Ancient Peruvian Ceramics
first pottery pieces found in Peru were made somewhere between 1500 and 1000 b.p.

The pieces were found in the central Andean region where a religious cult lived.

This cult was called Chavín, after the best known ceremonial center, Chavín de

Huántar. The religious center was the home to massive temples that were highly
embellished with low relief sculptures of gods, animals, and symbols. The
pottery found in the area where vessels that were well made and highly decorated
with a similar motif as the temples. But the evolution of Peruvian pottery
becomes somewhat confusing and complex after this first civilization of potters.

There is a division of people into the North Coast and the South Coast. The
split created two styles of pottery, although similar, they never quite merge. I
am only going to talk about the north coast traditions. On the North coast there
are five cultures that evolve into the dominant Mochica style, which was one of
the most vigorous and prosperous cultures of Ancient Peru. The next earliest

North Coast style, other than the Chavín, started with the Cupisnique people in
the Chicama valley. Their ceramics "closely resembled those of highland


They were well made and polished, though somewhat thick walled and heavy. The
type of firing used produced a dark semireduced ware that varied from brownish
gray to carbon black in color. Decoration consisted of bold, curvilinear human,
feline, and birds of pray heads, eye patterns, pelt markings, and other brief
symbols of geometric devices." In the valley to the south of the Cupisnique
were the Salinar people who sometime during the fifth century b.p. moved into
the north coast of Peru and spread its influence throughout the Cupisnique area.

Salinar pottery, "though deceptively primitive in ornamentation, was
technologically superior to that of the Cupisnique. Vessels were made of
well-prepared clays that were fully oxidized in firing, making them an even
orange color. Cream and red slips were used to accentuate sculptural forms and
create flat geometric patterns, but not to draw figurative motifs. The technical
advances of the controlled oxidation firing and slip decoration soon had their
effect on contemporary Cupisnique ceramics." Personally, I enjoyed the bottle
forms they used with their double strap handles that lead from the shoulder of
the forms to the one central spout. (see figures 1 and 2). This style of vessel
seems to continue throughout the centuries. Three other cultures in north coast
valleys contributed their pottery style to the over all Cusisnique style that
was evolving into the Mochica style. These people were the Gallinazo, Recuay,
and Vicús. The Gallinazo constructed double chamber vessels with whistle spouts
and a type of decoration called negative decoration where they painted their
simple designs on after the pieces were fired. The Recuay also had double
chamber vessels but these had one functioning spout and one sculpted, usually an
animal or figure. They also used negative decoration but theirs were much more
elaborate designs than the Gallinazo vessels. The Vicús lived in the highlands
on the Ecuadorian border. They made very sculptural vessels with a stirrup
handle and central spout. (see figures 3, 4, and 5) Although a hand full of Vicús
artifacts have been found, not much is known about these people, but one can see
a visible connection between all of these different cultures and the Mochica
style that evolved out of them. The Mochica civilization flourished for nearly

1000 years and as time passed slight changes in the style could be seen and are
chronologically separated into Mochica I-V. The first two are formative phases
with lots of experimentation. The third concentrated on a distinctive art style,
which continued through the forth and gradually declined in the fifth. They
expressed many aspects of their culture and daily life in their ceramics. Things
like warriors, runners (people who run bags of beans were important to the
ceremonial life), portraits, religion, gods, and animals were shown on vessels.

Mochica I was a strong continuation of the late Cupisnique sculptural style. The
forms are compact with little suggestion of action, and details are often
rendered in incised lines. Faces are generalized, but individual personages are
differentiated by costume and accessories, and by distinctive physical traits.

The style was not very elaborate. Some slip painting was done and the simple
designs were sometimes accented by incised lines. The designs are similar to
those of the Salinar, but they sometimes used the geometric designs of the

Recuay. In Mochica II they mastered the art of slip decoration and oxidation
firing. The ornamentation continued to stay predominantly geometric with some