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Ancient Paracas Shroud

2,000-Year-Old Paracas Shroud Returns Home


A rare and exquisite funeral shroud dating back 2,000 years to the ancient Paracas culture of Peru, has finally returned home after being returned from Sweden, according to a BBC report. The magnificent textile has been described as uniquely complex, with more than 80 hues of blue, green, yellow and red woven into a pattern of 32 frames.

The shroud is one of four ancient Paracas textiles that were discovered on the Paracas Peninsula in the 1920s. A total of 89 of these ancient shrouds are being returned by Sweden, under an inter-governmental agreement and one of the Paracas shrouds has now gone on display at the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History in Lima. They had been smuggled out of Peru by a Swedish diplomat some 80 years ago.

"Despite being more than 2,000 years old, the colours of the Paracas textiles are still fantastic and well preserved. The natural colours of pure Alpaca yarn range from grey, white and beige to brown and black. The yarn was dyed and as a result of the Alpaca wool fibres absorbing dye better than cotton fibres, most of the coloured segments in the textiles are wool fibres," according to Sweden's National Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg.

Ancient Paracas Shroud detail

The shroud that has gone on display in Peru is one of 89 textiles being repatriated from Gothenburg. Photo source: Reuters

Researchers believe the images on the shroud, which includes condors, frogs, cats, corn, cassava, and people, functioned as a calendar of farming seasons. The textile is incredibly detailed and displays many complex weave structures as well as elaborate plaiting and knotting techniques.

Ancient Paracas Shroud detail

The shrouds, which were discovered in the 1920s, are made of dyed alpaca wool. Photo source: Reuters.

The Paracas civilization flourished in the Paracas peninsula, in the south-west of modern-day Peru between approximately 800 and 100 BC. They are well-known for their extensive knowledge or irrigation, significant contributions in the textile arts, and, more curiously, the remains they left behind, which display red hair and significantly elongated skulls.

Their precious textiles were used to wrap the dead. As the Paracas people buried their dead in dry, cold, salty deserts, the shroud remained well-preserved. Each burial consisted of a conical textile-wrapped bundle, most containing a seated individual facing north across the bay of Paracas, next to offerings such as ceramics, foodstuffs, baskets and weapons. Each body was bound with cord to hold it in a seated position, before being wrapped in many layers of the intricate, ornate, and finely woven textiles. Paracas necropolis embroideries are now known as some of the finest ever produced by Pre-Columbian Andean societies.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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