Tupu (pin)

Inca artist(s)

Not on view

This object is a tupu, a Quechua term for pin (“pithu” in Aymara and “alfiler” in Spanish).[1] Women in the Andes have used these pins to fasten textile garments, such as the acsu or lliclla (for more information on the use of tupus, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 64.228.702). Tupus have a basic form that consists of a head and a stem, but there is wide variation in their design. In this case, the head is comprised of a rounded triangular shape from which emerge two spirals at top. Some investigators (e.g., Gibaja et al. 2014) have identified these motifs as floral. Others associate this form of tupu with butterflies, especially nocturnal butterflies (“thaparanku” in Quechua) (Fernández 2015, 35; Vargas-Musquipa 1995). In particular, the spirals are indexical of antennae. Here, the tupu’s head is symmetric in design and shows a circular perforation near where it meets the stem, which is thick and pointed.

Indeed, the thickness of the stem suggests that the object was first cast to its basic shape and then hammered to finish the form. Alternatively, metalworkers may have had cast stock metal available and then undertook more intensive shaping of the tupu through hammering. In either case, they likely hammered the head of the tupu in order to thin it. At one stage, the spirals at the top of the head were long, straight rods that projected from the rest of the head. Metalworkers carefully hammered and annealed these rods, bending them to form spirals.[2] Interestingly, the cross-section of the metal, as it begins to turn outward into the spiral design, is rectangular. For the majority of the spiral, however, the metal is circular in cross-section. In the original casting, the metal rods may have been rectangular in cross-section, or were cut to have such a cross-section from cast stock metal. With successive hammering and annealing of the spirals, the cross-section of these regions took on a circular form. The stem, too, shows a circular cross-section. After the metal was cast and hammered, the artist perforated the head with a metal or stone punch. This perforation enabled the tupu to be threaded and potentially connected to another tupu and other ornaments (please see below).

On the tupu’s head, at the height of the perforation, the metal is slightly folded along its width. This feature is suggestive of its use. The composition of the metal and whether heat is applied to anneal it will affect the material’s hardness. Certainly, working the metal for making tupus and using the objects over time may have led to creases in them. There are examples of more dramatically folded or bent tupus from the Wari site of Tenahaha in the Cotahuasi Valley of Peru (Velarde et al. 2015, 172-173, figs. 8.5, 8.6). Investigators proposed that the folding actually may have made the tupus more conducive to fastening clothing. The fold on the present example is, however, much less dramatic. Overall, it would be interesting to consider whether metalworkers chose specific alloys for those tupus that would require extensive hammering, especially cases where they wanted to create spirals at top.

Before being acquired by grocery magnate Nathan Cummings in 1954, the present tupu was in the collection of Bruno Wassermann, who purchased and developed land on the San Blas Bay of Argentina. He amassed a set of objects, especially Peruvian ceramics, through excavations in which he participated and through purchases of objects. Wassermann’s collection grew substantially between 1920 and 1948 (Sawyer 1954, 1, 4). The focus of his collection was Peru, but a Peruvian origin cannot necessarily be assumed for this tupu. A comparison of this tupu to other known examples is helpful.

Some of the analogues for this form of tupu are four large examples from Choquepujio, in the Cusco Valley of Peru (Gibaja et al., 2014, fig. 40). These were deposited at the site as part of the Inca ritualized performance of capac hucha (for more information, please see the Timeline Essay: Capac Hucha as an Inca Assemblage). These four were associated with the burial of a five-year-old child, thought to be female.[3] This context also included two additional tupus with plain, circular heads, a folded cloth to which 66 circular metal sheet objects had been sewn, and two separate Spondylus spp. valves. The six tupus were found in the area of the person’s chest. This context may suggest that the child wore the tupus; however, the number would be quite high for one person. Historical, ethnographic, and archaeological sources suggest that one person typically wears between one and three tupus in order to fasten garments (Guaman Poma de Ayala [1615] 1980, pl. 120; Rowe 1998; Uceda 2016, 240).

There are several tupus in the Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia likely produced during the Inca Empire that show design parallels to the present example. However, they are made primarily of gold or silver (see Fernández 2015). One in silver (no. 10091) shows a small circular head from which emerge two spirals. Others (nos. 27259 and 27260), reported to have been recovered from or acquired in La Paz, are primarily gold and show a large circular head with two much smaller spirals at top.

Although the form of the present example in the Metropolitan is associated with a particular Inca context (Choquepujio) and there are Inca tupus with design parallels, it is important to recognize that certain forms endure over time. This form may have been created well before the emergence of the Inca Empire. Indeed, while some examples of this form have been recovered from the Inca “core region” radiating around Cusco, others have been found in northern and central highland Peru, the southern Titicaca region, and northwestern Argentina (Owen 2012, fig. 2.7a). Fernández (2015, 35) confirms that “butterfly tupus” (“topos de mariposa”) of an unknown quantity have been recovered from Cusco. Besides the four at Choquepujio, the examples referenced in Owen (2012, fig. 2.7a) only amount to nine, and some are distinct from the present example in showing a slight step just below the head of the tupu.

Using these comparative examples, nevertheless, the present tupu only can be assigned to the wide geographic region of Inca territories where these comparative tupus, have been found. The earliest known examples of tupus are from the cemetery at Tablada de Lurín, dated to the end of the Early Horizon and the beginning of the Early Intermediate Period (ca. 300 B.C.–A.D. 300) on the Central Coast of Peru (Cárdenas 1999, 173; Castro de la Mata 2007). The published examples of the Lurín tupus show their forms are different than that of the present tupu. The start of their contextual dates, 300 B.C., can be taken as a beginning date for the production of the present example given that the chronology of this particular form is unknown. The present tupu is quite distinct from tupus that began to be made in the Andes at the start of Spanish colonization, hence the ending date assigned for the present tupu. (For further information on tupus [or ttipquis, usually a smaller version of the tupu] made during the Spanish Colonial period, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 1982.420.10, 1982.420.12, and 1982.420.13).

Other tupu forms endure over time, too. At Choquepujio, there are examples of the tupu form with a circular, slightly elliptical head (Gibaja et al. 2014, fig. 41). These have been recovered from Inca contexts, and they have antecedents at Pikillacta (Lechtman and Macfarlane 2005, fig. 6), Tenahaha (Velarde et al. 2015, fig. 8.2), and La Real (Velarde et al. 2012, fig. 10.2), which are all Wari sites occupied during the Middle Horizon (ca. A.D. 600-1000). In other words, the archaeological evidence at hand may only point to snapshots of much longer traditions in making and using tupus.

Besides the tupus themselves, there are records and materials that shed light on their use, specifically in the Late Horizon and into the Spanish Colonial period. In El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615), Felipe de Guaman Poma de Ayala, wrote to King Philip III of Spain to contest the process of colonization of the viceroyalty of Peru and demand the return of these lands to Native peoples, offering a long history of the area (see Adorno 2000; Trever 2011). Guaman Poma ([1615] 1980, pl. 120) includes an illustration of Mama Huaco (or Mama Vaco), a warrior and politically the highest-ranking woman in Tawantinsuyu, a Quechua term that refers to the four united regions of the Inca Empire. She is shown seated, with three people attending to her. Her adornments include two tupus that appear with the stems above and the heads below, their heads circular and each with a single perforation. At least two of her attendants also wear a tupu, displayed horizontally and securing their lliclla. It is possible that the tupus Mama Huaco wears are fastening her clothing, but their fastening points are slightly ambiguous to an outsider viewer. There are three elements that project from a cord strung in between the two tupus, and these three may be additional ornaments; the triangular element may depict tweezers. Other illustrations in the work by Guaman Poma show women wearing tupus or ttipquis to fasten their llicllas. The pins take on varied forms: in one case (pl. 177), a circular shape with a large opening at the center and, in another (pl. 134), a circular shape with small semicircular projections around its circumference and threads attached.

The connection of tupus to cords, as shown in the illustration of Mama Huaco, is seen archaeologically. Often, the copper corrosion has helped preserve at least the knots of these cords in the perforations of the tupu heads (e.g., a tupu from Isla de la Plata, Ecuador, Field Museum 4465 [see image 2]). A larger cord threaded through a tupu was identified from a funerary context in the Izapa Valley in Chile (Muñoz 1998). In one case, a cord has preserved but the tupus are no longer attached. This Inca example was excavated from a burial site near the Laguna de los Cóndores in northern Peru with a large assemblage of Chachapoya textiles (Bjerregaard 2007, 111–13, no. CMA 1795). Almost in the style of the ornaments Mama Huaco wears, there are several items that hang from the cord, which is made of woven camelid fiber: six needles made of bone, a needle made of cactus or algarrobo, and two palm seeds. Between the illustrations by Guaman Poma and these preserved cords, the existence of tupus as parts of social and material assemblages becomes clearer.

An important question is the extent to which tupus such as the present example played a role in the materialization of power in different Andean contexts. In comparing burial assemblages between the Inca occupations at Sacsahuamán and Choquepujio in Peru, Andrushko et al. (2006) inferred that the presence of “small personal items such as tupu pins” without many additional materials suggested that the occupants of these burials were “of lower status.” In a similar way, archaeologists have made this inference for the Inca occupation of Cutimbo in Peru by Lupaca people (Tantaleán 2006). To the archaeologists, the presence of two tupus in a human burial in a cist tomb without further materials suggests that this burial may be an instance of “human sacrifice,” considering the lack of burial accoutrements (“un ajuar”).[4] A ceramic urn at Cutimbo was also used for depositing human remains, along with four tupus connected to a string of brown wool and a range of other artifacts. The archaeologists view these two contexts as distinct from burials that take the form of chullpas, stone structures that people began building on the altiplano well before the Inca Empire took shape. No tupus were reported from the chullpas at Cutimbo. Tantaleán (2006, 140) considers that the chullpas were the places of the highest “elite” Lupaca burials while contexts such as the aforementioned cist tomb and ceramic urn were the burial sites of lesser “elites.”

Thus, at Sacsahuamán, Choquepujio, and Cutimbo, archaeologists have indirectly interpreted tupus for how they contribute to a person’s status or power. In the view of these investigators, the tupus alone in a funerary context are indicative of a less elite person and, together with other objects, the extent to which they confer status depends on the funerary architecture. It is still possible that this tupu at the Metropolitan conferred a person with power—or a person gave it power—in more subtle ways that may not leave distinct material traces.[5] Women in the Andes may pass down tupus over generations (Rowe 1998, 268-9; Vetter 2009, 180). In some cases, the initials of the people who used the tupus, made in recent centuries, are engraved on them. This inscription enhances their involvement in acts of remembering. At the same time, the fabrication of a tupu may be an act of erasing, at least in a material sense. Recently, some tupus have been made from metal melted down from Ecuadorian or Peruvian coins (Rowe 1998, 268–9). In this process, the coin form materially disappears, but potentially the memory of the fabrication remains. An important component of these processes is people’s knowledge: the understanding of how the tupus are made, the materials from which they are made, and how to wear them. This knowledge may itself be a form of empowerment. Surely, the present tupu example may have been an object that was passed down over generations. It also may have been made from recycled metal. In any case, its production and use—intimately connected to the body—were part of an enduring set of knowledge. These are important items to keep in mind for considering how an individual object is actually part of a group of much temporally wider practices.

Bryan Cockrell, Curatorial Fellow, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, 2017

[1] The object is identified as being made of bronze in the records of the Museum’s Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Here, it is referred to as a “copper alloy.” This term recognizes that copper is present in the object, given the green patina from natural corrosion on parts of the surface, but that “bronze” does not encapsulate the range of elements, including silver, with which copper was alloyed to make tupus in the Andes (see Cockrell and McEwan n.d.). (For more information on the fabrication of tupus, please see Metropolitan Museum of Art 64.228.703).

[2] In annealing, a metalworker applies heat to the metal in order to reduce the stress that has accumulated in it, thereby making it more conducive for working. Depending on the temperature of the heat applied, the metal may undergo recrystallization in which new metal grains are created in the place of older ones, further enhancing working properties.

[3] The archaeologists note that this determination of sex and/or gender is based on an analysis of the preserved teeth and on artifacts in the burial. It may be that they considered the presence of tupus, an object typically associated with Andean women (Gero 2001), to establish the sex or gender of this person, but this is uncertain. Please see Andrushko et al. 2006 for possible alternatives to this assumed association.

[4] Alternatives to the use of the Western term “sacrifice” to encompass multiple types of practices and assemblages have been proposed, especially to be inclusive to indigenous knowledges in interpretations of archaeological contexts (see Cadena 2005 for a wider discussion).

[5] For critical assessments of the use of terms “status” or “eliteness” in archaeological contexts, see, for example, Blackmore 2011.

Further reading

Adorno, Rolena. Guaman Poma: Writing and Resistance in Colonial Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, Institute of Latin American Studies, 2000.

Andrushko, Valerie A., Elva C. Torres Pino and Viviana Bellifemine. “The Burials at Sacsahuaman and Chokepukio: A Bioarchaeological Case Study of Imperialism from the Capital of the Inca Empire.” Ñawpa Pacha 28 (2006): 63-92.

Bjerregaard, Lena, ed. Chachapoya Textiles: The Laguna de los Cóndores Textiles in the Museo Leymebamba, Chachapoyas, Peru. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2007.

Blackmore, Chelsea. “Ritual among the Masses: Deconstructing Identity and Class in an Ancient Maya Neighborhood.” Latin American Antiquity 22, no. 2 (2011): 159–77.

Cadena, Marisol de la. “The Production of Other Knowledges and Its Tensions: From Andeanist Anthropology to Interculturalidad.” In World Anthropologies: Disciplinary Transformations within Systems of Power, edited by Gustavo Lins Ribeiro and Arturo Escobar, 201-224. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2005.

Cárdenas Martin, Mercedes. Tablada de Lurín: Excavaciones 1958-1959: Patrones funerarios: Tomo 1. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Instituto Riva Agüero, Dirección Académica de Investigación, 1999.

Castro de la Mata Guerra García, Pamela. “Tecnologías de cobre dorado y evidencias de reutilización de piezas de metal en el cementerio prehispánico de Tablada de Lurín, Lima – Perú.” In Metalurgia en la América antigua: Teoría, arqueología, simbología y tecnología de los metales prehispánicos, edited by Roberto Lleras Pérez, 481–500. Bogotá: Fundación de Investigaciones Arqueológicas Nacionales, Banco de la República, 2007.

Cockrell, Bryan, and Colin McEwan. “The Fabrication and Ritual Significance of Inca Miniature Figurines in PUAM.” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, forthcoming.

Fernández Murillo, María Soledad. Prendedores, topos y mujeres. La Paz: Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore, Fundación Cultural del Banco Central de Bolivia, 2015.

Gero, Joan M. “Field Knots and Ceramic Beaus: Interpreting Gender in the Peruvian Early Intermediate Period.” In Gender in Pre-Hispanic America: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, 12 and 13 October 1996, edited by Cecelia F. Klein, 15–55. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2001.

Gibaja Oviedo, Arminda M., Gordon F. McEwan, Melissa Chatfield, and Valerie Andrushko. “Informe de las posibles capacochas del asentamiento arqueológico de Choquepujio, Cusco, Perú.” Ñawpa Pacha 34 (2014): 147–75.

Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe. El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno, edited by John V. Murra and Rolena Adorno. Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, [1615] 1980.

Muñoz Ovalle, Ivan. “La expansión Incaica y su vinculación con las poblaciones de los valles occidentales del extremo norte de Chile.” Tawantinsuyu 5 (1998): 127–37.

Owen, Bruce D. “The Meanings of Metals: The Inca and Regional Contexts of Quotidian Metals from Machu Picchu.” In The 1912 Yale Peruvian Scientific Expedition Collections from Machu Picchu: Metal Artifacts, edited by Richard L. Burger and Lucy C. Salazar, 73–189. New Haven: Yale University Department of Anthropology and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, 2012.

Rowe, Ann Pollard, ed. Costume and Identity in Highland Ecuador. Washington, D.C.: The Textile Museum, 1998.

Sawyer, Alan R. The Nathan Cummings Collection of Ancient Peruvian Art (Formerly Wassermann-San Blas Collection). Chicago, 1954.

Tantaleán, Henry. “Regresar para construir: Prácticas funerarias e ideología(s) durante la ocupación Inka en Cutimbo, Puno-Perú.” Chungara: Revista de Antropología Chilena 38, no. 1 (2006): 129-143.

Trever, Lisa. “Idols, Mountains, and Metaphysics in Guaman Poma's Pictures of Huacas.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 59/60 (2011): 39–59.

Uceda Castillo, Santiago, Ricardo Morales Gamarra, and Elías Mujica Barreda. Huaca de la Luna: Templos y dioses moches. Lima: Fundación Backus and World Monuments Fund, 2016.

Vargas-Musquipa, Willy F. “Insectos en la iconografía inka.” Revista Peruana de Entomología 37 (1995): 23–29.

Velarde, María Inés de, Franco Mora, and Justin Jennings. “Tupus y placas de metal: Expresión creativa e imagen de prestigio.” In ¿Wari en Arequipa?: Análisis de los contextos funerarios de La Real, edited by Willy J. Yépez Álvarez and Justin Jennings, 214–18. Arequipa: Museo Arqueológico José María Morante, Universidad Nacional de San Agustín de Arequipa, 2012.

———. “Analysis of Metals from Tenahaha.” In Tenahaha and the Wari State: A View of the Middle Horizon from the Cotahuasi Valley, edited by Justin Jennings and Willy Yépez Álvarez, 166–80. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2015.

Vetter Parodi, Luisa. “El uso del tupu en un pueblo llamado Tupe.” In Platería tradicional del Perú: Usos domésticos, festivos y rituales: Siglos XVIII-XX, 175–83. Lima: Universidad de Ricardo Palma, Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano, 2009.

Tupu (pin), Inca artist(s), Copper alloy, Inca

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