Textiles and the Multi Tiered Cosmos: The Cueva del Chileno Headband

A beautifully well-preserved woven shamanic headband was recently found in a cave in Bolivia.

Headbands are ubiquitous tools of the shaman, and are found in many cultures. Clearly, this textile is associated with altered states of consciousness, as it was found in a bag with psychedelic drugs and other shamanic tools. Since it is the shaman him/herself that wore this item, it is no surprise that the dominant motif is a spiral. The spiral represents the vortex or tunnel between the cosmic realms. This is the access point between the worlds that only the shaman can traverse.

Findings at Cueva del Chileno

Antiquity recently published extremely cool findings from the Cueva del Chileno in Bolivia. The most recent excavation by Albarracin-Jordan, Capriles, and Miller (2014) revealed evidence of Middle Horizon-period (A.D. 500 - 1100) psychotropic plant use and shamanic activity within the cave! And there's an awesome headband involved!

The cave has several strata, representing many cultural events ranging from Archaic (2136 to 1778 cal. B.C.) to Recent in age. The ritual bag was discovered during an excavation of a Middle Horizon-period (A.D. 500 to 1100) stratum. Evidence suggests that this bag was deliberately deposited/abandoned in situ during a transitional time in the region.

From the abstract:
Ritual practices and their associated material paraphernalia played a key role in extending the reach and ideological impact of early states. The discovery of a leather bag containing snuffing tablets and traces of psychoactive substances at Cueva del Chileno in the southern Andes testifies to the adoption of Tiwanaku practices by emergent local elites. Tiwanaku control spread over the whole of the south-central Andes during the Middle Horizon (AD 500–1100) but by the end of the period it had begun to fragment into a series of smaller polities. The bag had been buried by an emergent local elite who chose at this time to relinquish the former Tiwanaku ritual practices that its contents represent.

Ritual bundle recovered from Cueva del Chileno: a) leather bag or atado ; b) large snuffing tablet; c) small snuffing tablet; d) camelid-bone spatulas; and e) vegetable- and camelid-fibre fragment

Other artefacts recovered from the ritual bundle: a) wooden snuffing tube; b) fox-snout leather container; and c) polychrome textile headband

Albarracin-Jordan et al (2014) describe the headband as follows:
The leather bag also included a polychrome textile band tightly wrapped around a leather pouch and a wooden snuffing tube. From its size, design and construction, and the fact that it included two sets of strings attached to it, we believe the textile probably corresponds to a headband, which may have been part of a headdress (Aguero 2007). The textile has four colours: black, green, red and yellow. The basic motif is a spiral attached to a triangle with a line running parallel to its outer diagonal side. In the upper panel of the textile, this motif is transposed, vertically, three times in a combination of red, yellow, red over a green background with a black margin; the motif is symmetrically repeated 15 times. Following a band of the green background in the middle section, the complete pattern is mirrored in the lower half of the panel, using the exact same colour combination. Whereas the red, yellow and green colours of the textile were clearly dyed and processed, the earthy colours (black, brown and white) of the attached strings suggest they were probably made of natural, undyed fibres.

Analysis of the fox-snout pouch revealed traces of a number of psychoactive plants, including vilca (Anadenanthera colubrina), which may have been used as a snuff inhalant (Miller et al. 2013).

Albarracin-Jordan, J, JM Capriles, MJ Miller. 2014. Transformations in ritual practice and social interaction on the Tiwanaku periphery. Antiquity 88 (341), 851-862.

MILLER , M.J., J.M. C APRILES, J. ALBARRACIN-JORDAN C. MOORE. 2013. Investigating prehistoric hallucinogen consumption: an archaeological case study from L´ıpez, Bolivia. Paper presented at the Society of Hair Testing International Meeting, Geneva, 28–30 August 2013.

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