Expanding evidence of Anadenanthera in the pre-Columbian Andes: Identifying depictions of Anadenanthera in the iconographic records of Cupisnique, Paracas and Nazca cultures

May 24, 2022
4:05 pm

The importance of psychoactive plants in many major pre-Columbian Andean cultures is well-documented, with an abundance of convincing evidence for their use in diverse geographical locations and time periods. However, significant gaps remain in the archaeological record, where the current evidence of hallucinogen use in certain cultures is scarce or non-existent. This paper attempts to address such gaps in our knowledge, presenting novel visual evidence of the hallucinogenic plant vilca (Anadenanthera spp.) appearing in the iconographic record. Specific symbolic depictions believed to represent vilca are identified. Supporting this interpretation, these images often appear in combination with themes associated with shamanism and non-ordinary states of consciousness. The occurrence of these common motifs is traced through the artistic record of multiple important Andean cultures that exhibited no previous evidence for the use of vilca: Cupisnique (ca. 1000–200 BCE), Paracas (ca. 800-100 BCE), and Nazca (100–800 CE). Such iconographic evidence suggests that vilca was utilized in a shamanic context and indicates that it was culturally significant enough for individuals to devote a substantial amount of time and effort to reflect these themes of vilca and shamanism in their artistic creations, whether through detailed ceramics or intricate textiles. This new visual evidence therefore acts to further expand and reinforce our understanding of the prevalence and significance of vilca in the pre-Columbian Andes.