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Are you watching Lost Kingdoms of South America on BBC Four?

BBC Four is currently airing an exciting four-part series on the Lost Kingdoms of South America, fronted by Dr Jago Cooper, curator of the Americas at the British Museum.  In tonight’s episode, Dr Cooper will explore the Bolivian landscape to investigate the origins and explore the ruins of the Tiwanaku, a monolithic temple city that was abandoned 1,000 years ago.

Want to learn more? Ancient American Art in Detail, edited by Colin McEwan and published by the British Museum Press, features finds from Tiwanaku and below are some exclusive extracts.

Ceramic male portrait vessel.

Ceramic male portrait vessel.
Tiwanaku , Bolivia, 6th-10th century AD.

The accomplished execution of this rare portrait of a Tiwanaku lord bears comparison with the better-known Moche portrait vessels. He wears a fez-like circular woven round hat rather than a four-cornered hat – examples of both have been found preserved in burials. His ear spools and lip plug are standard emblems for high-ranking males. The surface has been assiduously burnished to achieve a uniform buff-coloured appearance. The headpiece finished in a dark red slip and a roughened strip on one side suggests there was once an appliqué appendage of some kind that has since broken off.

Tunic of camelid wool and metal dangles.

Tunic of camelid wool and metal dangles.

Tiwanaku-Wari, Peru/Bolivia, 7th-10th century AD.

Elite tunics such as this were produced at the great pre-Inca urban centres of Wari and Tiwanaku, whose territory spanned much of highland Peru and Bolivia. Their textile arts show a bold visual vocabulary of abstract motifs that signalled vital information concerning ethnic identity, lineage, rank and office. Analysis of the attached circular metal dangles confirms that the metal is ancient, but that modern thread has been used to sew them to the tunic. No known precedents exist for this on textiles of the period and they seem to have been added more recently, perhaps in order to enhance the appeal and contemporary value of the piece.


Ancient American Art in Detail low-res

Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum

Extracts and images from Ancient American Art in Detail, edited by Colin McEwan, available for £14.99 from the British Museum shop.

Lost Kingdoms of South America will be broadcast tonight on BBC Four at 21.00.

Category: History

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