Main content area

Representations on pre-Columbian spindle whorls of the floral and fruit structure of economic plants

McMeekin, D.
Economic botany 1992 v.46 no.2 pp. 171-180
arts, squashes, ethnobotany, Capsicum annuum, gourds, Cucurbita, Gossypium hirsutum, Gossypium barbadense, flowers, plant morphology, Solanum lycopersicum var. lycopersicum, Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, Peru
A few of the numerous small clay discs from Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and South America contain accurate illustrations of the reproductive structures of important economic plants. The arrangement of seeds in fruit sections, axial or parietal, is shown for the Solanaceae (tomato, pepper) and the Cucurbitaceae (squash). The number of locules in Gossypium (cotton) bolls and the external appearance of the boll including the precise arrangement of the gossypol glands are illustrated. What are probably floral diagrams of these plant families are represented. The bell-shaped spindle whorls from the Quimbaya culture of Colombia have varied designs that resemble the campanulate flowers o/Brugmansia (Datura, Solanaceae), which is known for its contorted flowers, and hallucinogenic effects. The native mythology and language, recorded in Mexico at the time of the conquest, indicates a pervasive interest in fruit and flower structure, which is reflected in the designs on the spindle whorls. These functional artifacts provide evidence of the accurate plant observation in the less well known cultures of Colombia and Ecuador.