Exploring an ancient Andean spinning basket

One of the great things about the climate of parts of the Andes is that many of their ancient textiles and textile tools have survived. Archaeologists have even found whole looms set up with uncompleted textiles which may have been buried with their owners. At the Carlos Museum, there are a number of artifacts which give us information about the tools weavers used and today I am going to explore one of them.

This is a basket which contains spinning and weaving tools from the Chancay culture which existed on the coast of Peru from 100-1470 CE, slightly overlapping the time period of the Wari culture.

The spinning basket is on the left, made of woven reeds. The spinning supplies to the right include spindles, some wound with spun cotton and some empty. Everything is placed in a special box designed to hold this object and its many parts.

Spinning basket with spinning supplies


This is another shot of the same basket, this type accompanied by a clay bowl used to support the spindle and several balls of cotton and wool thread dyed blue, red, and green

Spinning basket with additional spinning supplies and spun thread

The basket itself is made of twined plant material, kind of like the wicker baskets we use today. It was packed with everything a spinner could want as well as several balls of completed thread of different colors.

There were several spindles of various sizes, varying in thickness.

Series of spindles found in the Chancay spinner's basket, 9 total, resting on a foam support inside a special cardboard One has quite a bit of white cotton thread still on it!

Here you can see the 9 different spindles. One has quite a bit of white cotton thread still on it!DSCN6097

The basket also contained a small clay bowl which would have been used to balance the spindle. Cotton requires a different spinning technique than the one I am using in this project because has a much shorter staple and is subject to breaking.  The weight of a drop spindle causes it to snap so cotton is often spun today in an almost identical manner, using a bowl to support a spindle with a sharp point.

A small reddish bowl made of clay resting in a foam partition inside one of the cardboard boxes

Here is a closeup of the bowl sitting inside its custom size spot in the storage tray. These two trays were made by the museum staff especially to fit this set of objects.

Cotton does not absorb color as easily as animal fibers do which makes these deep colored threads even more amazing

Ball of navy blue finely spun cotton

This dark navy color would have been achieved with indigo dyes. The darker the color, the more difficult it is to produce!

Ball of reddish brown finely spun cotton thread, some of which is breaking off due to its age.

And this light green

Ball of cotton thread dyed light green. This thread is not as finely spun and you can see the twist of the two separate threads around each other.

This thread is not as finely spun and you can see the twist of the two separate threads around each other.


The final tool in the basket is a bit of a puzzle to me. It is an elaborately constructed comb made by twining threads around a series of pointed slender sticks. It could have either been used as a beater, or a tool to push down the weft threads on the loom to make a tighter cloth, or as a tool to comb apart cleaned fiber to prepare it for spinning. Let me know what you think!

View of the comb previously described    Closeup of the comb showing the intricate twining of the threads around the blunt ends of the sticks

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