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Inca Pottery - Clay Pottery Designs in Incan  Ruins

For the Incas and their descendants, the Quechua, pottery has played and continues to play an important part of life. Of the two main types of Inca clay pottery designs -
  • Ceremonial and
  • Utilitarian
- found in Incan ruins and excavations, the most sought after ceramic pieces are those known as Huacos.




From the time of the Spanish conquistadores, these artifacts, the Huacos, have been unearthed in various Inca ruins and sites of other cultures in Peru.

Inca Pottery - Description and Purpose

On this page -
Inca Pottery:

Inca pottery served two purposes; utilitarian ceramics used for everyday purposes and, very separate, ceremonial vessels for rituals and burials.

Although many pieces have a glazed look to the surface, it appears that the clay pottery designs have been highly polished to achieve a shine rather than glazed under heat. No evidence has been found that the Incas used an actual glazing process as known to modern ceramic artists.


Inca potters used thicker, denser clay for the larger ceremonial pots and plates, while smaller ceremonial vessels (huacos) were made of more delicate material, resembling today's clay pottery designs.

Inca Pottery
Inca Pottery
Inca Pottery

Ceremonial Inca Pottery - the Huaco

Pottery in Inca life served two purpose; first, that used for practical daily use and, second, that used for ceremonies and rituals. One type was never used for the other.

The ceremonial vessel of Andean life most known to archaeologists since the time of the Spanish conquest is the Huaco.

What is a Huaco (Guaco)?

"Huaco" is a word from Quechua, the main language of the Andean peoples. It refers to a clay or ceramic vessel and is culturally generic; that is, it does not refer to a particular culture of Peru.

What makes a Huaco different from other ancient Peruvian pottery artifacts?

A Huaco is a ceremonial vessel and never refers to a ceramic piece used for common household purposes.

A Huaco is found in Incan ruins sites such as temples and burial grounds or other areas set aside for religious purposes. It is generally of much finer quality, artistically or symbolically designed and/or painted than would be found in the utilitarian vessels of the Incas and other ancient Peruvian cultures.

Thus for example, a Moche or Huari (Wari) ceramic vessel as well as Incan earthenware vessels can be "Huacos," vessels for ceremonial use.

"Huaquero" is a derivative term now used to refer to illegal traffickers of artifacts in Peru.


Aribalos - Other Fine Inca Pottery

Another type of clay pottery design used by the Incas and neighboring cultures for their ornamental vessels are the earthenware pieces known as Aribalos.


Inca Pottery
Inca Art Pottery
from Prague Inka Exhibit


These Aribalos, slender and finely ornamented ceramic objects and obviously a costly luxury, were used for more practical or utilitarian purposes, such as for perfume, and thus not classified as Huacos.

Inca Pottery - Use in Peruvian Culture Today

In the ancient times of the Inca Empire, ceremonial pottery was buried along with the bodies or mummies of middle and upper-class dead.

These were typically closed pots or containers filled with food or drink that would serve the dead on their way to the other world.

When the Spanish conquistadores arrived and put an end to the Inca culture, the Inca "Huaco" and other sacred pottery lost its religious and ceremonial role and became simply utilitarian, objects for use in daily life.


Inca Pottery
Inca Art Pottery


Today, of course, pottery of all sizes and shapes is being produced and used constantly by the Andean peoples. Excellent pottery can be purchased in various areas of Peru, not only the southern Andes (Catacaos area of N. Coastal Peru, for example).



Reproductions of Inca Huacos are especially popular with tourists, typically found in markets and shops in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

Unfortunately, illegal trafficking of Inca pottery stolen from the sacred grounds and burial sites in Incan ruins continues to be a problem in Peru. Because of the enormous antique value of such artifacts, pottery and other ceramic objects are for sale on the black market in Peru and neighboring countries of Bolivia and Ecuador.

Also, very exact reproductions are sold undercover to unwary tourists looking to acquire the real thing. Local hustlers, especially in the tourist areas of Incan ruins and other attractions, offer to sell these to innocent and not so innocent visitors.

Government efforts to stop "grave robbers" and illegal traffic of antiques and fakes has met with only limited success in Peru.






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See also:

Inca Art

Inca Architecture





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