Ancient Forms for the Modern Eye April 2018 - Page 4

Costa Rican and Peruvian Mace Heads
In the Andes, the earliest civilization was Chavín in the north central
concerns were less prominent then in the past and their monumental
highlands of Peru. Chavín de Huantar, its capital city, developed
architecture was far smaller in scale. Burials from the period
around 1200 BC, reached its apogee about 750 BC and had declined
document a sharp increase in the interment of headless bodies and
by 500 BC. It was the largest center of its time in Peru and adapted
solitary heads with sharp wounds. These statistics, combined with
many themes—architecture and religious motifs—from much earlier
fortresses, defensive walls and burials with stone weapons reveal that
civilizations in the neighboring Amazonian basin. One of the most
the period was a time of conflict and warfare.
important archaeological advances in the last several decades has
Finely crafted mace heads are among the most characteristic Salinar
been the discovery of large ceremonial centers in the Amazonian
art objects. Given the absence of metal tools, these finely crafted stone
rain forest of Brazil, with centers dated to c. 3500 BC, much earlier
works were produced by painstaking pecking, abrading and polishing.
than the architecture of Chavín de Huatar and with similar feline
They were usually fashioned from diorite, an extremely hard igneous
imagery and artifacts. The mystery of why Chavín architecture, art
rock which was challenging to carve. They typically have a central
and religion was so heavily based on earlier Amazonian motifs has
circular socket drilled to facilitate hafting onto a wooden shaft.
not been solved. Chavín had an enormous influence over subsequent
Although the vertical ribs and spikes appear to be decorative, there
societies that developed in Peru, including its imagery of supernatural
is no doubt that such mace heads were lethal weapons. Because the
felines, painted and woven textiles, the use of of Spondylus shells as
care and skill devoted to carving these mace heads far exceed what
high-status jewelry and the introduction of finely-crafted hammered
would be necessary to produce an effective war club, it seems likely
gold ornaments. Mace heads hafted onto wooden spears are
that these objects also served as emblematic staffs and symbols of
depicted on wall reliefs at Chavín de Huantar, but they have not
office for chieftains and high-ranking warriors.
been recovered there archaeologically. It is thought that Chavín de
Mace heads are known from other areas of the Pre-Columbian
Huantar was a capital focused on foreign trade, religious pilgrimages
world—the Maya area and Costa Rica come to mind in particular—
to its center and rituals based on the consumption of boiled roots of
but they tend to be rounded stones or carved animal sculptures with
the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus.
a central shaft opening. They do not compete, from a collector’s point
With the decline of Chavín around 500 BC, regional societies
of view, with the intricately carved mace heads of Peru. Peruvian
developed in Peru, such as Salinar, Virú and Vicús in the north coast
mace heads are abstract and sculptural, but for scholars their motifs
and Paracas and Nazca in the south coast. While Paracas softly
evoke the vertical ribs and spikes of the hallucinogenic San Pedro
shifted into Nazca with changes in ceramics and textile motifs, the
cactus depicted on carved reliefs in the central plaza of Chavín
north coast was a different story. Salinar (200 BC–AD 100) society
de Huantar. The formal abstraction of Peruvian mace heads is
produced many mace heads, perhaps influenced by the Chavín
appealing to the modern eye and reminds one of the abstract stone
and neighboring cultures in Lower Central America (c. 300 BC).
tools and ceremonial objects made by ancient civilizations in China,
The material remains of Salinar culture indicate that religious
the Middle East and elsewhere in the Ancient Americas.


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