The Graphic Scene at Cerro Sechín

Date
2017
Authors
Salt, Blair
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Abstract

The stone carvings from the pre-Hispanic archaeological site of Cerro Sechín, located along Peru’s north central coast, have long been discussed as the earliest depictions of violence and warfare in the Andes. However, no explicit iconographic or archaeological case has been made to support this claim. Furthermore, comprehensive analyses have been discouraged due to the widespread belief among the scholarly community that most of the over 300 carved blocks are not in their original places, but have been reconstructed. Through careful examination of excavation documents, however, my study overturns this widely-held assumption, determining that, in fact, over 200 carved blocks were found in situ. With this established, I conduct a stylistic analysis of the stone frieze with the aim of defining the Cerro Sechín style and establishing how objects and subjects are rendered. In this thesis, I argue that a strong understanding of Cerro Sechín’s style must be established prior to an interpretation of its iconography. Using a methodology developed specifically to interpret the iconography of prehistoric societies, I present the first purely stylistic analysis of the stone frieze at Cerro Sechín. My analysis abstains from overt interpretation and instead focuses explicitly on how objects are rendered as opposed to what they depict, distilling from the images diagnostic features of Cerro Sechín as well as artistic conventions that inform how the visual program should be read. This is a vital prerequisite to a meaningful interpretation of the site’s iconography, as one must understand how a culture represents objects and subjects before correctly identifying what they represent. Some of the most intriguing observations I make are identifying a contoured outline as a key diagnostic feature of Cerro Sechín stone imagery, determining potential visual cues for horizontal versus vertical space, and expanding the concept of paired monoliths to also include complementary in addition to identical pairs. Finally, my stylistic analysis presents a framework for objectively comparing styles from Cerro Sechín and other nearby sites which has the potential to illuminate the nature of their chronological and cultural relationships, such as if they were contemporaneous and/or occupied by the same culture. I conclude my thesis by noting future work that can be done to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the visual programs at Cerro Sechín.

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Keywords
Archaeology, Art, Cerro Sechin, Peru, Violence, Warfare
Citation
Department
Art and Art History