“The fabrics of a people unlock their social history. They speak a language which is silent, but yet more eloquent than the written page. As memorials of former times, they commune directly with the beholder, opening the unwritten history of the period they represent, and clothing it with perpetual freshness.“—Lewis Henry Morgan, 1851
The sky has dried up, the heavens have darkened with fire. Ampato has turned his face away from the people. The people must prepare a sacrifice, to win him again.
September 15, 1995— God, what a find. Last week two climbers in the Peruvian Andes stumbled onto an honest-to-goodness Inca mummy, which looked only slightly worse for wear after being dislodged from a 20,700-foot burial site during thaw conditions and then sliding a good ways down from the topmost peak of Nevado Ampato. Turned out to be an adolescent female, probably sacrificed to the mountain god of Ampato by her village. The archeology department of the University at Arequipa estimates she’s about 500 years old; but thanks to the cold, dry mountain air, she—and her clothes—stayed almost perfectly preserved. She’s frozen solid, except for her face, exposed to the sun when her outer wrap came unfastened during her trip down the mountain. Her little face is dessicated now, tanned almost like leather.
She’s the first female Inca mummy ever to turn up, and I’ll be meeting her soon. Professor Coffman recommended the trip to Peru on the grounds that I can study textile preservation with some of the world’s leading authorities, and bring that knowledge home to share. She got it funded, too, God only knows how. Never dreamed I’d get to examine ancient Inca textiles practically fresh from the loom.
I never wished to marry the mountain. But I was chosen, by order of the Inca. It is an honor—and the king cannot be disobeyed. Ampato must be persuaded to share his water with us again.
When the king’s command came, the priest brought all marriageable girls to the center of the village. Illiya and I were chosen. She is more beautiful, but on her thigh rides a jagged scar, from a dog bite when she was small. The bride of the mountain must be without blemish. The priest pointed to the tiny mole on my right heel, a sign that I must make a great journey. He announced, “Aluma shall climb the mountain, at the end of her fifteenth summer. Her mother must prepare her now.” People murmured and sighed all around me. Xochil turned away, but I saw his eyes—like shutters, they opened wide with pain, then closed against me. I belonged to the mountain now. My parents embraced me, my younger brothers and sisters clinging, scared into silence for once. Paca, the littlest, ran her fingers through my hair, crying, “Sister, sister.”
October 23—Slow going. The mummy can’t be out of her freezer for more than half an hour a day. The technology aces are trying to figure out a better controlled environmental system so we can work for longer periods of time. Still, we have it better than some of the others. The pathologists, microbiologists, parasitologists, gynecologists won’t be able to get at her for months yet. How ironic our impatience, when she waited for us for 500 years, in serene silence, like a queen. University officials have contacted local tribal authorities to assure them the mummy will be handled with careful respect while study procedures are performed.
Anyway, the anthropologists from Chile and Austria concur with our team leader’s recommendation that all textiles be removed first thing, to protect both mummy and clothes, since they need different humidity levels and methods of preservation. Removal will be tricky, because she’s frozen in a crouch, arms hugging her knees. The topmost garment began to unweave during her fall, and fragments were torn away, left behind on the mountain. Her next layer, a nondescript robe of brown and white stripes, appears to be damaged but intact.
What blew us away when we peeked at it was her lliclla, a shawl of blazingly bright red and white, woven of thread spun so fine it could pass for machine-made, though we know it was done by hand on a spindle. The pattern is similar to one seen in modern shawls in Cotopaxi province, called “pata de llamingo con moscas,” or llama foot with flies, a simple chevron pattern. The tupu, the pin which fastened the shawl, is silver. The tupu was a woman’s primary ornament, usually made of bronze for everyday wear. Most likely there will be only one more layer, a wrap-like body dress, since as far as anyone has ever discovered, the Inca and other tribes did not wear underpants.
By the way, found an interesting quote last night in a quilting magazine, by U.S. quilter Patricia Mainardi:
“The textile and needlework arts of the world, primarily because they have been the work of women, have been especially written out of art history. It is a male -- [End of Preview.]