A Key Checkerboard Pattern Tunic of the Linden Museum: First Steps in Breaking the Tocapu Code? TRIBUS 2007, vol. 56 - Abstract



The tocapu symbol system of Wari and Inca cultures belongs to the most impressive aspects of material culture of prehispanic South America. Although progress has been done in the past years the meaning and function of the tocapus remain unclear. This chapter presents new results about tocapus by analyzing a fragment of an Inca key checkerboard pattern tunic of the Linden Museum Stuttgart (Linden-Museum Stuttgart, Germany, 1167.771) which up to now never has been discussed in former publications (fig. 1a, reconstruction in fig. 1b). The results has been received by an iconographic analysis focusing on form and context of two prominent tocapu motifs, the so-called Inca key and the Inca diamond (Rowe 1979) (figs. 21a, 9). Discussion begins with an analysis that focus on the description of the design of the inca key checkerboard pattern tunic of the Linden Museum under special consideration of the inca key. Only one half of the tunic is preserved. The measurements of the fragment are about thirty-six centimeters by eighty-six centimeters. The pattern appears to be executed in four colors. The design consists of thirty yellow squares with red keys alternating with thirty purple squares with dark blue keys. The original tunic hase been completely covered with keys, there were no stripes in the lower panel. The technique is interlocked tapestry. It is a Quompi weaving.

Using the method of the long term seriation that includes the analysis of form and context of motifs which date to the Middle Horizon (550-1000 AD), Late Intermediate Period (1000-1475 AD) and Late Horizon (1475-1535 AD) it can be proofed that several tocapu design units of the Inca period can be tracked back to Wari antecedents of the Middle Horizon. Some, notably a diamond motif, seems to be the direct precursor of the Inca diamond and is called here the Middle Horizon diamond tocapu (MH diamond tocapu). As in the Inca period it is used as waist band on tunics (fig. 15a) and as horizontal (figs. 15b,c) and vertical bands on four-cornered hats (figs. 17, 29). Another group of motifs here called the percent sign group (fig. 24, types IA,B) has strong ties to Sawyer’s Type I Paired Elements a and b (Sawyer 1963). Also existing in the Late Intermediate Period (figs. 25, 35) some of the percent signs seem to be the antecedents of the Inka key. Most of Middle Horizon tocapus are forming rows by repeating the same motif which is a common trait of tocapus in all periods.

Based on the fundamental observation that tocapu design units in the Wari culture of the Middle Horizon are derived from motifs (pictorial signs) in contemporary images a second step of analysis is concerned with motifs in multi-figured scenes which are isolated from the image’s context and then used as tocapus. Tocapus of the Middle Horizon are here defined as figural and abstract design units without pictorial context and set in frames. Some of them as the fleur-de-lys (Menzel 1964) occur in scenes (figs. 10, 11, 13) and are also used as tocapus (fig. 14). According to its interpretation as celestial body in multi-figured scenes the meaning of the fleur-de-lys tocapu might be that of a star. Other Middle Horizon tocapus as the MH diamond tocapu and the motifs of the percent sign group are of abstract form. Of special interest is the fact that it are the spots of a serpent’s body (fig. 28) that served as a model of the MH diamond tocapu (fig. 27). Also, some motifs of the percent sign group are derived from the body of a serpent decorated with a zigzag line (fig. 33a). Both the MH diamond tocapu and the percent sign group are constructed by using a section of a serpent’s body reflecting not only the figurative origin of tocapus in the Middle Horizon, but also the use of the convention of pars pro toto with which we are more familiar in literary contexts.

In Middle Horizon epochs both units of percent signs and MH diamond tocapus are used to compose “serpent staffs” (fig. 31, 32) and “serpent belts” (fig. 16), common power symbols of prominent mythical beings as “staff gods” and “sacrificers”. According to this an interpretation of both tocapu types as segments of serpents is suggested. Waist bands on tunics consisting of MH diamond tocapus and percents signs are suggested to imitate “serpent belts”.

Consistent with the results of the iconographic analysis the autor suggests an interpretation of the Inca key checkerboard pattern tunic of the Linden Museum in relation to representations of (mythical) serpents.