Art in South America, particularly in the Andean region, has existed since the Stone Age. The very first pieces of Peruvian artwork which have managed to stay preserved all this time are stone carvings and pottery. There is evidence of artistic ceramic work in the area from 1850 BC, almost 4,000 years ago. Even further back, there are preserved rock paintings in the Andes Mountains from nearly 12,000 years ago. If you are interested in cave paintings, click here to read our blog post about their meanings and history.
From roughly 2000 to 1000 BC, peoples in the Andean region, particularly the Chavin, were making colorful patterned textiles. Some of these patterns are actually optical illusions. These people, like many others across the world, were also making play figurines of women at this time. Some of the surviving buildings from this era are also decorated with carvings, with some artwork being more abstract and some capturing the likeness of the human form. Around 500 BC, the Chavin shifted from focusing on humans and began to create artwork based on animals instead. Snakes and jaguars were popular subjects. When the Chavin culture began to dwindle, in the few centuries preceding and following the year 0, another culture took their place. The Paracas created highly detailed work on carvings and textiles. At this time, the Nazca people also emerged. While they are most well known for creating the Nazca Lines, large drawings etched across miles of open ground which likely served ceremonial purposes, they were also skilled metalworkers and created intricate artworks which also had practical purposes.
Somewhere between 600 and 1000 AD, the Tiwanaku people near Lake Titicaca created great monoliths. One surviving example of their artwork is the Ponce Monolith, cultures continued to rise and fall in the Andean region, with trends in tapestry and textile work coming and going and the creation of portable, practical art on the rise, such as decorated drinking vessels. In the 15th century, the Inca Empire was on the rise and they assimilated the technical skills and artistic tastes of the smaller cultures they dominated. For 100 years, the Inca Empire flourished until their conquest by the Spanish. The arrival of the Spanish merged traditional Andean symbols with Christianity.
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