Faldas del Morro

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  • Environment and Geography

    The Faldas del Morro people lived in the far north of Chile, their range extending at least as far south on the coast as Pisagua, and to the Guatacondo Ravine and the oasis of Quillagua in the Chilean desert. They were named after the first site attributed to this culture—a cemetery located on the slopes of the Morro de Arica.

  • Economy

    The Faldas del Morro people had an economy that combined horticulture with hunting and gathering of sea- and land-based species. They fished using cactus needle hooks and harpoons. Their textiles were manufactured of camelid wool using the same techniques they first used to weave their baskets. The first ceramics in the region have been attributed to this culture, though early pieces were poorly fired and and fiber- and shell-tempered, making them extremely fragile. Many of these artifacts were found as grave goods in tombs; their use as domestic implements was much more limited.

  • Art

    The artistic expressions attributed to this culture are found mainly on objects left as grave goods and funerary offerings. One of the most notable and characteristic artifacts is the turban, which was made from thick skeins of camelid wool. Other noteworthy items include gold and copper ornaments such as discs, plaques, and pins. These have been found along with beaded necklaces made of bone, stone, shell and seeds. Their textiles were usually dyed with bands of red, blue and brown, and were used to make loincloth aprons (faldellines), bags and headbands that were used for gathering activities. Their baskets were also decorated with geometric motifs, mainly laddered designs. Equally important were the bird-shaped wood carvings inlaid with stones and gourds pyrographied with solar, bird and geometric motifs.

  • Social Organization

    The Faldas de Morro groups are thought to have lived in small kinship-based groups with distinct roles and differentiated status.

  • Beliefs and Funeral Rites

    The dead were buried in graves in horizontal position with bent limbs, and accompanied by many grave goods. Many individuals exhibit intentional cranial deformation. This is the earliest culture in which the inhalation of psychoactive substances became popular in the north of Chile, with mollusk shells and rudimentary wooden tablets being used to hold the hallucinogenic powder and bone tubes used to inhale it. This ritual and possibly shamanic practice later found its way south, taking an especially strong hold in San Pedro de Atacama.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The Faldas del Morro groups were the first in the north of Chile to live in actual villages. These were usually small settlements with several detached enclosures located on terraces, protected from the wind and with easy access to freshwater springs. Some rectangular enclosures, beside which they buried their dead, were built out of organic material such as reeds, sticks and mud, and therefore little of them remains. One of the most extensive Faldas del Morro villages is Guatacondo, which consists of many circular, stone-walled enclosures situated around a large central patio.

  • History

    The Faldas del Morro culture was part of the zone’s maritime tradition, which dates as far back as the Chinchorro culture. On the coast these people shared their habitat with the El Laucho fishing culture and in the valleys with the horticulturalists of the Azapa culture. The Faldas del Morro maintained close ties with both of these other groups, possibly because they traded complementary resources. In its later years, the Faldas del Morro culture made contact with the first Tiwanaku and Cabuza groups, which arrived in the valley from the Bolivian Altiplano.

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