The Nasca Ceramic Project

My interest in Nasca pottery goes back to my undergraduate days at the Milwaukee Public Museum where I catalogued and conducted research on a collection of Peruvian ceramic vessels. In graduate school at Berkeley I gravitated toward research projects utilizing the Nasca collections made by Max Uhle in 1901 and 1906 and Alfred Kroeber in 1926. Not long before my arrival at Berkeley, Lawrence Dawson had developed the technique of "similiary seriation" based on the subtle changes in vessel shape and design features of Nasca pottery. Using gravelots as "units of contemporaneity", Dawson developed a sequence of nine phases for the Nasca style. Several of John Rowe's students, including myself, attempted to refine this sequence and to use the data for a better understanding of Nasca society. I analyzed pottery from Phases 3 and 4 of this sequence for my dissertation and was able to sub-divide Phase 3 into four sub-phases, each lasting approximately 25 years. I also found local differences in the form and decoration of the pottery between phase 3 (which had homogeneous pottery in both the Ica and Nasca Valleys) and Phase 4 (which saw many local differences emerge). I suggested that this reflected political changes based on our assumption at that time that Cahuachi (in the Nasca Valley) was the "capital" of a pristine Nasca state. New evidence has forced a modification of this interpretation, but there was increasing heterogeneity of the pottery in Phase 4, which now needs to be explained by other mechanisms.

Since that time I have continued to pursue my interest in Nasca pottery, especially the iconographic representations painted on the pieces. Previous studies of the iconography by others have suffered from the lack of a sufficient sample size and a misidentification of some of the iconography. To insure a more accurate interpretation of the data, I have been developing a private "Nasca Archive" based on the model of the Moche Archive established by Christopher Donnan at UCLA. I have photographed Nasca collections throughout Peru and the United States as well as key museum collections in Germany and Great Britain. To date the archive contains approximately 10,000 slides representing 6000 Nasca vessels. To this database I have added any and all Nasca vessels I have found in books as well as museum collections available on the Internet. I spent over one year digitizing the entire archive and now have approximately 24,000 images in my archive representing pieces from over 150 museums and private collections. Many of these images need further augmentation, and the work continues. It has always been my desire to share my archive with other scholars until I realized the legal prohibitions of distributing the disks. I would have to obtain permission from over 200 sources to be able to do this. I also discovered that the file names that I generated on my Macintosh computer are not all compatible with PCs, and many of these names would have to be modified to be used on these other operating systems.

I have previously published a number of articles and book chapters interpreting aspects of Nasca iconography in the context of Nasca society (see the link Donald Proulx Publications on my web site), most importantly my new book entitled A Sourcebook of Nasca Ceramic Iconography, which has been published by the University of Iowa Press in 2006. The book begins with a brief overview of the Nasca Culture to introduce the reader to the people who produced the pottery. The rules or canons used by Nasca potters in forming and decorating their pottery are discussed next, followed by a history of the discovery of the first Nasca pottery and the people responsible. Since the culture lasted almost 800 years, archaeologists have divided the art style into more manageable units, and this chronology is briefly discussed. Efforts by scholars in the past to interpret the iconography are presented before I describe my own methodology. The centerpiece of the book is a detailed classification and description of the iconography along with an interpretation of their meaning in the context of the Nasca Culture. Lastly, I use the iconography (along with archaeological evidence) to reconstruct the religion, political organization and everyday life of the people of this ancient civilization.


NASCA ICONOGRAPHY BIBLIOGRAPHY

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