Two of the more remarkable and distinctive civilizations that dominated the Peruvian coast in the years before the Inka empire expanded its hegemony all along the coast were the Chimú and Chancay. Both arose in the period from 900-110CE, and both ultimately gave way to the Inka in the middle 15th century.

They differ in many respects—Chimú was a well-integrated kingdom with clearly defined administrative hierarchies, state-controlled mass production of textiles and ceramics and a narrow territory stretching far along the coastal margin, while Chancay was a less complex series of related polities with less state-level management of craft production, and controlling a narrower section of coast but extending further inland—and the two produced pottery styles every bit as distinctive. Chimú pottery is generally a lustrous, burnished black from firing in a reducing atmosphere, while Chancay ceramics were white-slipped, painted using a palette of simple earth tones, and fired in an oxidizing atmosphere.

This exhibition, a cooperative venture between the Museum of Art and Archaeology and the Museum of Anthropology, and including vessels from both collections, is an examination not only of two different traditions of making ceramics, but also two very different ways of organizing politically complex societies in a harsh social and physical environment.