Made of thin sheet silver, this disk is one of at least eleven highly similar examples reportedly found in a burial, or burials, on Peru’s north coast. The disks are all between thirty and thirty-five centimeters in diameter, and share the same basic composition, in which four concentric bands of repoussé ornament (a design hammered in relief from the back of the disk) surround a central undecorated convex boss. The imagery in each band is distinct from the others on a disk, and consists of one or several repeated motifs. The iconography varies from disk to disk, but each follows one of four distinct patterns (see also 1978.412.144).
The outermost band of this disk features a motif--perhaps a monkey holding a bird--that is repeated around the entire circumference. The three inner registers contain frontal, anthropomorphic figures with crescent headdresses—different in each band—that appear to hold or gesture to sea birds and other animals, mythological creatures, and, in the innermost band, a z-shaped form. Crescent headdresses are thought to denote royal power and divine status, and in Chimú iconography both humans and animals are shown wearing them. This particular pattern of a monkey band with three bands of crescent-headdress-wearing figures is repeated on a disk now in the Didrichsen Art Museum in Helsinki, and on a disk in the Museo de Oro in Lima, of which only half survives. Other disks (see Pillsbury 2003) feature depictions of Spondylus shells, a highly sought-after bivalve closely associated with ideas of fertility and abundance, and other maritime themes.
The function of these disks cannot be determined with absolute certainty, although study of similar examples excavated in recent years combined with the physical evidence on the disks themselves suggests that they were most likely ceremonial shield covers. Previous interpretations of the disks include the supposition that they were sewn onto banners or attached to poles and displayed during special rituals. The disks were clearly attached to something: all eleven disks were perforated, although the number and position of the holes vary from disk to disk. Some include four pairs of holes between the third and fourth bands (counting from outside in), others include pairs on the outermost band. The present example bears six pairs of perforations unevenly spaced around the edge of the disk.
While the suggestion that the disks were sewn to banners cannot be discounted entirely, the balance of evidence seems to imply they functioned as shield covers. The size of the disks is very close to a number of shields excavated in recent years at Moche settlements (200 – 600 A.D.) on Peru’s north coast. Two shields excavated by Christopher Donnan at Dos Cabezas, a site in the Jequetepeque Valley, for example, measured 32.3 cm and 32.6 cm in diameter (Donnan 2007:91-92). These Moche shields were made of platelets of gilded copper over a cane framework.
Furthermore, the slightly convex shape of several of the shields may indicate that a backing would have allowed for a hand grip at the center of the shield, the curvature providing greater protection. More intriguingly, several disks in the group were intentionally broken in two, and several others, including the Helsinki disk, show evidence of having been folded over. Such treatment of the disks is reminiscent of Moche burials where weapons were intentionally bent, twisted, or broken prior to internment (see for example Alva and Donnan 1993:214–215).
Joanne Pillsbury, 2016 Andrall E. Pearson Curator, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Published references Carcedo, Paloma, et al., Plata y plateros del Perú. Lima: Patronato Plata del Perú, 1997, pp. 108–109, figs. 1–98. King, Heidi, Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, and Paloma Carcedo de Mufarech. Rain of the Moon: Silver in Ancient Peru. New York, New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, p. 44, fig. 15.
References and further reading Alva, Walter, and Christopher B. Donnan. Royal Tombs of Sipán. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1993. Boone, Elizabeth Hill, ed., Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996, pp. 218–222. Millaire, Jean-François. "The Manipulation of Human Remains in Moche Society: Delayed Burials, Grave Reopening, and Secondary Offerings of Human Bones on the Peruvian North Coast." Latin American Antiquity 15, no. 4 (2004): 371–88. Pillsbury, Joanne. "Luxury Arts and the Lords of Chimor," in Latin American Collections: Essays in Honor of Ted J.J. Leyenaar, Dorus Kop Jansen and Edward de Bock, eds., pp. 67–81. Leiden: Ed. Tetl, 2003.
[Allan Caplan, New York, until 1965]; Alice K. Bache, New York, 1965–1977 (partial gift from 1966)
Alva, Walter, and Christopher B. Donnan. Royal Tombs of Sipán. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1993.
Boone, Elizabeth Hill, ed. Andean art at Dumbarton Oaks. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996.
Carcedo, Paloma, José Torres della Pina, and Victoria Mujica. Plata y plateros del Perú. Lima: Patronato Plata del Peru, 1997, pp. 108–109.
King, Heidi. Rain of the Moon: Silver in Ancient Peru. New York, New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, p. 44, fig. 15.
Pillsbury, Joanne. "Luxury Arts and the Lords of Chimor." In Latin American Collections: Essays in Honor of Ted J.J. Leyenaar, edited by Dorus Kop Jansen, and Edward de Bock. Leiden: Ed. Tetl, 2003, pp. 67–81.
Millaire, Jean-François. "The Manipulation of Human Remains in Moche Society: Delayed Burials, Grave Reopening, and Secondary Offerings of Human Bones on the Peruvian North Coast." Latin American Antiquity (2004), pp. 371–88.