Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Paracas

The Paracas culture was an Andean society between about 1200 B.C. and 100 B.C., with an extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management and significant contributions in the textile arts. It was located in what today is the Ica Region of Peru, a huge pre-Columbian seaside site along the Paracas Peninsula. The early part of the Paracas development (1200 to 900 B.C.) is also associated with the Chavin culture.
    The Paracas developed around the Peninsula,producing a famous thin-walled pottery and some of the most extraordinary textiles in existence. Great woven mantles, ponchos, and small tapestries were created between 1000 and 250 B.C. Human remains found at Chavin show indications of cranial surgery and the odd, but common practice (in Meso- and South America), of head shaping for beauty.
    Characterized by their big, underground necropolis where bodies were preserved as mummies wrapped in luxurious cloths, their knowledge of medicine was advanced as demonstrated by surgical operations to the brain (cranial trepanations) with the patient’s survival. Their textile art was considered the best of all ancient cultures, their econonmic activity was based on agriculture and fishing, and they built extensive aqueducts creating artificial watering channels and used guano for fertilizer.
The site on the peninsula was first investigated by the Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello in the 1920s, who discoverfed the Paracas Cavernas or shaft tombs, set into the top of Cerro Colorado, each containing multiple burials. The associated ceramics include incised polychrome "negative" resist decoration and other wares of the Paracas tradition. The associated textiles include many complex weave structures as well as elaborate plaiting and knotting techniques.There is evidence that the tombs and site were used for centuries, again suggesting an ongoing societal development, such as we find with the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, rather than the isolated, individual cultures proposed by most archaeologists, who place separate names on each settlement they find.
    The necropolis of Wari Kayan consisted of two clusters of hundreds of burials set closely together inside and around abandoned buildings on the steep north slope of Cerro Colorado. The associated ceramics are very fine plain wares, some with white and red stripes and other with pattern-burnished decoration, and other wares of the Topara tradition.
Top: The crest of Cerro Colorado, over the twin knobs of the Wari Kayan hillside. The Necropolis funerary bundles, massed on the hillside, faced to the north toward the view of the bay of Paracas; Bottom: An Archaeological Team working on uncovering the funerary hillside
    Each burial consisted of a conical textile-wrapped bundle, most containing a seated individual facing north across the bay of Paracas, next to offerings (artifacts) such as ceramics, foodstuffs, baskets and weapons. Each body was bound with cord to hold it in a seated position, before being wrapped in many layers of intricate, ornate, and finely woven textiles. The Paracas Necropolis embroideries are now known as some of the finest ever produced by Pre-Columbian Andean societies, and are the primary works of art by which Paracas is known. It  is another consistent match with the scriptural record which, time and again, mentions the textile capabilities of the Nephites down through the centuries.
    Burials at the necropolis of Wari Kayan continued until about 250 A.D., and many of the mortuary bundles include textiles like those of early Nazca. In addition, the Paracas Culture depended on fish and other resources from the sea, were also farmers and cultivated beans, maize, red peppers, yuca and peanuts. They were also exceptional craftspeople and produced exquisitely worked stone clubs, obsidian knives, gourd bottles, rattles, pottery, shell and bone necklaces, hammered gold face and hair ornaments, feather fans and basketry.
     Their knowledge of medicine was advanced, just as they demonstrated, the remains of surgical operations to the brain (craneal trepanations) with the patients' survival. These people used to deform their skulls while still alive, giving them a 'lengthened head.’ This might be reminiscent of the Zoramites and their strange religion and practices, which included the place called Rameumptom, that Alma confronted (Alma 31:21). Certainly, such practices would not have been standard among the Nephites.
Paracas wrapped their mummified dead along with funeral offerings, in embroidered cloaks, which are among the finest examples of the art of textile making. The multicolored designs on these textiles bear a definite relationship to those of painted pottery of the contemporaneous and later Nazca culture.
    Textiles were valued as a means for sharing religious lore and beliefs. They were worn to indicate status and authority. Some textiles were over 34 meters long and would have required large numbers of people and complex organization to make.
They are made from camelid wool (probably llama or alpaca) and plant fibers (identified as cotton). The bright colors include indigo, green, browns, pink and white. These were all produced using natural dyes and would have been particularly striking against the sandy beige colors of the surrounding landscape
    Natural dyes don’t always last when exposed to light or moisture so the survival of these in such vibrant conditions for over 2,000 years is extraordinary. This survival is likely to be due to the dry conditions of the unlit underground burial chambers in which they were found.
While the Paracas culture developed in this region between about 1200 B.C. and 100 B.C., the Topará culture is thought to have entered or "invaded" from the north at approximately 150 B.C. The two cultures then coexisted for one or more generations, both on the Paracas Peninsula and in the nearby Ica Valley, and their interaction played a key role in the development of the Nazca culture and ceramic and textile traditions. Though the elaborate textiles have only been preserved in the coastal desert sites, there is growing evidence that people associated with these cultures lived and traveled between the Pacific lowlands and the Andean highland valleys and mountain pastures to the east, again remiscent of the constant travel between cities indicated during Nephite times (Alma 8:6; 30:32, etc.).
The Paracas Peninsula is home not only to the Paracas Culture, but thousands of birds, pelicans, penguins, fish, seals and other marine life. A veritable paradise for a maritime fishing culture; perhaps one of the reasons why the Nephites were so involved in "their shipping and their building of ships" (Helaman 3:14). They were, after all, on an island for the first 600 years of their occupation of the Land of Promise, and had a single, but long coastline after that; obviously, they would have been a maritime people, building so many cities along the seashore (Alma 50:9,15,25; 51:22,26,etc.)

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