S. America before European colonization

Learn about this ancient style from Northern Peru

The Paracas (c. 800 B.C.E. - 100 C.E.) culture immediately preceded and gave rise to the Nasca (c. 100 C.E. – 800 C.E.) on the southern coast of modern-day Peru. The dry conditions preserved a remarkable number of naturally-mummified burials, along with the textiles, ceramics, featherwork, jewelry, and other goods that honored the dead.

The Chavín culture, named after the highland site of Chavín de Huántar, thrived from 900 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E. The culture and site centered on a religious cult that had far-flung influence, with pilgrims coming from hundreds of kilometers away. Those same pilgrims often took Chavín-style artworks with them, extending the culture’s artistic influence throughout the Andean region.

From their capital, Cuzco, in the central Peruvian Andes, the Inca created a huge empire reaching over 2,400 miles along the length of the Andes. The supreme head of state was the king, considered a living god ruling by divine right and the royal family controlled important areas of government such as the army.

For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of El Dorado, a lost city of gold in South America. El Dorado–literally “the golden one”–actually refers to the ritual that took place at Lake Guatavita, near modern Bogotá. The newly elected leader, covered in powdered gold, dived into the lake and emerged as the new chief of the Muisca people who lived in the central highlands of present-day Colombia's Eastern Range.

The vast reaches of the Amazonian rainforest have been shaped by human hands for thousands of years. Long before Europeans arrived in the Americas this deep history of human interaction with river and forest gave rise to enduring cultural traditions and sophisticated art styles.