Collection of spindle whorls "Quimbaya"

135 €

Pre-Columbian era, Manabí culture, Ecuador & Quimbaya culture, Cauca region, Middle Cauca complex, Colombia, c. 1050AD - 1500AD, private collection from Netherlands.

Quimbaya, the name given to various ethnic groups inhabiting the Middle Cauca River valley of Colombia (departments of Quindío, Risaralda, Caldas, and Antioquia) in the sixteenth century, as well as to an immense complex of archaeological artifacts, dating from approximately 1000AD to 1500AD, that were found in the same region. There is no clear data about when they were initially established. The history of the Quimbaya culture is usually studied based on two different periods, the Early or Classical period (500 BC - 600 AD) and the Late period (800-1600 AD). In this first period (4th to 7th century AD) the culture settled and developed agriculture, the production of ceramics and the smelting of metals. A predominant aspect was its high-level goldsmith development, which copied the shape of animals and objects from nature. The economy was eminently agricultural, with outstanding cultivation of maize, cassava, avocado, pejibaye, plum and guava. They also dominated hunting and fishing, especially rabbits, opossums, tapirs, armadillos, foxes and peccaries. The various Quimbaya groups, which exhibited features of the chiefdom level of sociopolitical integration, were characterized by accentuated social hierarchy, hereditary political leaders, and an economic system based on the redistribution of subsistence products. The ethnohistorical record emphasizes Quimbaya religious practices, including human sacrifice and the flaying of slain enemies, as a means of acquiring their power.

The Late period covers from 800AD to about 1600AD. In this period of the Quimbaya culture, manual trades continued to be common and goldsmith designs more frequent. After a two-hundred-year hiatus, the Quimbaya culture resumed its goldsmith production, but now showing simple and schematic geometric figures. This is accompanied by a boom in cotton spinning and new ceramic styles in the Cauca region. Finally, in 1539 the Spanish conquest of the American territories began and the Quimbayas staged a fierce resistance, with two open rebellions in 1542 and 1557.

The archaeological ceramics of the Middle Cauca Valley fall into about eight groups on the basis of surface treatment and decoration. The two major complexes are the Caldas complex (1000AD - 1400AD) and the Middle Cauca complex (1050AD - 1500AD). The Caldas complex are characterized by resist black painting on red slip, and the Middle Cauca complex includes ceremonial artifacts like stirrup vessels, bowls, cups, vases (the specific uses of these are not known), and anthropomorphic or (often male) figurines. There is little local variation in decoration or in shape. The abstract slab figures were often designed portraying a social class and included as offerings in burials in tombs representing the guardians or companions for the deceased.

A spindle whorls (called malacates in Aztec Mexico, husos in Spanish and fusaiola in classical archaeology, Funes Sánchez 1970) are c. 2,0cm - 5,0cm diameter perforated weights that sits on a spindle shaft to facilitate the twisting of maguey, cotton or wool fibers into yarn. The whorls were usually made of baked clay, but occasionally occur made of stone (obsidian) or bone. Ethnographic studies have also described whorls of wood, tortoise shell, rubber, and sun-dried clay. In the Pre-Columbian world the spindle whorls were symbolic gifts to female children at birth and were often included in burials. They are abundant in some archaeological sites, for example fo 900AD - 1500AD in Western Mexico, from 500AD - 1500AD in Manabí Province in coastal Ecuador and from 500AD - 1000AD among the Quimbayas of the Cauca River valley in Colombia.

Small spindles were used for thin threads because they rotate faster and heavy spindles were used for plying yarn. A smaller whorl moves faster and the type of fiber determines how fast the spinning should go, rabbit fur, for example, needs to spin quickly, but the thicker, coarser materials, such as maguey (Furcraea andina), need to spin relatively slowly. A study reported on a postclassic Aztec site in Mexico (Smith and Hirth) indicated that whorls likely associated with cotton production were significantly smaller (under 18 grams in weight) and had smooth surfaces, while those associated with maguey cloth production weighted c. 34 grams and were decorated with incised or mold-impressed designs. The larger whorls were more often used in open areas outside of the household compound. Small whorls, used in supported spinning, were most often used within the household compound. The most basic material commonly used was cotton. Cultivated cotton (Gossypium barbadense) has been found in pre-ceramic shell midden deposits of coastal Peru dating to 3000 BC. In later times wool joined cotton as a basic textile material, with bast fibers and hair being employed for special purposes. The llama, with its relatives, long a principal producer of wool in the pre-Columbian Andes, seems to have been introduced into Ecuador by the Inca. i.e., in late pre-Conquest times. After the Conquest the indians adopted the goat and sheep as well, and the wool of these domesticated animals became the basic material used in weaving.

The whorls are bead-like ceramic artifacts, occasionally flat but usually spheroid, semi-spheroid, barrel-shaped, oblong, or conical. Funes Sánchez (1970:58) found the forms and decorations of the whorls varying the according to local culture and period. Decoration was accomplished mainly by excision and incision. The excavated parts were filled with white lime and possibly other colors. Geometric and abstract designs were very common in spindle-whorl art. Chronologically, the spindle whorls with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic designs are limited to the Guangala Culture and to the Manteño Culture. Geographically, they occur mainly Manabí, on Puná Island, and on the Guayas coast. Some fascinating spindle whorls from Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru shows accurate illustrations of the reproductive structures of important economic plants. The arrangement of seeds in fruit sections, axial or parietal, is shown for the tomato, pepper (Solanaceous plants) and the gourds, squashes (Cucurbitaceae). The number of locules in cotton (Gossypium barbadense) bolls and the external appearance of the boll including the precise arrangement of the gossypol glands are illustrated.

Absolutely fascinating small collection of Pre-Columbian Quimbaya and Manabí culture spindle whorls with fine geometric designs. Intricately-incised, fine line details in linear and circular motifs. Hand polished. Beautiful colours and good condition. Age-related minor wear, dirt, soil and dust. Size of the whorls varies from approx. 1,5cm to 2,4cm. Total weight c. 30,0g. Sell as a set.

Citations, references and sources:

Quimbaya, Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, (

Colombia Before Columbus: the People, Culture and Ceramic Art of Prehispanic Colombia,  Armand J. Labbe, Rizzoli, 1986.

Ancient pottery of the middle Cauca Valley, Colombia, Karen Olson Bruhns.(

Characteristics of the Quimbaya culture, history and more, Postposmo. (

Los Quimbayas bajo la dominación española : estudio documental (1539-1810), Juan Friede, Banco de la República, 1963.

Los Quimbayas: Reseña etno-histórica y arqueológica, Luis Duque Gómez, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología, Colombia, 1970.

The thread of life: Symbolism of miniature art from Ecuador, Johannes Wilbert, Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology, no. 12 (1974): pp. 1–112. (

Arte Precolombino Ecuatoriano: Las Fusaiolas o Torteras del Litoral, Funes Sánchez & Maria Antonieta, Published by Editorial Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, Nucleo del Guayas, 1970.

Spinning and Weaving as Female Gender Identity in Post-Classic Mexico, Sharisse D. McCafferty and Geoffrey G. McCafferty, Textile Traditions of Mesoamerica and the Andes: An Anthology, edited by Margot Blum Schevill, Janet Catherine Berlo and Edward B. Dwyer, New York, USA: University of Texas Press, 2021, pp. 19-44. (

The World on a Whorl: Considerations on Aztec Spindle Whorl Iconography, Jesper Nielsen, PreColumbian Textile Conference VII / Jornadas de Textiles PreColombinos VII. 5., 2017 (

Representations on Pre-Columbian Spindle Whorls of the Floral and Fruit Structure of Economic Plants, Dorothy McMeekin, Economic Botany 46, no. 2 (1992), pp. 171–80. (

Spindle whorls from the Teotihuacan Valley, Mexico, MH Parsons, Anthropological Papers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, 1972.

The Distribution of Late Postclassic Spindle Whorls in the Valley of Mexico, MH Parsons, American Antiquity 40 (2), pp. 207-215, 1975.