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Biblical Archaeology Review 47:1, Spring 2021

Strata: Worldwide

Llamas were an important part of the Inca culture. To the Inca, they served as clothing and food sources, beasts of burden, and sacrificial offerings to the gods.

Discovered on Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, this silver llama measures 8.5 inches long and 9 inches high. Crafted from silver sheet metal that was joined by soldering, the llama wears a blanket of cinnabar—oxidized mercury—with gold inlay. Anthropologists believe that this figurine was specially created for the Inca ruler, or Sapa Inca, who might have kept it as a kind of mascot or sigil (an icon used for ritual magic).

Although the llama has not been radiocarbon dated, stylistically it comes from the Inca period and is at least 500 years old. At the time of the Spanish conquest in 1532, the Inca ruled an empire that stretched from the northern border of modern Ecuador to central Chile and covered the Pacific coast and Andean highlands. This example of Incan metalwork can be found at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

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