Machu Picchu’s Fashionable Tupus (1438-1534 AD)

By: The Scribe on Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An Incan bone tupu, or shawl pin, with the image of two birds on top.Though the Inca are typically remembered for their complex societies and large-scale warfare, there’s something that often gets overlooked in the history books: women’s fashion! And yet, quite often, it’s the metal accessories from clothing and adornments that last in the historical record. Certainly, they’re nice to look at, but these kinds of artifacts also explain just a little bit more about how ancient societies functioned on a day-to-day level, and what was important to them.

“Tupus”, or long shawl pins, were a staple of women’s fashion during the Incan Empire. These long pins, created out of silver, bone, copper alloy, or even bronze, were used every day by women to pin their garments together or to help close the wrappings used as burial shrouds during funerary preparations.

Many, many tupus were discovered at Machu Picchu over the years of excavation, and it seems to be that, much like modern feminine ornamentation, tupus did not conform to a standard design or size. Instead, tupus like the one pictured above had a much higher value than a plain, silver tupu that might only have a small, curved flange on the top. After all, a bone-carved shawl pin would have to be hand-made – whereas the silver pins pictured below were cast in mass quantities and would have cost far less to purchase.

These silver tupus were cast metal, and thus worth far less than the very fashionable, hand-carved bone pins!

And yet, some women seem to have thought that even a hand-carved shawl pin wasn’t enough for them, and instead decided they needed… foreign imports! The image below is an example of a tupu that has a highly unusual shape, when compared to the other pins found around Machu Picchu – not to mention that it has three openings in the middle of the pin, which were likely created during the casting process. The unusual shape, combined with the odd décor, suggests that this pin was probably made outside of the region and later imported into the area for trade!

The unusual shape of this pin suggests that it was made elsewhere and imported into the area – talk about classy foreign fashion!

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