Nasca Drum

Nasca Ceramic Drum

Brief Identification Edit

This ceramic artifact is an ancient drum from the southern Andean region in what is now modern-day Peru. Dating from the 1st century AD this drum was produced by the Nazca culture. Archeological investigations lead us to believe that musical instruments in Nazca culture, such as this drum, were primarily ritual objects used for worship during group gatherings at the ceremonial center of Cahuachi. It is currently on display in New York City, NY at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Gallery 357.

Technical Evaluation Edit

Located on the southern coast of modern-day Peru, the soil in the Andean region was enriched with abundant deposits of clay. By the 1st century, the use of clay to create art, vessels, and instruments had developed and been in practice for quite some time in the Andean region. In fact, much of Nazca ceramic culture derived from the Paracas, a preexisting society. Archaeologists have discovered identical ceramic vessels including drums, that the Paracas had produced centuries before the Nazca.

This Nazca drum is crafted to have a bulbous, sounding chamber in the center of the drum. At the base, there is a circular opening which was likely covered with a stretched skin. The drum would be held upside down by the musician and the stretched skin would be hit in order to create sounds from the bulbous chamber. In the first century, the Nazca did not have the luxury of modern innovations such as the pottery wheel. All ceramic instruments, such as this drum, were hand crafted by the Nazca people. A tube of clay would be spiraled around a base in order to build up the shape of the drum. The walls of the drum were likely smoothed and thinned using a smooth stone or the potter's hand.

The Nazca were able to decorate this drum pre-firing using a slip. This was a new innovation that superseded the Paracas method, who would decorate the pottery after it had been fired. The Nazca likely used a turn table to hand decorate this drum. The decorations are anthropomorphic, meaning humanlike in nature. There is a human face at the top of the drum and on the bulbous chamber of the drum the potter drew legs and arms. There are also pictures of animals depicted such as orca whales around the eyes of the figure and hair flowing from the figure appears to be snakes, including the beard.

Local Historical Context Edit

Nazca civilization flourished on the southern Peruvian coast from roughly 200 BCE to 600 CE. The majority of what we know about the Nazca culture comes from the ceramic vessels and artwork that it produced, such as this drum. This drum was not created for everyday use but instead was likely used for ceremonies such as ritual worship and burials. Ceramic drums such as this were used to keep the cadence in ritual ceremonies such as worship and burial.

At its maximum capacity, the Nazca population is estimated to have never exceeded 25,000 people living in various small villages in the hillsides. The Nazca political structure was heavily decentralized described as a collection of chiefdoms that would come together whenever there was mutual benefit. Evidence shows that the Nazca people would also come together at times for religious festivals, feasts, and burials at Cahuachi. Cahuachi was originally believed to be a residential area but several excavations during 1984-1985 by Helaine Silverman revealed evidence that Cahuachi was likely a religious centre. Multiple ceramic drums like this one and multiple panpipes in the archeological records discovered at this site suggest that music was an intricate part of Nazca ritual worship. [Vales, 1994, 676]

World- Historical Significance Edit

The Nazca ceramic drum is significant because it illustrates the importance of music in ritual worship. Ceramic drums such as this one continued to be used for centuries by other Andean cultures such as the Moche and the Chimú. This drum is similar to drums produced by the Paracas as well.

Paracas drums

Drum from Paracas Culture

This shows just how significant ritual music was in Andean cultures. Drums were were used for political and religious activities such as burials, festivals, feasts, and processions. Cahuachi became a major religious center for not just the Nazca locals but the entire region at one point, Nazca culture as depicted in the artwork on the drum, was able to spread across the entire region. The Nazca were eventually conquered by the Wari but their artistic style would continue to influence later cultures including the Incas.

Suggested Bibliography Edit

Bernier, Author: Hélène. "Music in the Ancient Andes | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., Aug. 2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Cartwright, Mark. "Nazca Civilization." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 23 May 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

Cartwright, Mark. "Nazca Pottery." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 05 Apr. 2016. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.

"Drum | Nasca | The Met." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. <>.

Moore, J. Kenneth, Jayson Kerr Dobney, and E. Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Musical Instruments: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 2015. 30. Print.

Nazca Ceramic Drum. N.d. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. UGA Libraries Off-Campus Login. By Weilgus Family. Web. 7 Nov. 2016.

"Paracas." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Proulx, Donald A., and University Of Massachusetts. The Nasca Culture: An Introduction (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 12 Nov. 2016. <>.

Valdez, Lidio M. "Cahuachi: New Evidence for an Early Nasca Ceremonial Role." Current Anthropology 35.5 (1994): 675-79. JSTOR. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.