A History of Natural Fibres: Incan Textiles


So, we’re back a little more to talk about the history of natural fibres in one context with an ancient civilization. That civilization is the Incan civilization. These peoples had an extraordinary decorative world, and working textile industry that was representative, as with us now, of status and wealth and other things. They did not have paper money.

Nonetheless, they had used textiles both as a tax and as the currency in their culture. That would seem to have a certain psychological effect on what people valued in that culture. In fact, some of the most prized objects were not gold, silver, diamonds, platinum, and so on. Rather, it was very high quality textiles. Think about that.

These were the crown jewel of value in the civilization. When the Spanish invaded, or euphemistically arrived, in the 16th century, they looted, stole, and plundered textiles in greater proportion than metal and mineral, I think, which is a very interesting note to the previous one.

Textiles were the heart of the empire of the Incan civilization. The dry nature of the Andes, and the burial sites around in the highlands in the mountains of that area have stayed in decent condition for archaeologists and others to look at the textile and cultural traditions via the textiles for examples. They were weavers. Men and women were weavers.

22D-Image Inca Army

We have talked about some of the other main fibres in the world. These were also used by the Incan culture. For instance, llama, alpaca, and wool in the highlands. The capital of the Incan culture was Cuzco. There were state-sponsored workshops in this particular culture. And the subsidized workers were making the clothing, quite naturally, for the army and the nobility, and, as a speculation, the army most likely protected the nobles alone, the royalty.

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There were three classifications of cloth in the Incan culture. There was a very rough one used for blankets and the like. The coarse, or common ones, that were for work in daily life or military applications, and finally the finest cloth was also there for possibly greater than decorative use such as religious rights. Weaving was a highly esteemed craft in their culture. The designs of the cloth had a certain kind of dyed strand embroidery; and the embroidery itself and tapestry was done by either hand or wooden stamps.

They had a certain abstract geometric set of designs in addition to checkerboard motif. The actual patterns by some scholars’ speculation were ideograms and may have had specific meanings.


Those specific meanings could relate to many things. One might think religious rights or cultural values. However, I leave that to the experts and scholars that spend their lives researching this topic. Of course, there are also non-geometrical patterns in the clothes, which might include the aforementioned llamas, or snakes, sea creatures, and even plants, which would be common in that area, maybe. You can see the influence of geographic surroundings on the culture and vice versa. Culture becomes human interaction with the environment, even at times to the extent of changing the environment. It depends.

The designs found on the cloth could likely be reflected in the designs on the potteries for the pottery decorations of the Incas. You can see various animals as with many other cultures such as monsters and half-human figures. These are interesting to say the least.  What are the functions of these things? I leave that to you.

Many of the men only wear a loincloth or maybe even a simple tunic. In the winter, when things got quite cold actually, you could see them in a poncho or perhaps a cloak. Women wore more of a body wrap with a waist belt or sash. Both men and women wore cloth hats or headbands in this culture. Clothing, as you might be able to tell from the style and design in the textiles – and for the currency and tax, is a great reflection of the status of someone in a society – such as the reflection it will have on purchases. As with most conquered cultures, they had to pay a tax or a tribute to the central state because they were conquered by the Incas. What happens to civilizations that expand too far, though?

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It’s just a short note on the Incan culture and civilization in relation to some of their textiles. It seems interesting to me because the text all that was there were a great influence on both the currency and the status. I like the interrelationship of there.

I like the fact that the currency is related to status, even though this is not even distinct. It is not directly related because as with any culture with currency, maybe. The currency is the means through which one makes their own purchases, and these purchases are reflected in one’s own goods such as clothing. And then, we see the status symbol in the clothing selected from the purchase via the currency. Thank you for your time.

And as with everything written, I could be wrong, incredibly wrong – think for yourself and come to your own conclusions. I’m human. I’m a writer. I have biases, fallibilities, and quirks – even some funny ones. My words aren’t gold, nor are they a calf. And no bull! Although, I will milk it.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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