Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Mantle Border Fragments with Bean-Humans



Mantle Border Fragments with Bean-Humans


Like the fragments of hummingbirds, this technically unique three-dimensional embroidery was stitched on the south coast of Perú around 200 AD. Originally, like the hummingbirds, these bean people were attached as borders to a plain-woven cloth rectangle, little of which survives.

The simple faces on the upper part have two staring eyes and an open mouth. A checkerboard horizontal band joins the heads together and to the lower parts, which represents stylized beans (Phaseolus vulgaris, a food staple native to the Andes). The faces might signify not just successful bean farmers, but perhaps the life spirit of sprouting, nourishing beans themselves. Human faces were often used in ancient Andean art to show that the plant or other entity was fully alive, presented as kin to the humans due to their mutual support.

Like llamas and herders, farmers and beans are truly interdependent, performing the Quechua concept of ayni or productive, creative interrelatedness. The Nasca people could not have survived the dry coast without the sustenance provided by the protein, minerals, fat, and fiber of this indigenous food (one of the “Three Sisters” along with corn and squash, which together make a complete protein).

Geographic Area

South America, Central Andes




Early Intermediate Period, ca. 100-200 AD


Cotton, camelid fiber

Credit Line

Gift of Drs. Ann and Robert Walzer

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Bruce M. White, 2016

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