Unique discovery offers glimpse of provincial culture in Inka Empire
George Washington University
Unku found in Caleta Vitor Bay. Top: sides A and B from the wearer’s point of view (photographs by Paola Salgado); bottom: illustration of the tapestry tunic from the weaver’s position and viewpoint (illustration by Paola Salgado). Credit: PLOS ONE (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280511
A new study co-authored by a George Washington University research professor examines the Inka Empire's (also known as the Incan Empire and the Inca Empire) instruments of culture and control through a well-preserved article of clothing discovered in a centuries-old Chilean cemetery.
Researchers excavating the burial site along Caleta Vítor Bay in northern Chile found a tunic, or unku (see above), which would have been worn by a man who commanded respect and prestige in the Inka Empire. Unkus were largely standardized attire meeting technical and stylistic specifications imposed by imperial authorities.
The Caleta Vítor unku, however, goes beyond the strict mandates handed down by Inka leaders. While the artisans who fashioned this unku clearly adhered to imperial design standards, they also included subtle cultural tributes unique to their provincial homeland.
Whoever wove the Caleta Vítor unku lived hundreds of miles south of the Inka capital of Cusco in an area absorbed into the Inka Empire in the late 15th century. The weaver employed the techniques and unique style and imagery of an indigenous culture that existed long before the Inka conquest, creating a tangible symbol of provincial life in pre-colonial South America.
"It represents a study of a rare example of an excavated Inka unku tunic, whose context and technical features are providing an unprecedented understanding of imperial Inka influence in the provinces," Jeffrey Splitstoser, an assistant research professor of anthropology at GW and a co-author of the study, said.
Jacqueline Correa-Lau et al, Inka Unku: Imperial or provincial? State-local relations, PLOS ONE (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280511