JAIC 1992, Volume 31, Number 2, Article 7 (pp. 237 to 255)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1992, Volume 31, Number 2, Article 7 (pp. 237 to 255)




In this paper modern dyeings with known Peruvian dye sources and dyeings from pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles were analyzed for the presence and relative abundance of dye components. From this study it follows that many more sources than hitherto described may be identified with the aid of present-day dyeings or classified according to the presence of specific compounds. A series of 157 analyses must not be considered large enough to draw conclusions that are statistically tolerable, since the historical, geographical, and cultural delimitations involved are very large. It is therefore preferable to describe the types of dye found in each cultural period (table 6) and to combine these data with previously published results.

[RELB] was detected in samples belonging to the Paracas necropolis, Nazca, Huari, and the Tiahuanaco coastal cultures. However, only in the Paracas necropolis and in Nazca was pure [RELB] found, eventually combined with [INDI]. From the Chancay period on, only [COCH] occurred in reds. In Huari and Tiahuanaco textiles, combinations of vegetal and animal reds were found: e.g., [COCH] and [COCH-RELB] in (58-1-1) and (AAM58-2) and [COCH] and [LUTE-RELB] in (AAM5909).

Earlier analytical results from South Peruvian textiles of 100–200 A.D. showed a combination of purpurin and xanthopurpurin (Schweppe 1986) that conforms to our [RELB] from the same period. Cochineal was found in Nazca textiles in an earlier investigation (Fester and Lexow 1943a); however, the presence of insect reds in the Paracas necropolis, as claimed by the same authors (Fester and Lexow 1934), was later contradicted (Fester and Lexow 1943a). The detection of cochineal in Nazca textiles was also mentioned by Saltzman (1978), making reference to Saltzman et al. (1963) where no precise historical data were given. The detection of cochineal in only 3 out of 141 Paracas textiles (Saltzman 1986) may be confirmed by the absence of this dye in our more limited number of samples. It is unlikely that such a low frequency of cochineal detection in the Paracas necropolis, or even in Nazca, would reflect a solid dyeing practice. Indeed, the limited use of a dyestuff so much easier to obtain and with so much higher a yield, as compared to the vegetal one, is without economical or logical sense. The ease and the high recovery with which the animal dye could be obtained certainly may have been responsible for the disappearance of the vegetal dye from Relbunium in the southern coastal regions from the Chancay period on. Another interesting feature of the red dye analyses is the characterization of the [XAPU] subgroup, apparently only encountered in the Paracas necropolis. Moreover, it was never found to occur together with [RELB] on yarns of the same fabric. Probably, [XAPU] represents a dye from a specific plant, used in a historically restricted way. This kind of dye has not been previously described in the context of early Peruvian dyeing practices.

Most yellow dye groups do not seem to be specific for any given period: e.g., [LUT1] occurs in the Paracas necropolis, from the Nazca and Chancay periods. [QUER] clearly represents a more recent dye, used from the Chancay to the Inca period. The limited number of reference materials analyzed for this study and the absence of any other data on yellow dyes in the literature make it difficult to assign specific plants to the dye groups found. However, one sample from [QUER] is very possibly from Alnus jorullensis, and [LUTE-FISE] or [LUTE-APIG] might indicate the presence of Bidens andicola, mixed with another yellow dye source (e.g., Baccaris genistelloides).

An unusual yellow dye group was named [LUTX] (see section 4.2.4). It was found in textiles from the Paracas necropolis only and, moreover, only in those that also contain [XAPU]. Thus both [XAPU] and [LUTX] might be related to the Paracas necropolis or even to a specific phase of this civilization. More elaborate studies on yellow dyes will have to be carried out to confirm this hypothesis. The detection of several hydroxyflavone dyes on Peruvian textiles dated 100–200 A.D., without characterization of the components (Schweppe 1986), is likely to refer to [LUTX], since at least luteolin would have been recognized by this author. The use of tannins, represented by [TANN], was both rare and historically unspecific; they appear once in the Paracas necropolis and once in the Inca period.

The use of indigoid dyes may be regarded as universal, both to dye blue and in combination with any mordant dye. More study will be needed to interpret the high indirubin amounts that were often encountered.

Copyright 1992 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works