Direction, Gender, and Cosmology in the Pre-Columbian Textile Technologies of Mesoamerica

Author(s): Lois Martin

Year: 2017


Despite the paucity of actual archeological textiles in Mesoamerica, alternative sources provide a picture of pre-Columbian textile technologies. These include: Colonial-era depictions and descriptions, tools, and especially continuities to ethnographic practice. Together, these reveal the centrality of textiles to these societies, and even hint at how textiles conceptually embodied and reflected indigenous cultural norms and notions. I argue that these sources suggest some hitherto under-recognized broad, underlying principles that emphasize opposition and complementarity. For instance, there are striking, regular consistencies in traditional gendered work, between the axis and gender of the body of the user and the tool in action. "Female and horizontal" are consistently counter-posed to "male and vertical" in all of the following: spindle whorl to circular shield; loom batten to battle sword; pick-up stick to digging stick; backstrap loom belt to burden strap. Moreover, just as Desrosiers (and others) have found consistent alternations between thread direction and gender in Andean garments, so, too, in Mesoamerica, warps ran horizontally on women’s skirts, and vertically on male loincloths. While some scholars have proposed that every traditional cornfield reproduces Mesoamerican schemes of cosmic order, I will argue that hand-woven cloth—both past and present—traces cosmological outlines as well.

Cite this Record

Direction, Gender, and Cosmology in the Pre-Columbian Textile Technologies of Mesoamerica. Lois Martin. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431865)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15152