Hall of South American Peoples
The Hall of South American Peoples features the art, tools, technologies, and traditions of the continent’s pre-Columbian cultures—the ancient Inca, Moche, Chavin, and Chancay—in addition to exhibits about the traditional cultures of modern Amazonia.
Works of exquisite craftsmanship abound in this hall. The importance of textile art among the ancient Andeans, a 5,000-year-old tradition that conveyed status and identity, is presented through examples of elaborate fabrics that demonstrate a wide range of techniques, designs, and materials. Along with exhibits on Andean mining and metallurgy, remarkable achievements in metalwork are highlighted through artifacts such as the Royal Llama of the Inca from Bolivia. Also on view are examples of spectacular Amazonian featherwork, including a headdress made from toucan and macaw feathers that once adorned a young man of the Rikbaktsa, an indigenous people of Brazil.
The hall also features an open-air model of a Sipán tomb excavation from the Moche civilization on Peru’s north coast, an important archaeological discovery that offered invaluable insight into the burial traditions of a high-ranking member of that ancient culture.
The Museum's Amazon featherwork comes from the native peoples of the Amazon Basin, whose survival is now in danger along with that of the rain forest. Deforestation is rapidly increasing the loss of both crucial natural resources and human cultures in the Amazon.
The Museum's wide variety of Incan artifacts represents the breadth of their empire. Inca maintained ethnic diversity throughout their vast territory, ruling over different regions and maintaining a smooth flow of people and goods with the help of a sophisticated road system.
Most Inca goldwork and silverwork was melted down by the Spanish conquistadors. The Museum's silver llama figurine is a rare example of Inca metalwork. Approximately 500 years old, it is from the Island of the Sun, or Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.
An early Nasca ceramic trumpet and Nasca ceramic vessel bear the image and shape, respectively, of a mythic killer whale.
This Late Paracas (circa 100 BC) spear-thrower is made of whalebone, and the thumb rest was carved from a sperm whale’s tooth. A drawing in the Early Hunters case in the first section of this hall shows how hunters or warriors used these to propel spears with great speed, momentum, and accuracy.
The Yaghan (Yámana) harpoons, bark canoe model, and miniature lean-tos in this section are among the oldest public exhibits in the Museum, dating from the original South American hall, which opened in 1907.
The early peoples of South America may have hunted a giant ground sloth, Mylodon darwinii, that became extinct 10,000 years ago. Its skin and dung, displayed here, were a gift from President Theodore Roosevelt.