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Significance Of A South American Artifact That Has Become A Tradition

The history of the Wari empire tells the history how it formed many traditions prior to the Inca and what carries into culture.

Potters throughout an ancient South American empire used the same distinct black pigment to make ceramics for rituals.

Scientists say it is a sign of the Wari empire’s influence in what is now Peru more than 500 years before the emergence of the Incas in the early 13th Century.

A ceramic artifact from South America. Pigment black was used to make these ceramics for ritual purposes. FIELD MUSEUM/SWNS TALKER

They explained that the Wari empire spread over Peru’s highlands and coastal areas from 600 AD to around 1050.

Study corresponding author Dr. Luis Muro Ynoñán said: “People sometimes think of the Inca as the first big empire in South America, but the Wari came first.

“Since they didn’t use writing, material culture – things like pottery – would have been an important means for conveying social and political messages.

“The visual impact of these objects would have been super powerful.”

He explained that even tiny details -such as using the correct shade of a color – could help signify an object’s importance and legitimacy as a part of the empire.

Dr. Muro Ynoñán a research associate and former postdoctoral scientist at the Field Museum, Chicago, said: “I remember seeing some of these Wari-influenced pots as an undergraduate archaeology student in Peru: they’re fascinating.

The big picture of the ceramic. Many of the Wari pots examined used black pigment made from minerals containing the element manganese. FIELD MUSEUM/SWNS TALKER

“The rich black color on them is very distinctive, I’ve been obsessed with it for years.”

He finally got to pursue his interest in the pigment in-depth during his postdoctoral position at the Field Museum.

Dr. Muro Ynoñán and his colleagues examined Peruvian pottery from different regions under Wari influence, focusing on the chemical makeup of the black pigment used.

They found that the exact formulation of pigments varied from site to site, but, overall, there was one striking similarity: many of the Wari pots examined used black pigment made from minerals containing the element manganese.

Dr. Muro Ynoñán said: “Some of the sites, specifically in northern Peru, used a different recipe for black, using iron- and calcium-rich minerals before the Wari arrived, but after the Wari took over, they switched to the manganese-based recipes.”

The shift made the researchers suspect that the Wari empire asserted some sort of “quality control” over the pottery produced in different regions, perhaps even supplying artisans with the “correct” black pigment.

Dr. Muro Ynoñán said: “In general, black minerals are relatively easy to obtain from the valleys we looked at.”

But he said just any old black mineral didn’t fit the official Wari look and, instead, he thinks that artisans may have been supplied with the manganese-bearing minerals from the Wari capital to produce the right shade of black.

He says that the changes in hue are “subtle” – but that the symbolic meaning of using “Wari black” may have been very important.

Dr. Muro Ynoñán said: “In general in the Andean region, the color black is related to the ancestors, to the night, to the passage of time.

“In Wari times, the color was likely important for imposing a specific Wari ideology to the communities they conquered.”

He says that while the colors on Wari pottery might indicate imperial control, the ceramics from different regions do maintain their own local character.

Dr. Muro Ynoñán added: “Local potters had a lot of flexibility in producing hybrid material culture, combining the Wari imperial style and decoration with their own.

“The ceramics were unified by the use of black pigments that were controlled and put in circulation by the Wari empire through its imperial trade channels, but from there, artists could put their own spin on their work.”

Study co-author Professor Donna Nash said: “One thing I hope people will take away from this study is that every beautiful artifact you see in a museum was made by real people who were very intelligent and possessed specific technologies to achieve their goals.

“Further, these people shared technologies and made choices.

“Artisans talked to each other and learned from each other, but sometimes multiple ways of doing things, such as creating black lines and decoration on a decorated pot, co-existed.”

Prof. Nash, an adjunct curator at the Field and head of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, added: “These different approaches to the same problem may have persisted because of wealth or class differences, but it may have been that some people were willing to try new things, while others preferred their traditions.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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