Who Were the Pre-Columbian Chimú ?

Posted by Sadigh Gallery on 1/28/2015 to Ancient Artifacts and Culture

Their pottery is both distinctive for its monochromatic color and explicit themes. Like most pre-Columbian civilizations, they offered their children – as young as five years old if the skeletal remains discovered in their tombs indicate – as human sacrifices, presumably to appease their divinities, primarily Si, the moon. Animals and birds were also sacrificed to Si, as they believed the moon controlled the weather and growth of crops.

Successors to the Moche

They were the Chimú , successors to the Moche who occupied a narrow strip of the coast wedged between the Pacific and the Andes mountains of northern Peru known today as Trujillo, otherwise famous among world-class surfers as having friendly and advanced waves and unspoilt beaches. The Humboldt Current sucks dry the air in northern Peru, and leaves this coastal strip on the western slopes of the Andes arid most times of the year. As such, the Chimú learned to build hydraulic systems that are impressive even in modern standards, and farmed the otherwise barren land to support tens of thousands of inhabitants in their capital city alone.

The Chimú succeeded the Moche around 900 AD and reached their apogee in the 15th century when they were finally subdued by the Inca who tried to wipe out traces of their existence. There remains, however, considerable artifacts that point to their domination of the north Peruvian coast: The adobe capital city of Chan Chan in the Moche Valley is a UNESCO-listed site, and their terracotta pottery have earned curious, if not shocked, looks because of their three-dimensional and, even by today’s standards, unrestrained interpretation of sexuality.

Chimú's 'Erotic' Pottery

One such example that might not be appropriate for all audiences is a dark terracotta vessel showing what appears to modern viewers as a homosexual act. This vessel, currently housed in the Museum of the Americas in Madrid, Spain, is just one of the many everyday 'erotic containers' that depicted sexual behavior, possibly a spillover from the Moche culture who regarded such depictions as ceremonial rather than pornographic.

Erotic Chimu Pottery | Sadigh GalleryPictured left: An Erotic Chimu Terracotta Pottery from our Collection

Chimú pottery also came in the shape of fruits, animals, mystical entities, human figures sitting or standing on a cuboid bottle, or portrait heads of individuals or warriors. Their early work resembled that of the Moche who introduced mass production of the pottery that came in more varied and colorful forms. It was the Chimú , however, who mastered the 'blackware' by reducing the oxygen during firing.

As a result, Chimú ceramics, especially those used for offerings at burials or other rituals, were shiny black, although pottery for domestic use was usually not given higher finishing. Though not widely varied in color like the Moche, Chimú’s 'blackware' are some of the most collectibles items in the pre-Columbian period, as they are quite distinct from the pottery of civilizations that came before or after them.

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