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Wearing Culture

Wearing Culture: Dress and Regalia in Early Mesoamerica and Central America

Heather Orr
Matthew G. Looper
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Wearing Culture
    Book Description:

    Wearing Cultureconnects scholars of divergent geographical areas and academic fields-from archaeologists and anthropologists to art historians-to show the significance of articles of regalia and of dressing and ornamenting people and objects among the Formative period cultures of ancient Mesoamerica and Central America.

    Documenting the elaborate practices of costume, adornment, and body modification in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Oaxaca, the Soconusco region of southern Mesoamerica, the Gulf Coast Olmec region (Olman), and the Maya lowlands, this book demonstrates that adornment was used as a tool for communicating status, social relationships, power, gender, sexuality, behavior, and political, ritual, and religious identities. Despite considerable formal and technological variation in clothing and ornamentation, the early indigenous cultures of these regions shared numerous practices, attitudes, and aesthetic interests. Contributors address technological development, manufacturing materials and methods, nonfabric ornamentation, symbolic dimensions, representational strategies, and clothing as evidence of interregional sociopolitical exchange.

    Focusing on an important period of cultural and artistic development through the lens of costuming and adornment,Wearing Culturewill be of interest to scholars of pre-Hispanic and pre-Columbian studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-282-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xxi-xlvi)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xlvii-l)
  7. 1 The Sitio Conte Cemetery in Ancient Panama: Where Lord 15 Wore His Ornaments in “Great Quantity”
    (pp. 1-28)
    Karen O’Day

    According to current archaeological thinking, Sitio Conte was a regional meeting place for residents of Gran Coclé that accommodated various activities (Cooke et al. 2000:154; Isaza Aizpurúa 2007:80–85; Haller 2008:185, 191).¹ During the period CE 750–950 (Cooke et al. 2003),² the cemetery at Sitio Conte served at least two hundred Conteños,³ and Briggs (1989:73) calculated that adult men composed the majority of the deceased (72 percent). In a few tombs at Sitio Conte, the total number of body ornaments climbs into the thousands, which is separate from the ceramic vessels and other artifacts documented in a number of...

  8. 2 Barely There but Still Transcendent: Ancient Nicaraguan and Costa Rican Dress, Regalia, and Adornment, ca. 800 BCE–300 CE in Greater Nicoya
    (pp. 29-60)
    Laura Wingfield

    Early Nicoyans appear to have been barely adorned, sporting merely thongs, headdresses, maces, jewelry, and body art, but these were symbolically filled with messages of transcendence from this world to the next. Today early Nicoyan dress, regalia, and adornment can be seen in the remains from tombs dating to ca. 800 BCE–300 CE. These Formative period tombs of southwestern Nicaragua and northwestern Costa Rica (Greater Nicoya) include earthenware vessels, metates, maceheads, and jewelry. The vessels and metates depict humans scantily clad with what appear to be pubic coverings, woven headwear, horns, masks, jade jewels, shell necklaces, earspools, and body...

  9. 3 Ties That Bind: Cloth, Clothing, and Embodiment in Formative Honduras
    (pp. 61-78)
    Rosemary A. Joyce

    Figurines from Honduras in the Playa de los Muertos style, mostly solid, all hand-modeled, depict a wealth of costume detail. In previous discussions, I have emphasized the ornamentation that makes the head and face of these figurines the focus of most of the available information, documenting regularities in ear ornaments, necklaces, and beading of cut and shaved hair (Joyce 2003, 2007b, 2008).

    In a small number of these figurines, costume also includes features that evoke garments made of flexible materials: twined, woven, or otherwise constructed textiles. The rarity of these items in the collections I have recorded from Honduran archaeological...

  10. 4 The Naked and the Ornamented: Embodiment and Fluid Identities in Early Formative Oaxaca
    (pp. 79-114)
    Jeffrey P. Blomster

    The body and its adornment are critical in the performance and construction of gender, status, identity, and group affiliation. Bodies are produced through cultural practices, through patterns of action and interaction among social agents. The body tracks and is a medium of social processes and political change. Social meaning is inscribed on the body, which has led to it being referring to as text, something that is performed—an activity rather than static identity (Butler 1993; Douglas 1970). Throughout prehispanic societies, bodies served as dynamic arenas of performance and negotiation, used as canvases to convey socially meaningful identities and actions....

  11. 5 Aspects of Dress and Ornamentation in Coastal Oaxaca’s Formative Period
    (pp. 115-144)
    Guy David Hepp and Ivy A. Rieger

    Perishable remnants of ancient dress and ornamentation are frequently lost in Mesoamerican archaeological assemblages. Taking this reality as a point of departure, numerous authors (Joyce 1998, 2000, 2002; Kellogg 2005; Marcus 1998) have interpreted iconographic depictions of bodily adornment as preserved in such materials as ceramic, stone, and codices to assess social interaction according to categories of gender, age, community or subcommunity affiliations, and social statuses that became increasingly hierarchically differentiated beginning in the Formative period. Our research continues this tradition of iconographic analysis regarding ancient Mesoamerican sociality. We focus on the Late and Terminal Formative period (ca. 450 BCE...

  12. 6 Dressed Ears as Comeliness and Godliness
    (pp. 145-206)
    John E. Clark and Arlene Colman

    The most abundant information for the history of clothing and costuming in Mesoamerica comes from human figurines and sculptures. As apparent in other chapters in this volume, rare is the early figurine showing even a stitch of clothing, and nearly as infrequent is the late figurine not wrapped in cloth. The same temporal disparity of exposed skin and exhibited textile characterizes coeval sculptures. Contradictory values toward dress and identity appear to be represented in early and late Mesoamerica, raising questions about the meanings of representations and the evolution of cultural attitudes from one era to the other. As evident in...

  13. 7 Unsexed Images, Gender-Neutral Costume, and Gender-Ambiguous Costume in Formative Period Gulf Coast Cultures
    (pp. 207-252)
    Billie J. A. Follensbee

    Over the past fifteen years, a good deal of my research has focused on isolating sexed, gendered, and age-related physical characteristics, clothing, and accoutrements in Formative period (1500 BCE–250 CE) Gulf Coast imagery and material culture (Follensbee 1999, 2000a, 2000b, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006a, 2006b, 2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2010; Follensbee and Arnold 2001).¹ The results of this research have been used to assess, and to reassess, conclusions about sex, gender, and age distinctions in Olmec art and archaeology, as well as to explore the possibly gendered and age-related roles that may be illustrated in Olmec and Olmec-related sculpture. One...

  14. 8 More Than Skin Deep: Gestalt Ways of Seeing Formative Olmec and Postclassic Huastec Body, Iconography, and Style
    (pp. 253-294)
    Katherine A. Faust

    Although separated by time and space, the Formative Olmec and Postclassic Huastec cultures developed two of the major iconographic traditions in the Gulf Coast region of Mesoamerica. Notably, and of particular interest to this study, both of these cultures depicted human bodies as tattooed, scarified, or otherwise inscribed with abstract symbols in a unique manner when compared with the material productions of other Mesoamerican cultural groups. Thus, although the Olmec-style figure popularly known as “the Young Lord” or “Slim” and the Huastec sculpture known as “the Huastec Youth” (as translated from its popular Spanish name, “El Adolescente”), among several other...

  15. 9 Making the Body Up and Over: Body Modification and Ornamentation in the Formative Huastecan Figurine Tradition of Loma Real, Tamaulipas
    (pp. 295-322)
    Sophie Marchegay

    By the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Huastec people living in the northeastern Gulf Coast region of Mesoamerica were renowned for their rich and complex manner of modifying, clothing, and ornamenting their bodies (Sahagún 1959–61:10:185). Permanent body modifications such as artificial cranial and dental modification, tattooing, and scarifications were commonplace and were frequently combined with temporary embellishments of painting the body and ornately coiffing the hair. Considering ethnohistorical sources and archaeological data, scholars have discussed some of the ways in which these practices were central to Huastec identity and social status (e.g., Faust 2009, this volume)....

  16. 10 Framed: The Textile Associations of Preclassic Geometric Bands
    (pp. 323-350)
    Caitlin Earley and Julia Guernsey

    Scholars of the Mesoamerican Late Preclassic period (300 BCE–250 CE) are familiar with framing bands, consistent sets of symbols that often seem ubiquitous on sculpture, architecture, and ceramics. From the stucco façades recently unearthed at El Mirador, to the San Bartolo murals, to the finely worked basalt monuments of Kaminaljuyú, these bands serve to frame spaces and people (Clancy 1990). Often lumped under a general label of “skyband” or “framing band,” the elements of these frames appear in different arrangements and in markedly different artistic contexts, but they represent a cohesive shared symbolic vocabulary consisting of dots, bars, lines,...

  17. 11 Wrapped in the Clothing of the Sacred
    (pp. 351-372)
    Whitney Lytle and F. Kent Reilly III

    Following the theme of this volume on the transcendent power of costume and adornment, we contribute an examination of regalia as a tool for communication within the Olmec political sphere. Olmec rulers used works of art as forms of politico-religious display (Reilly 1995; Furst 1995). Combining these influential social structures in art allowed for the ruler to display this duality as validation for his/her political position. Several scholars have specifically discussed the shamanic contents of Olmec art from interpretation of iconography and archaeological contexts of artifacts placed in tableaux¹ (Furst 1995; Reilly 1995; Joralemon 1971). From these interpretations, the supernatural...

  18. 12 The Symbolic Vocabulary of Cloth and Garments in the San Bartolo Murals
    (pp. 373-410)
    Karon Winzenz

    The recently excavated murals of the Pinturas structure at the site of San Bartolo, Guatemala (ca. 100 BCE), have added substantial information about the early development of Maya cosmology and political ideology as well as the iconography through which they were expressed. The murals’ distinctive narrative format, their sequential scenes, and their use of color provide greater context in which to understand the symbolic and ritual functions of cloth and costume among the Late Formative Maya. Their stylistic sophistication speaks to a well-established iconographic and painting tradition (Saturno 2009). They expand the symbols and ideology of the Middle Formative Olmec,...

  19. 13 Early Maya Dress and Adornment
    (pp. 411-446)
    Matthew G. Looper

    Dress and body adornment are widely recognized as a richly meaningful aspect of contemporary Maya culture (Schevill 1997). However, the Precolumbian roots of this tradition are difficult to document. Given the poor conditions of preservation of perishables such as textile fabrics in the Maya area, scholars mainly rely upon pictorial sources to study aspects of ancient Maya attire (Bruhns 1988; Joyce 2001: 54–89; Looper 2000, 2009; Taylor 1992; cf. Lothrop 1992; Mahler 1965). The abundant relief sculpture, figurines, and pictorial pottery painting from the Classic and Postclassic periods have assured an emphasis on these epochs. In contrast, Formative dress...

  20. 14 Conclusion: Undressing the Formative
    (pp. 447-478)
    John W. Hoopes

    “What did they look like?” is a question that captures the interest of scholars and the general public alike. “Why?” soon follows but is more difficult to answer. The authors in this volume address the oldest known archaeological evidence for how people wore costumes and ornaments in ancient Mexico and Central America, providing examples from the coasts and valleys of Veracruz and Oaxaca through Mexico, Guatemala, central Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama in an exploration of costumes and the ways in which they established personhood and identity. Their goal is to reconstruct what people wore, how it made them look,...

  21. Index
    (pp. 479-494)