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What Does One Do with a Wall Full of Feathers?

Feathered Hanging, 7th–8th century. Peru. Wari. Feathers on cotton, camelid hair. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.475)

Many questions surround the beautiful feather panels, created between about 600 and 1000 by the Wari peoples of Peru, that are currently on view in the exhibition Feathered Walls: Hangings from Ancient Peru. The simplistic juxtapositions of color and painstaking care put into them tantalize the mind and make one wonder what purpose the panels served.

Particularly perplexing is the fact that the panels were found rolled up inside intricately decorated ceramic vessels. With my nebulous understanding of ancient Peruvian culture, I had expected to learn that they were found either hanging or as burial shrouds for the dead. (There is a nearby area known as Corral Redondo that is thought to be an ancient burial ground.) I think the panels were stored in ceramic vessels not as part of funeral proceedings or in an act of posthumous commemoration but rather so that they could be used for the next ceremony. It would certainly, at least in my opinion, make sense for the pieces to be used multiple times due to the sheer amount of effort required to capture the macaw and pluck its feathers, sort the feathers according to color, knot them together, and sew the final piece. Another intriguing question is why the panels were found near the Corral Redondo, which leads us to the question of what purpose the Corral Redondo really served in the first place.

At the end of a visit to the exhibition, assuming one's head doesn't ache from all the mystery surrounding the pieces, at least one thing is for sure: the panels are awesome. Come see them for yourself and let us know: What purpose do you think the panels served?

Related Links
The Discovery of the Panels
Making Feather Panels

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