate. Weaving and textiles reached their highest peak of development under the Inka; fine examples were prized as highly as gold. (Featherwork and work in hard green stones similar to jade were also more highly prized than metalwork). Cotton was in wide use along the coast, while in the highlands, the wool of the region's various camelids (guanaco, llama, alpaca, and vicuña) were used, with the finest varieties reserved for royalty.

  • The most talented women weavers in the Inkan empire, known as aclla, were made to live in cloisters where they served the emperor (similar cloistered female communities performed other important ritual functions). The cloistered life of the aclla also reflects the intertwined nature of spiritual and political life and the emphasis on collaboration and group identity characteristic of the ancient Central Andes.

Related Links:
Indigenous Americas Quiz
Native North America
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes