Las Varas Bowl 1

Las Varas Bowl 1 by umichlacs on Sketchfab

Freely available for download.

This bowl was discovered at Las Varas, an ancient village located in the Middle Jequetepeque Valley in northern Peru. It was part of an offering buried in layers of trash and earth deliberately dumped to cover a house before it was abandoned. Archaeologists found three bowls, including this one, in the offering.

Date: AD 1000

Material: Pottery

Dimension: Diameter 15 cm, height 5.5-6.5 cm, ring base diameter 6.5 cm

Culture: Mid-Valley Cajamarca or “Coastal Cajamarca”

Publications: Tsai, Howard. 2019. "The 'Coastal Cajamarca' Style Did Not Come from the Coast." Nawpa Pacha 39 (1): 121-144. Link.

Tsai, Howard. 2020. Las Varas: Ritual and Ethnicity in the Ancient Andes. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. Amazon link.

The moment Las Varas Bowl 1 was discovered.

On the middle terrace of the "Llama House" of Las Varas, we found three complete bowls made in the style of "Coastal Cajamarca"; they were likely an offering to the house before it was ritually sealed and abandoned. In this sealing ritual, the entire patio was first covered by ash and charcoal, the bowls were then set atop this layer of burnt material and later covered by another layer of ash and midden. The bowls were found in a dark ashy layer filled with guinea pig dung and charcoal. Bowl 3 was set on its side, whereas Bowls 1 and 2 were stacked one atop another, face down. All three bowls had ring bases and a band of white slip around the rim, typical of Coastal Cajamarca bowls.

Bowl 1 has painted red-on-white interior designs consisting of concentric circles in the center and dot-and-crescents around the rim. The dot-and-crescents motif is frequently painted on the bowls of Las Varas and it is common on Cajamarca-style pottery of the highlands. The mid-valley (or Las Varas) version of this motif has only two crescents flanking the dot, whereas highland Cajamarca sherds often have multiple crescents.

For another example of a Coastal Cajamarca bowl, see this model from the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.

Classroom Use

To interpret why these three bowls were found intact and unbroken within the Llama House, I relied on their context, or their spatial placement within the site and their spatial relationship with other finds. Because of the importance of context in aiding interpretation, this 3D model could be part of a lesson on that crucial principle in archaeology. We can imagine several alternative scenarios in which the bowl was found in other places like the kitchen, the garage, the bathroom, the living room, etc.

In my classes, I have used a 3D-printed replica of this bowl (made by Shapeways) and placed it in various spots within the classroom -- on the podium, on the floor, inside a cabinet, in someone’s backpack -- and asked students to make interpretations of each context. They would then see how their interpretation varied depending on the find-spot in which the artifact was discovered. This exercise students learn (1) the importance of context and (2) why a properly excavated artifact could provide so much more information as opposed to something that had been looted.

I suppose the same exercise could be done with any normal, everyday object, but it helps to use an archaeological object whose function isn’t that clear in the first place so the students would need to think through the problem of context and interpretation. An object too familiar to the students (e.g., a stapler, scissor, cellphone) would already predispose them to making an assumption about its function.