Stone ritual vessel with snake motifs

Peru, late 15th century

This massive circular ritual vessel or cocha is sculpted from a single block of black volcanic basalt from the imperial capital Cusco.

This is one of a small number of surviving vessels of this size that were probably housed in the Coricancha – the Temple of the Sun – or adjacent sacred buildings. 

It was probably used as a recepticle for liquid offerings, perhaps simple to hold water and create a still, reflective surface regarded as an eye seeing into the underworld.

The tightly nestled concentric coils of the snake’s body mimics moving water. Ten serpent heads are symmetrically arranged around the vessel rim in a pattern resembling the ceque system which used by the Incas to organise space in Cusco and the land beyond.



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

Length: 40cm
Height: 15cm


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

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