let the objects speak

Nasca - Fringe Fragment - In the Object's Own Words

Fringe Fragment - Nasca


I have the privilege of being the oldest textile in this exhibit. I was made anywhere from 1900 to 1700 years ago. From this photo, you can see that all that is left of me is this fragmented stitched band with suspended severed heads. If I remember correctly, I was part of the edging on a man's tunic, from the armhole or neck area, but it has been a few years! I was needle-worked in cross-knit looping, using yarn made from alpaca wool that had been dyed in hues of brown, yellow, red, green, and natural whites.


Alpaca produce very soft wool, and was one of the most valued of textile materials used by the Nasca, so I must have been part of a very special garment in my day. In my intact form there were surely even more heads stitched on. My people believed textiles possessed magical powers, and the symbolic nature of a severed head is prominent in Nasca textiles and ceramics. Shamans or warriors often wore textiles with images of severed heads, or wore real human heads around the neck or waist.


Ritual sacrifice, which is a common theme in all human history, was a common practice for the Nasca. Many Andean cultures acquired heads for ritual use, including the Moche, Paracas, Wari, Chimú, and the Inka, as well as the Nasca. The theme of decapitation (of human heads) was often depicted on textiles by my people, as a form of artistic expression and as a method of communication. From textiles like me, questions about ancient beliefs in cycles of life and death are better understood, especially when compared with other artifacts from similar time periods and regions.


My people tended to bury their dead in shallow graves dug into the sand along with elaborate grave goods such as ceramics, weapons, and textiles. Dry sand dune burials preserved textiles exceptionally well; however, you can see the delicate condition I am in. At this stage, due to my fragile nature and rarity in the archaeological record, conservators and curators are unlikely to handle me directly and I will stay on the acid- free storage mount I currently rest upon. The conservation of textiles is a complicated process, as artifacts like me require temperature controlled, dark, and large storage facilities.