Precolumbian textiles from Peru played a central role in the development of Andean culture, and are primarily known to have been woven with a variety of native camelid hairs and cotton yarns. But when Dr. Elena Phipps noted certain fibers, of brown-grey or yellowish color and extremely fine, she postulated the presence of viscacha fiber, a rodent from the Chinchillidae family that lives in the Western part of South America from Ecuador to Argentina. Indeed, the animal has been mentioned in sixteenth century historical chronicles and can be seen represented on Precolumbian and colonial-era tapestries. To identify these unusual fibers and trace their early use in Peruvian textile traditions, Dr. Phipps enlisted the help of Dr. Solazzo to identify the fibers by proteomics. Using reference specimens of mountain and plains viscacha, species markers were characterized and compared to chinchilla. Subsequently, yarns were analyzed from seven different textiles selected on the basis of visual assessment of their physical characteristics. Of these seven textiles, five were indeed matched to a Chinchillidae species and further confirmed as mountain viscacha from the Lagidium genus by using the new specific markers determined in this study.
Caroline Solazzo and Elena Phipps. Chasing the elusive viscacha in Precolumbian textiles at the intersection of art and science, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 140, 2022, 105575, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2022.105575.(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440322000334)
Elena Phipps and Caroline Solazzo. Viscacha: luxury, fate and identification in Precolumbian Textiles, 2021, in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/1183/doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0124
Solazzo, C., Heald, S., Ballard, M., Ashford, D., DePriest, P., Koestler, R., & Collins, M. (2011). Proteomics and Coast Salish blankets: A tale of shaggy dogs? Antiquity, 85(330), 1418-1432. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00062141