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A Sourcebook of Nasca Ceramic Icongraphy

Reading a Culture through Its Art

Donald A. Proulx

Publication Year: 2006

For almost eight hundred years (100 BC–AD 650) Nasca artists modeled and painted the plants, animals, birds, and fish of their homeland on Peru’s south coast as well as numerous abstract anthropomorphic creatures whose form and meaning are sometimes incomprehensible today. In this first book-length treatment of Nasca ceramic iconography to appear in English, drawing upon an archive of more than eight thousand Nasca vessels from over 150 public and private collections, Donald Proulx systematically describes the major artistic motifs of this stunning polychrome pottery, interprets the major themes displayed on this pottery, and then uses these descriptions and his stimulating interpretations to analyze Nasca society.

After beginning with an overview of Nasca culture and an explanation of the style and chronology of Nasca pottery, Proulx moves to the heart of his book: a detailed classification and description of the entire range of supernatural and secular themes in Nasca iconography along with a fresh and distinctive interpretation of these themes. Linking the pots and their iconography to the archaeologically known Nasca society, he ends with a thorough and accessible examination of this ancient culture viewed through the lens of ceramic iconography. Although these static images can never be fully understood, by animating their themes and meanings Proulx reconstructs the lifeways of this complex society.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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pp. ix-x

Among the premier art styles of Precolumbian America is the beautiful polychrome pottery of the Nasca culture of south coastal Peru. Nasca ceramics, which include both modeled and painted varieties, display naturalistic renderings of the plants, animals, birds, and fish that were indigenous to their homeland on the coastal desert, as well as a...


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Overview of the Nasca Culture

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pp. 1-12

The Nasca culture emerged during the Early Intermediate Period (100 b.c. to a.d. 650) and was centered in the Ica and Nasca Valleys of south coastal Peru (fig. 1.1). Over time its influence was felt in a territory ranging from the Ca

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2. Nasca Pottery and Its Artistic Canons

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pp. 13-18

Of all the materials available for artistic and symbolic expression, the Nasca people chose pottery to communicate their ideas to other members of their society. The shift from textiles to ceramics took place over many generations; pottery became the dominant medium for expression beginning in the early Nasca phases, while textiles remained...

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3. The Discovery of the Nasca Style and Its Chronological Placement

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pp. 19-48

Since the Spanish Colonial Period, antiquities from the New World have been sent back as curiosities to Europe. Hern

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4. Approaches to the Interpretation of Nasca Iconography

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pp. 49-60

Among the first attempts to interpret Nasca iconography was a short article by the British archaeologist Thomas Joyce published in the journal Man (Joyce 1913b). Using a collection of thirty-four Nasca vessels acquired by the British Museum, Joyce argued that the mythical creatures represented on them could be deciphered as humans dressed...

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5. A Description and Interpretation of the Major Themes in Nasca Ceramic Iconography

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pp. 61-191

Over the years I have devised a taxonomic classification of Nasca iconographic themes based on an identification of recurring motifs in the ceramic art. This has not always proven easy. Many Nasca motifs are the product of the combination of an infinite number of symbolic elements, which makes it difficult to identify any motif as...

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6. New Insights on Nasca Society

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pp. 193-210

Archaeologists seek to reconstruct the history and lifeways of ancient peoples, using field data as well as comparative approaches that may lead to a better understanding of the causal mechanisms that lie behind the development of human societies. As we have seen in the previous chapters, the iconography present on Nasca pottery can serve...


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pp. 211-228


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pp. 229-236

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297533
E-ISBN-10: 1587297531
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459798
Print-ISBN-10: 0877459797

Page Count: 250
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: 1st Edition