Pre-Columbian, southern Peru, Inca hinterlands (Chucu), ca. 1000 to 1500 CE. An enormous plaque of light-grey shale, oblong in form, with an intricate decorative program painted in hues of marigold, faded sage, vermilion, and cream. The scene depicts a gathering of abstract humans and animals, perhaps livestock like llamas or goats. Each animal exhibits a slender body with four rod-form legs and a conical head with perky ears, and the humans have circular heads connected to a lengthy shoulder from which an interior pair of legs and exterior pair of arms protrude. A wavy red stripe enclosed with two orange bands bisects the decoration and perhaps represents a river or flowing channel of water along which the farmers and livestock lived. Typical petroglyphic plaques are created from large fragments of pottery, so one made of stone like this example is of exceptional rarity! Size: 12.5" W x 23.9" H (31.8 cm x 60.7 cm).
Plaques like this example, made from either pottery or stone, have been discovered in a number of different contexts: beneath wall foundations, in graves, with animal sacrifices, and cached in prominent places in the landscape, like in springs, rock hollows, and atop hills. They are often discovered in pairs, with the painted surfaces placed so that they are facing each other, sometimes wrapped in leaves or even gold sheet. Although the tablet tradition began centuries before, the time period that this one comes from represents the height of the artform, and corresponds to an intensification of agriculture, the rise of interregional trade networks, and the ascendancy of certain important confederations of clans. Into this potent mix, the Inca expanded into the region and the tablet tradition abruptly ended. It seems likely that the Inca, who colonized regions in part by sponsoring local ritual activities, outlawed the creation of religious tablets like this because they saw them as a threat to their trade in sacrificial alpacas, corn beer, and cloth.
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; ex-private Hillberg collection, California, USA
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This is a fragment of a larger piece of stone. Small chips to peripheries and verso, with small areas of overpainting and light fading to original pigmentation, and light encrustations, otherwise intact and excellent. Nice earthen deposits and great traces of original pigmentation. Old inventory label on verso. Mounted with modern metal rack for display.