Ancient Peruvian Textiles Are Being Returned


In an effort to make things right between the nations of Sweden and Peru, 90 pieces of ancient textiles made by the Paracas culture are being returned to their country of origin over the next seven years. In 1934, Swedish consul, Sven Karell, smuggled the fragile pieces out of Peru and into Sweden. One of the four artifacts in the first shipment, put on display for the press on Monday, is a 2,000-year-old funeral shroud. The piece is an exceptional example of the tremendous skills of the artisans of that time and region.

Flying Shaman
Flying Shaman

The piece measures 41 inches by 21 inches. There are about 80 different colors used in the intricate design. Separated into 32 frames, the textile is populated with a variety of animals and people. As is typical of Paracas design, even the border is decorated with figures done in a relief form that is three-dimensional. Textiles experts, though they know cactus thorns were used as needles, have yet to decipher the exact techniques used to create such detailed textiles.

What is known is that the Paracas culture dwelled in the Ica Region from 800 to 100 years prior to the common era. The Ica Region is near the Andes Mountains on the Paracas Peninsula. Paracas, used broadly, refers to the cultural complexes of Paracas Necropolis and Paracas Cavernas, which were related. Their textile work can also be divided this way. The people of Paracas contributed advances in the production of textiles, as well as agriculture. Approximately 1,300 years prior to the appearance of the Incan culture, in about 1200 A.D., the Paracas culture seems to have disappeared. The textiles in the collection from Sweden were produced just before the demise of the civilization. Not much more is known about the Paracas culture.

The reason these textiles have survived when so many others have not is because of the ultra-arid conditions of the desert of the Andes Mountains. Made from alpaca wool, these artifacts were well-preserved for thousands of years. According to Krzysztof Makowski, an archaeologist at Peru’s Catholic University and the University of Warsaw in Poland, to find ancient Roman textiles of this quality would be impossible. Unlike precious metals, textiles are extremely fragile. Makowski goes on to say that this tends to be the case around the world, making ancient textiles quite rare.

Jaguar with Full Belly
Jaguar with Full Belly

Peru has decided that as a nation, they would like to have their artifacts, including fragile ancient textiles currently in worldwide collections, returned to them. In fact, 400 ancient Peruvian artifacts from Machu Picchu were recently returned from Yale University.

The Sweden to Peru returns are a part of the agreement made between each country’s foreign ministries. As part of that agreement, Stockholm will be paying for all of the costs incurred by shipping the textiles to Peru. There will be an official meeting between the mayor of Gothenburg, Sweden, where the artifacts have been for the last 80 years, and the president of Peru, Ollanta Humala. President Humala would like to thank the mayor in person for all of her work in getting these precious ancient textiles of Peru returned home.

By Stacy Lamy


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