Introduction I Table of Contents I Previous Example I Next Example

Wood - Sculptures


Carved Oars (Peru)

Origin I Characteristics I Urgency of the Situation I Legislation I Bibliography

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Chincha-Ica oar,
wood, 2.3 m x 20.5 cm
Detail of the top of the Chincha-Ica oar, wood, width: 20.5 cm Detail of the Pachacamac Idol, wood, 2.2 m x 30 cm
  © Instituto Nacional de Cultura © Instituto Nacional de Cultura © Instituto Nacional de Cultura




Carved oars are characteristic of the Chimu culture, in the northern coast of Peru, and the Chinchas, in the southern coast (1000-1500 AD). Both were cultures of sailors and fishermen contemporaneous with the Inca. The Spanish chronicles contain a few references to them.
These oars seem to be ritual objects found in tombs. Due to the dry coast weather, the wood they are made of is usually well preserved and shows use of polychrome paint. They are approximately 1.2-2.3 m long. The oars, which are carved out of a single piece of wood, have three parts: the blade, the shaft and a decorated top. The blade is rectangular, usually unadorned although sometimes it is carved. The shaft and the top are in openwork or have intricately carved motifs depicting small human figures, birds, fishes, other stylized animals and ladder-like geometrical patterns.
Some of them are inlaid with shells. There are also individual human forms made of wood, which are similar to the small ones found in carved oars.
Their features are rough and they wear head-dresses and circular ear ornaments. Their head is big and disproportionate in relation to the body. They are worked in low relief and have a long rod to support the figure. They measure 50 cm without the rod.


--Urgency of the Situation  

These ritual oars are remarkable due to their surprising and incongruous shape: a wide, flat blade accompanied by a shaft that is intricately decorated in openwork resembling lace. These unusual, astounding and attractive objects are highly valued by collectors and even decorators.
Their iconography still remains unclear but is similar to the one found in these cultures' palace wall-reliefs, textiles and ceramics. For this reason, oars are extremely important objects for the study of ancient Peruvian cultures.
Items that make up private collections in Peru and other countries are invariably issued from looted tombs. These objects should be found and studied in their context and in relation with the objects with which they were buried.


--Legislation Protecting these Objects  

See Peru

  • Lavalle, José Antonio de. Culturas precolombinas. Lima, Banco de Crédito del Perú, 1982.
  • Lavalle, José Antonio de. Chimú. Lima, Banco de Crédito del Perú, 1982.
  • Lumbreras, Luis G. The Peoples and Cultures on Ancient Peru.Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1974.




Introduction I Legislation I Acknowledgments I General Bibliography I Previous Emxaple I Next Example
Red List Home Page I ICOM Web Site

October 2003