The South American Cultures

While the Mayan culture developed in Central America, other great cultures arose along the seacoast of Peru at Nazca and Trujillo. According to the ancient legends, their development came with the advent of people in ships. Similarly, the Mayan legends concerning Quetzalcoatl tell of his coming in a ship. From the beginning, the early Chimu culture, centered around Trujillo, had an advanced complex social structure, with war chiefs and priests ruling over the lower classes of warriors, artisans, and slaves.

The early Chimu had fine red pottery covered with a white slip decorated in black, red, yellow, and orange figures, showing helmeted warriors, fish, birds, and flowers. Vases in the form of human faces as well modeled as the Copan head have been found in early Chimu levels. Contemporaneous with the Chimu, the early Nazca -- farther south in Peru -- developed polychrome ware suggestive of lacquered inlay, with patterns similar to those on some of the Han-dynasty bronzes.

Following the Chimu and Nazca, other cultures grew up at Tiahuanaco and Chavin. The Tiahuanaco culture or its predecessors perfected architecture and casting in bronze. Like the Mayans, the early Peruvians built great ziggurats, constructing both round and square buildings with corbeled stone domical roofs. They planned their abundantly irrigated cities with much skill. Archaeologists differentiate between Epigonal, Chavin, late Chimu, and Inca cultures, which followed each other with a gradual degeneration of the arts until about 1000 A.D. At that time the Quechuas, a highland tribe under their ruler, the Inca Manco Capac, began to conquer and coordinate all the tribes from Colombia to the Argentine, a process which continued over the next 500 years. Making their capital at Cuzco in Peru, the Incas united their empire with well-constructed roads carried over chasms on suspension bridges. They built many great cities, temples, and fortresses, notably Ollantaytambo, Macchu Picchu, Cuzco, and Sacsahuaman.

Through all the South American cultures, as well as those in Central America, the influence of technomorphic designs created first in weaving plays a great part in the architectural decoration. A comparison of a section of decorated wall in an Inca room at La Centinela, part of the wall from the late Mayan temple at Mitla, and a design by a 20th-century architect on the Furniture Exchange in New York City, indicates the appropriateness of this primitive, indigenous design when applied in our own day. It is important to notice that in all the American cultures the high quality and humanistic character of the earlier work gave way, as the cultures aged, to more massive architectural construction and more profuse decoration of a primitive, geometric character.

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