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Paracas Necropolis: Salvaging Contextual relationships

Department of Textiles | Ann H. Peters, Visiting Scholar, Latin American Studies Program, Cornell University

Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú: Textiles

Due to the substantial experience in treatment of fragile organic materials by the Textiles department of the National Museum, preventative conservation and storage procedures for the Dumbarton Oaks project were coordinated by curator Carmen Thays and conservator Maria Ysabel Medina, who established treatment and verification procedures, trained student assistants, consulted on procedures in the other departments and intervened directly in urgent or complex cases. Certain objects from other departments, such as headdresses in situ or fragile basketry artifacts, were brought to the Textiles department for conservation.

All objects were cleaned using distilled water and soft brushes. In the cases where mold or salts were present, cleaning included use of a dilute alcohol solution. In certain cases, there was recourse to the department facilities such as a stereoscopic microscope for identifying component materials and contaminants, a humidification chamber, and a freezer and fumigation chamber for eliminating biological agents. In cases where an artifact was found in extremely fragile or fragmentary condition, it was wrapped and loosely stitched to tulle fabric dyed to match its color.

Melina La Torre photographs a fragmentary open-sided tunic with feathered decoration, after removing salts and mold and stitching protective tulle netting over the areas of featherworkMelina La Torre photographs a fragmentary open-sided tunic with feathered decoration, after removing salts and mold and stitching protective tulle netting over the areas of featherwork.

Both digital and slide photographs were taken to record object identity and treatment. Research to confirm and correct object identity was undertaken parallel to the conservation process, and contextual and technical descriptions in the object registration were corrected where necessary. All treated objects were stored in groups according to their component materials, artifact categories and provenience information, to facilitate future monitoring, treatment and research.

Ana Murga measures the length of a human hair headdress elementAna Murga measures the length of a human hair headdress element.

A total of 103 hairpieces fashioned with human hair were treated in the Dumbarton Oaks project, including 27 pieces originally identified from the Wari Kayan (Necropolis) cemetery and 76 pieces from other parts of the Paracas site.

Rosalia Choque completes the analytic display of her reconstruction of the original form of a feathered hair ornament, found in fragmentary condition.Rosalia Choque completes the analytic display of her reconstruction of the original form of a feathered hair ornament, found in fragmentary condition.

Among feather hair ornaments, fans and other feathered artifacts, 107 pieces were identified and conserved. These also included groups of miniature garments covered in yellow feathers, and several full size open-sided feathered tunics.

Karina Curillo encloses a foxskin headdress in protective tulle netting after reconstructing the original positioning of the limbs.Karina Curillo encloses a foxskin headdress in protective tulle netting after reconstructing the original positioning of the limbs.

19 artifacts of animal skin were originally identified based on Textiles department records. Another 20 pieces were identified in the course of the project, for a total of 39 conserved skin artifacts that once formed part of warrior dress and funerary regalia. Other diverse pieces treated include tiny skin bags of powdered minerals and shields made of large cane panels interlaced with strips of camelid hide with a cordage handle.

Berta Flores cleans a set of vegetable fiber slings found as a group in a Necropolis burial.Berta Flores cleans a set of vegetable fiber slings found as a group in a Necropolis burial.

113 pieces of vegetable fiber were located and treated. The majority were slings, and other vegetable fiber cords used as headdress elements or to bind the limbs of the person being positioned and prepared for the funerary wrapping process.

Haydeé Grandez adjusts the internal divisions inside a storage box that she constructed and worked with her colleagues to design.Haydeé Grandez adjusts the internal divisions inside a storage box that she constructed and worked with her colleagues to design.

Storage boxes produced in this facility were constructed from sheets of corrugated polyethylene in groups of standard measurement for stacking in the Textile storeroom, folded and sewn to the precise shape and labeled using standard formats developed by the conservation and analysis team.

Ana Murga, Maria Ysabel Medina and Berta Flores work into the night reconciling the provenience data for each feather ornament with published sources and the dissection protocols.Ana Murga, Maria Ysabel Medina and Berta Flores work into the night reconciling the provenience data for each feather ornament with published sources and the dissection protocols.

As information became available based on work in the archives, it was immediately incorporated into the procedures of work with the objects. Object identities were confirmed or corrected by consultation with central and departmental registries, inventories of storage areas, and published and unpublished studies of the artifacts. As the project developed, the department continued its ongoing project to reconstruct mortuary assemblages within the textile collection and built its own archive of copies of 'dissection protocols', narratives and inventories that follow the procedures established by Tello for unwrapping each funerary bundle.

While the Dumbarton Oaks project focused on contexts within the Paracas Necropolis cemetery groups, the Textiles department has gone on to apply the same procedures in work with materials from the Cavernas area and other collections.

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