The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.
This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org – throughout the year.
Pre-Columbian feather poncho, Nazca culture (400- 500 AD)
This centuries-old poncho from Nazca, Peru is incredibly well preserved. Dated to 400- 500 AD, it provides an excellent teaching tool to illustrate the role of climate in preserving perishable items like these.
Feather work of this nature may have existed in the Gulf region of the US. Hot and humid conditions prevalent in this region ensured that none of these items would have preserved like this poncho. Low humidity and great climatic stability along the coastal zone of Peru, like the Nazca region, resulted in incredible preservation rates as seen here.
The poncho also reflects the long distance trade routes in existence in Pre-Columbian South America, bringing feathers across the Andes from the Amazon basin.