Cuchimilco

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A terracotta figurine of the type called cuchimilco, representing a woman standing with upraised arms. The head is flat in a triangular form, with small facial features and a short neck. The shoulders are wide on a relatively rectangular torso. Her body is naked, showing clearly the breasts, navel and genital area. The figurine is made of unglazed fired terracotta. The details are painted in a red-brown colour over an ochre base. These pieces were used as human representations and were deposited in tombs in the Chancay culture.

Cuchimilcos are solid clay figures decorated with pigments. They represent human figures with short upraised arms as if to fly or inviting an embrace. They can be found naked, semi-naked or dressed, but in all cases the genitalia are depicted so that it is clear if the figure is male or female. Another feature is that the facial features are painted in, as well as a headdress or a cap. These may have holes so that feathers can be inserted. For the most part, they have been found in tombs of the Chancay culture. In the most ancient of these, figures were usually found in pairs, a man and a woman, but in later tombs only female figures were found. Similar statuettes appear in the Lima and Chincha cultures, not, however, in the same quantities as those of the Chancay culture.

The Chancay culture inhabited the central coast region of Peru, centering its activities in the Chancay and Chillón valleys but also occupying the Rimac Valley and the Lurín area. This is a desert region, but its fertile valleys form resource-rich river oases.

It is believed that the Chancay comprised a significant kingdom that included the domains of a number of local chieftains in the valleys and coastal regions of central Peru. Their basic form of organization was based on the ayllu, a small kinship-based clan controlled by a kuraka or ethnic leader, who would oversee the work of skilled workers, craftspeople, farmers, and herders, as well as playing an official role in festivals. Chancay society was highly stratified, as the difference in grave goods accompanying different individuals shows.

Artistically, the Chancay culture is best known for its ceramics, textiles, and woodwork. The most common ceramic vessels they made are oblong jars with narrow necks and wide mouths, with modeled human faces and geometric designs painted in black on a cream-white background. Other commonly found Chancay vessels are shaped like animals such as birds or llamas. They also made female figurines with short arms and eyes accentuated with a line on each side. The range of techniques, colors and themes used to make their textiles is quite remarkable. The Chancay used llama wool, cotton, and feathers, weaving a variety of goods that includes garments, bags, and funeral masks. The techniques they used include decorated open weave, brocade, embroidery, and painting, with the most common designs being marine motifs and geometric patterns. Woodworking produced everyday implements, statues, and decorative items, some of which they painted, while their metalwork – mainly using silver – produced clothing adornments, decorative ornaments, and masks. Unlike many other Andean groups, the Chancay used a simple style that reflected their everyday lives and certain aspects of religious life.

The Chancay built large cemeteries to house their dead, although they buried them in different ways. The tombs of leaders and people of rank were rectangular or quadrangular chambers with roofs of sticks and mud, 2 to 3 meters (up to 10 feet) deep, and accessed by a ladder. These tombs brimmed with offerings of ceramics, textiles, and artifacts made of precious metals. The graves of ordinary people were much shallower and contained a bundle with undecorated fabric and just a few grave goods.

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