Paracas Culture: History, Religion, Economy & Characteristics

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Paracas Culture: History of Paracas (Peru)

Paracas: Culture that inhabited the Southern coast of the current territory of Peru.

Date 700 AC – 200 DC
Location South Coast of present-day Peru.
Religion Polytheistic
Economy Agriculture, Fishing and Commerce

Who were the Paracas?

The Paracas were a culture that inhabited the southern coast of the current territory of Peru, between the years 700 BC to 200 DC approximately.

This period corresponds to the end of the Formative Period and the Early Intermediate Period, according to the periodization of the history of the Andean Area. The Paracas culture is considered the first complex society of the southern coastal area of ​​Peru.

From various analyzes of archaeological sites, they have differentiated two phases in the cultural tradition paracas: the first is known as Paracas Caverns and the second as Paracas Necropolis.

Paracas Cavernas corresponds the discovery of a series of bottle-shaped tombs excavated in the rock. In these collective graves the bodies carried offerings that were poorer or richer, according to the place that person had occupied in society.

In this phase there is also a very characteristic type of ceramic with incised decoration and post-firing painting.

Paracas Necropolis is the name given to the cultural phase evidenced by the discovery of a series of burials in underground chambers. This period is characterized by the production of textiles of extraordinary quality and variety.

Location of the Paracas

The Paracas inhabited the Southern area of ​​the Peruvian coast. In this extraordinarily desert region, archaeological remains of culture have been found along the valleys of Cañete, Topará, Chincha, Pisco, Ica and the mouth of the Rio Grande de Nazca. So too, in the coastal areas between those valleys.

ubicacion paracas

Characteristics of the Paracas Culture

The main characteristics of the Paracas culture are the following:

  • It was a hierarchical society, with a powerful ruling and priestly elite that controlled the labor force and commercial exchanges. The warrior class was also important.
  • They carried out hydraulic works, such as irrigation canals, so that they used the water from the rivers for agricultural activity.
  • Much of their resources came from the sea which they fished on the rich coastline, where they collected shellfish and hunted sea lions along with other animal species.
  • From the discovery of the burials of objects that were not produced in the region, it is known that they carried out commercial exchanges with peoples of the jungle, the highlands and the Andean coast.
  • They performed complex funeral rituals. They carried out procedures to mummify the dead. Then, they were deposited in baskets and covered with different offerings that were wrapped in successive textile pieces, some of which reach 20 meters in length. These wrappers are known as funeral bundles.
  • They practiced cranial deformations on the children. Some remains also show evidence of surgical interventions.

Religion of the Paracas Culture

According to the images present in the textiles, scholars consider that Paracas society had totemic-type beliefs. That is, they considered certain animals as the divine ancestors of the group.

They had a tripartite conception of the universe made up of three instances: earth, air and water, and inhabited by fantastic beings that belonged to each of these worlds (snake and feline, condor and killer whale).

Hybrid characters, human-shaped figures and attributes that associate them with animals and suggest rituals performed by shaman priests also appear in the textiles.

Architectures of the Paracas

The characteristic architecture of the Paracas culture was manifested in monumental buildings of which few remains are preserved. These were made with conical shaped adobe bricks, called adobitos, which were made by hand.

In the valley of Chincha, several archaeological sites were found that preserve remains of adobe buildings with sunken patios. These sites are linked by roads and geoglyphs and aligned with the sun. Such construction of a ritual landscape would be evidence of a society controlled by an elite with religious rather than political power.

Art in Paraca Culture

Textiles of the Paracas

The Paracas culture stood out for its elaboration of textiles. They made very fine fabrics of cotton and camelid fibers, such as alpaca, which were later embroidered.

A prominent type of textile is the so-called Paracas mantle. These pieces were found as part of burial bundles and are supposed to have been worn by members of the elite in ritual ceremonies. The fabrics formed a ritual language that informed the rest of the group about the position in society of the person wearing the garment. Some abstract figures allude to the natural environment and cosmic phenomena.

Textile piece of the Paracas culture

Textile piece of the Paracas culture.

Ceramics of the Paracas

The Paracas developed a very characteristic ceramic, with globe-shaped pieces and a bridge-shaped handle. The ceramic technique varied throughout the different phases of the culture: from pieces with incised decorations and painted with yellow, red and black, to the later ones, monochrome and in the shape of different beings, both natural and supernatural.

Photo of paracas ceramics

Ceramics of the Paracas culture shaped like a globe.

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