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Wearing Culture

Dress and Regalia in Early Mesoamerica and Central America

Edited by Heather Orr and Matthew Looper

Publication Year: 2014

Wearing Culture connects scholars of divergent geographical areas and academic fields—from archaeologists and anthropologists to art historians—to show the significance of articles of regalia and of dressing and ornamenting people and objects among the Formative period cultures of ancient Mesoamerica and Central America.

Documenting the elaborate practices of costume, adornment, and body modification in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Oaxaca, the Soconusco region of southern Mesoamerica, the Gulf Coast Olmec region (Olman), and the Maya lowlands, this book demonstrates that adornment was used as a tool for communicating status, social relationships, power, gender, sexuality, behavior, and political, ritual, and religious identities. Despite considerable formal and technological variation in clothing and ornamentation, the early indigenous cultures of these regions shared numerous practices, attitudes, and aesthetic interests. Contributors address technological development, manufacturing materials and methods, nonfabric ornamentation, symbolic dimensions, representational strategies, and clothing as evidence of interregional sociopolitical exchange.

Focusing on an important period of cultural and artistic development through the lens of costuming and adornment, Wearing Culture will be of interest to scholars of pre-Hispanic and pre-Columbian studies.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-xviii


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pp. xix-xx

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pp. xxi-xlvi

Costume, dress, outfit, jewelry, adornment, regalia, investiture—these words possibly conjure many and varied associations in the mind of the reader. But what was the significance of dressing and ornamenting people and objects, and of articles of regalia, for the peoples of precontact Meso- and Central America? ...


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pp. xlvii-l

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1. The Sitio Conte Cemetery in Ancient Panama

Karen O’Day

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pp. 1-28

According to current archaeological thinking, Sitio Conte was a regional meeting place for residents of Gran Coclé that accommodated various activities (Cooke et al. 2000:154; Isaza Aizpurúa 2007:80–85; Haller 2008:185, 191).1 During the period CE 750–950 (Cooke et al. 2003),2 the cemetery at Sitio Conte...

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2. Barely There but Still Transcendent

Laura Wingfield

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pp. 29-60

Early Nicoyans appear to have been barely adorned, sporting merely thongs, headdresses, maces, jewelry, and body art, but these were symbolically filled with messages of transcendence from this world to the next. Today early Nicoyan dress, regalia, and adornment...

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3. Ties That Bind

Rosemary A. Joyce

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pp. 61-78

Figurines from Honduras in the Playa de los Muertos style, mostly solid, all hand-modeled, depict a wealth of costume detail. In previous discussions, I have emphasized the ornamentation that makes the head and face of these figurines the focus of most of the available...

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4. The Naked and the Ornamented

Jeffrey P. Blomster

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pp. 79-114

The body and its adornment are critical in the performance and construction of gender, status, identity, and group affiliation. Bodies are produced through cultural practices, through patterns of action and interaction among social agents. The body tracks and...

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5. Aspects of Dress and Ornamentation in Coastal Oaxaca’s Formative Period

Guy David Hepp and Ivy A. Rieger

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pp. 115-144

Perishable remnants of ancient dress and ornamentation are frequently lost in Mesoamerican archaeological assemblages. Taking this reality as a point of departure, numerous authors (Joyce 1998, 2000, 2002; Kellogg 2005; Marcus 1998) have interpreted iconographic...

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6. Dressed Ears as Comeliness and Godliness

John E. Clark and Arlene Colman

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pp. 145-206

The most abundant information for the history of clothing and costuming in Mesoamerica comes from human figurines and sculptures. As apparent in other chapters in this volume, rare is the early figurine showing even a stitch of clothing, and nearly as infrequent...

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7. Unsexed Images, Gender-Neutral Costume, and Gender-Ambiguous Costume in Formative Period Gulf Coast Cultures

Billie J. A. Follensbee

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pp. 207-252

Over the past fifteen years, a good deal of my research has focused on isolating sexed, gendered, and age-related physical characteristics, clothing, and accoutrements in Formative period (1500 BCE– 250 CE) Gulf Coast imagery and material culture...

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8. More Than Skin Deep

Katherine A. Faust

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pp. 253-294

Although separated by time and space, the Formative Olmec and Postclassic Huastec cultures developed two of the major iconographic traditions in the Gulf Coast region of Mesoamerica. Notably, and of particular interest to this study, both of these cultures...

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9. Making the Body Up and Over

Sophie Marchegay

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pp. 295-322

By the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Huastec people living in the northeastern Gulf Coast region of Mesoamerica were renowned for their rich and complex manner of modifying, clothing, and ornamenting their bodies (Sahagún 1959–61:10:185)...

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10. Framed

Caitlin Earley and Julia Guernsey

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pp. 323-350

Scholars of the Mesoamerican Late Preclassic period (300 BCE–250 CE) are familiar with framing bands, consistent sets of symbols that often seem ubiquitous on sculpture, architecture, and ceramics. From the stucco façades recently unearthed at El Mirador...

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11. Wrapped in the Clothing of the Sacred

Whitney Lytle and F. Kent Reilly III

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pp. 351-372

Following the theme of this volume on the transcendent power of costume and adornment, we contribute an examination of regalia as a tool for communication within the Olmec political sphere. Olmec rulers used works of art as forms of politico-religious display (Reilly 1995; Furst 1995)...

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12. The Symbolic Vocabulary of Cloth and Garments in the San Bartolo Murals

Karon Winzenz

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pp. 373-410

The recently excavated murals of the Pinturas structure at the site of San Bartolo, Guatemala (ca. 100 BCE), have added substantial information about the early development of Maya cosmology and political ideology as well as the iconography through which...

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13. Early Maya Dress and Adornment

Matthew G. Looper

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pp. 411-446

Dress and body adornment are widely recognized as a richly meaningful aspect of contemporary Maya culture (Schevill 1997). However, the Precolumbian roots of this tradition are difficult to document. Given the poor conditions of preservation of perishables such as...

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14. Conclusion

John W. Hoopes

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pp. 447-478

“What did they look like?” is a question that captures the interest of scholars and the general public alike. “Why?” soon follows but is more difficult to answer. The authors in this volume address the oldest known archaeological evidence for how people...


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pp. 479-494

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322825
E-ISBN-10: 160732282X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322818
Print-ISBN-10: 1607322811

Page Count: 544
Illustrations: 209
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 873807193
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Wearing Culture

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Subject Headings

  • Clothing and dress -- Symbolic aspects -- Mexico.
  • Indians of Central America -- Jewelry.
  • Indians of Central America -- Clothing.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Clothing.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Jewelry.
  • Clothing and dress -- Symbolic aspects -- Central America.
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