Inca carved stone vessel

Peru, 16th century

Inca ritual vessels of a similar size are usually carved with spiralling serpents and this example is no different. But this piece is unique as it is the only known example which is inscribed with figurative scenes. It is thought that these were applied in the early colonial period.

Likewise, the rounded form of the handles differs from pre-Columbian examples and these shifts in style and content are similar to those found on keros of the early colonial period. It is only during recent ushnu studies that conical stone objects such as this were discovered.

On one side a large central solar disc with a face is flanked by two standing figures with their hands to their chest. Directly beneath the solar disc are two figures kneeling opposite each other with their hands clasp in front of them.

Between them is a small diamond-shaped object with a face. The small cult figure appears to be the earthly manifestation or representative of the solar deity. On the other side, a complementary scene has a male and female figure at the centre – possibly the Inca and his queen – who are the focus for a procession comprising a woman with a spindle, a hunchback and llamas being led in from either side.

The scenes are likely to represent key times in the Inca agricultural calendar, perhaps planting or harvest festivals.



From their capital, Cuzco, in Peru, the Inca controlled a huge empire reaching over 2,400 miles along the length of the Andes mountains. The supreme head of state was the king, considered a living god ruling by divine right.

Incas world culture

Inca ushnus

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More information


Colin McEwan, Ancient American Art in Detail (London, The British Museum Press, 2009)


Inca Colonial


Diameter: 50cm
Height: 18cm
Width: 67cm


Museum number



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This object features in A History of the World in 100 objects

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