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Ceremonial Vessels

Room 8

The most important ceremonies in the societies of ancient Peru were associated with fertility, sacrifice and the cult of the dead. In each of these three cases, the offering and exchange of fluids was central, and therefore containers for liquids were of particular importance.

Ancient Peruvians gave form to the different materials that nature offered them, creating items from clay, wood and metals. With these materials they made bowls, vessels and cups to hold ceremonial liquids such as water, fermented beverages and sacrificial blood.

Communities gave thanks to their gods and ancestors for the water which fell as rain and flowed down in the form of rivers to irrigate their crops, thereby ensuring agricultural production and the continued life of the people. On important occasions they would offer their gods the most important fluid they possessed – the blood that flowed through their veins or that of the animals they gave in sacrifice.

During ceremonies men and women toasted with chicha, the main drink of the Andean world, which was made from fermented corn. With their senses heightened and in a festive spirit, the people participated in a shared experience which took them away from their everyday routines.

In their ceremonies, the rulers and priests, dressed in bright costumes that shone with precious metals, established their claim to being the earthly representatives of the gods. They handled the vessels made from gold and silver and thereby reinforced their social and political position. These objects were not only symbolically important by virtue of their role in ceremonial rites like the pouring of liquid upon the earth or libations to the gods; as materials of sacred and supernatural significance gold and silver also acted as the media for the communication of religious messages.

From their manufacture to their final destination as funerary offerings buried in tombs, gold and silver objects were strongly associated with the elite. This ruling class monopolized the use of these metals, controlling metallurgical production and the transmission of mythological messages via objects made from gold and silver.