Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Four-Cornered Pile Hat



Four-Cornered Pile Hat


High-status headwear was always the prerogative of the elites in ancient Andean societies. In the Wari Empire, the pre-Inka state that dominated much of the Central Andes ca. 600–1000 AD, officials wore small, four-sided hats that sat high on their heads. Control over the cosmic directions is presumably the basic reference for the four tufts on the corners, one of which is now lost in this example.

The base for the velvet-like pile is made by knotting a continuous long thread into a three-dimensional shape, a remarkable feat in itself. As the knotting took place, short colorful threads were introduced—as in a Turkish rug—and cut off to form the patterned pile. On the top of the hat and in the places in which the colorful threads have fallen out, the knotted substructure can be seen.

These hats are depicted on ceramic effigies of the men who proudly wore the empire’s administrative-rank tunics. The tunics and hats helped convert a man into a geometric placard, as did the rectilinear stepped patterns painted on his face.

In terms of qumpi, the Andean category of the highest-status textiles, these labor-intensive accessories were dyed with prestigious dyes, such as indigo for the blues and cochineal for the reds. The prickly pear cactus on which the cochineal beetles feed grows in abundance in the southcentral highlands, the heartland of the Wari state.

Geographic Area

South America, Central Andes, South Coast




Middle Horizon, ca. 500-800 AD


Cotton, camelid fiber

Credit Line

Ex coll. C. Clay and Virginia Aldridge

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Bruce M. White, 2006

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