Throughout the Andes Native peoples shared complex symbolism and art forms over wide distances, a remarkable feat in a region defined by the world’s second-highest mountain range. Most striking is the exchange of ideas and styles of artistic expression seen in the rich traditions of ceramic and textile production, metal- and jewelry-working, and architecture practiced by many divergent, yet historically related societies before the 16th-century Spanish invasion. The achievements of these ancient peoples resonate in the objects shown here.
Successive cultures—including Calima and Muisca in Colombia; Valdivia and Manteño in Ecuador; Tiwanaku in Bolivia; and Cupisnique, Paracas, Moche, and Nazca in Peru—created objects that honored their deities and rulers and celebrated their way of life. Pre-contact Andean arts also reflect the grandeur of the Huarí, Chimú, and Inka empires, sophisticated societies that built cosmopolitan cities, united vast territories, and encompassed diverse peoples. Ruling families and social elites displayed sumptuous possessions to signal their wealth and confirm their authority. Iconic images honored the status of these elites by indicating their direct lineage to the sun (Taita Inti) and Mother Earth (Pachamama).
The celestial or cosmic family—represented by the sun, the earth, the moon, and the stars—continues to appear in ceremonies in the Andes and throughout the Americas. Today, as many as 12 million people still speak Aymara and Quechua, the languages of Tiwanaku and the Inka Empire. Millions more live in their ancestral villages, maintain aspects of Andean culture, and take pride in their Native heritage.
Mariano Flores Kananga (Quechua, ca. 1850–1949), carved gourd+
Inka terraced vessel+
Valdivia female figurines+
Chimú jar representing a squash+
Lambayeque effigy vessel+
Lambayeque gold discs+
Recuay effigy vessel depicting an Andean leader and a llama+
Ica effigy vessel+
Moche stirrup-spout bottle+
Moche stirrup-spout effigy bottle+
Cupisnique stirrip-spout jar+
Muisca (Chibcha) clay head+
Muisca tunjo (offering)+
Tairona carved bowl+
Heye’s passion for collecting objects representing ancient Andean civilizations dates to 1906, before most professional archaeologists identified Latin America as a focus for research. Heye’s interest in South American antiquities was influenced by Marshall H. Saville, a Columbia University archaeologist who developed a comprehensive, long-term research plan for building Heye’s collection. In 1907, Heye sent Saville on the first of several expeditions to ancestral Indian sites in Ecuador. The digs provided Heye with an important collection of Andean artifacts, including carved stone thrones once used by spiritual leaders.
By the time of his death in 1957, Heye had acquired hundreds of treasures from pre-Columbian cultures throughout Latin America. Particularly notable are examples of Valdivia pottery, the Western Hemisphere’s oldest-known ceramics. Click here to read more...