Wooden beaker "Qiru"

1250 €

Post-conquest period, Inca culture, Andes region, South America, c. 1550AD-,  private collection from Finland.

The Inca Empire (1438AD to 1533AD), also known as Incan Empire, and the time known as the Realm of the Four Parts, was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The Inca appeared in the Andes region during the 12th century AD. and gradually built a massive kingdom through the military strength of their emperors. Known as Tawantinsuyu, the Inca state spanned (2,500 miles) the distance of northern Ecuador to central Chile and consisted of 12 million inhabitants from more tha 100 different ethnic groups at is peak. Undaunted by the often harsh Andean environment, the Incas conquered people and exploited landscapes in such diverse settings as plains, mountains, deserts, and tropical jungle. Famed for their unique art and architecture, they constructed finely-built and imposing buildings wherever they conquered, and their spectacular adaptation of natural landscapes with terracing, highways, and mountaintop settlements continues to impress modern visitors at such world-famous sites as Machu Picchu. The massive Inca citadel Macchu Picchu was probably built for the emperor Pachacutec around 1450AD at a height of around 8,000 feet above sea level using dry stone masonry.

The Inca Empire was a federalist system consisting of a central government with the Inca at its head and four-quarters, or suyu: Chinchay Suyu, Anti Suyu, Kunti Suyu, and Qulla Suyu. The four corners of these quarters met at the center, Cusco. The city sat at the center of the four suyu and served as the preeminent center of politics and religion. The Sapa Inca "son of the sun", was conseptualized as divine and was effectively head of the state religion. The Chief priest (Willaq Umu) was second to the emperor. While Cusco was essentially governed by the Sapa Inca, his relatives and the royal lineage (panaqa), each suyu was governed by an Apu, a term of esteem used for men of hight status and for venerated mountains. Both Cusco as a district and the four suyu as administrative regions were grouped into upper (hanan) and lower (hurin) divisions. Kurakas were magistrates that served as the head of clan-like family unit (ayllu) based common ancestor. These leaders mitigated between the spiritual and physical worlds. They also collected taxes, oversaw the day-to-day administration of the empire in their region, and even chose brides for men in their communities.

The Inca economy was based on agriculture, its staples being maize, white and sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, peanuts, coca, cassava and cotton. They raised guinea pigs, llamas, alpacas, and dogs, and paid taxes through public labor. Clothing was made llama wool and cotton. There was no written language, but a form of Quechua became the primarily dialect, and knotted cords (known as quipu) were used to keep track of historical and accounting records. The Inca Empre functioned largely without money and without markets. Instead, exchange of goods and services was based on reciprocity between individuals and among individuals, groups, and Inca rulers. The Inca religion combined features of animism, fetishism, and the worship of nature gods. The pantheon was headed by sun god (Inti), and included also creator god (Viracocha), and the rain god (Apu Illapu). Inca rituals included elaborate forms of divination and the sacrifice of humans and animals. Impressive shrines were built throughout the kingdom, including a massive Sun Temple in Cusco.

The relatively short golden age of the Inca Empire ended when the Spanish troops led by Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru in the year 1532 and subjugated the central areas of the Inca state. The last Inca Emperor was Atahualpa (c. 1502 – 26 July 1533). After defeating his brother, Atahualpa became very briefly the last Sapa Inca before the Spanish conquest ended his reign. While traveling to the Inca capital Cuzco to claim his throne, Atahualpa was seized at the town of Cajamarca by a small band of Spanish troops led by Francisco Pizarro. Realizing Atahualpa was initially more valuable alive than dead, Pizarro kept the emperor in captivity while he made plans to take over his empire. In response, Atahualpa appealed to his captors’ greed, offering them a room (measuring 6.2 x 4.8 metres) piled high with gold objects from jewellery to idols in exchange for his liberation. Then, having got his ransom, Pizarro summarily tried and executed Atahualpa anyway, on the 26th of July 1533. The Inca king was originally sentenced to death by burning at the stake but, after the monarch agreed to be baptized, this was commuted to death by strangulation. Even after the conquest, Inca leaders continued to resist the Spaniards up until 1572, when its last city, Vilcabamba, was captured.

Pre-Columbian art encompasses the artefacts created by the indigenous peoples from the second millennium BC to the time of arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, when the existing culture were conquered by the Europeans. Beyond the more familiar civilisations such as the Incas and the Maya, smaller ethnic groups were able to develop their own distinctive cultures and artistic style. Many of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European colonies and are known only through archaeological investigations and oral history. A very large proportion of pre-Columbian art is of terracotta.

Absolutely magnificent carved wooden drinking vessel qiru (also called kero, quero, locally also qero) are from post-conquest period, c. 16th to early 17th century. The vessels were typically made in identical pairs. This followed the custom that two individuals were required to drink together and both qirus in the pair would have identical size, shape, and decoration. These pairs were typically used for toasts in ceremonies and were also given along with textiles as gifts as a sign of generosity. There is a strong religious connection with the qiro as well. Fermented corn beer Chicha was known as an important ritual libation and offering in ancient Andean culture. Chicha was served in qirus, where a special goblet version of the qiru was very closely connected to the "Sacrifice Ceremony" depicted on Moche painted ceramics. Many depictions of the qiru show a maize plant emerging from the vessel. These renderings allude to qirus' use as a pan-Andean offering receptacle for blood to be poured on the ground to guarantee a successful farming season.

The squat vessel was turned on a lathe to create its elegant form, showing a geometric patterns, floral themes and a continuous narrative scene of everyday life of agricultural farmers decorated in vibrant shades of red, yellow, green and tan atop the dark-brown ground. A discoid foot supports the conical body which expands outwards towards a thick rim. Good condition. Age-related wear and abrasion. Chip in the foot. Otherwise intact. Possibly repainted details. Dirt, dust and soot. Size approx. 16,0cm x 9,7cm x 9,6cm. Weight c. 395g.

Citations, references and sources:

Inca Civilization, Mark Cartwright, World History Encyclopedia. Last modified September 15, 2014 (https://www.worldhistory.org/Inca_Civilization/).

The Incas and Their Ancestors : The Archaeology of Peru, Michael E Moseley, Thames and Hudson, 1992.

Life of the Incas in Ancient Peru, Jésus Romé & Lucienne Romé, [Barcelona]: Liber, 1987.

The Incas: New Perspectives, Gordon F. McEwan, Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

Ancient Inca  (Part of Case Studies in Early Societies), Alan L. Kolata, University of Chicago, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

The Incas, Terence N. D'Altroy, Wiley, 2014.

Religion and Empire: The Dynamics of Aztec and Inca Expansionism, Geoffrey W. Conrad & Arthur A. Demarest, Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Tawantinsuyu : The Inca State and Its Political Organization, Martti Pärssinen, Gummerus, 1992.