From an artistic perspective, how is Incan theology represented through pottery and handcrafts? (Photo Credit: María Paula Alarcón)


A group of Ecuadorian 10th Grade students at Colegio Menor San Francisco de Quito have been conducting an extensive research about Machu Picchu for a Project Based Learning with the purpose of applying our knowledge on the Incan culture on the creation of a research paper. On February of 2017 they went on a 6 day trip to Peru and visited various archaeological and historical sites such as Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman, amongst others, where they were able to gather numerous pieces of evidence and information regarding the following research question:

From an artistic perspective how are Incan theological aspects represented through pottery and handcrafts?

To gather the information needed to answer the research question, students used various evidence sources such as: museums in which primary sources and visual aids were available, interviewing experts in the subject, visiting sites relevant to the topic, books with related information, and by performing extended academic online investigation. Even though the information gathered was abundant, it was not enough to completely, fully, and accurately prove the hypothesis, on what the answer to the research question would be, previously predicted by the group of students, was correct.

Andean Pottery (photo credit: María Paula Alarcón)

Research Question: From an artistic perspective, how is Incan theology represented through pottery and handcrafts?

This research question evaluates Incan theological representations from an artistic perspective. More specifically this research question is related to how Incan theology is represented through pottery and handcrafts. We will be observing handcrafts, pottery, and ceramics made by Incan artisans. Furthermore, our question is related to the Incan civilization because we will be analyzing symbols and representations of Incan religious beliefs and practices. This question can be answered by gathering information while visiting Peruvian towns and archaeological sites. Thus, by collecting all the pieces of evidence we will be able to make connections and evidence-based conclusions relating human development through pottery and handcrafts.

Nazca Pottery (photo credit: Lara Tepper)

Hypothesis: Patterns and symbols depicted on pottery and handcrafts made by Incan artisans represent their practices.

We predict that Incan theology is demonstrated through handcrafts through patterns and symbols which represent Incan religion. More specifically, we hypothesize that Incan theology is represented by symbols dedicated to various Gods on handcrafts and pottery. We believe that the Incas wanted to express traits of their religion; mythology, and beliefs, through emblems such as Gods and animals on pottery and hand crafts. Moreover, our hypothesis can be confirmed or rejected by a process of researching and analysis that will help us justify whether symbols on pottery and handcrafts represent the Incan faith.

Pre Inca Ceramic (photo credit: Natalio Pinto)

Research Methods: Information retrieved from EBSCO databases and field observations from our visit to Machu Picchu enabled a critical analysis of how Incan theology is represented through handcrafts and pottery.

The group's information was obtained from credible sources written by anthropologists and archaeologists with expertise regarding Incan theology, and how their faith is represented through pottery. The use of EBSCO was not sufficient to enable an analytical answer to our research question. Texts found in EBSCO such as scientific journals, research papers, and essays, provided reliable information.

Our group members were attentive and recorded new information given by guides at museums regarding Incan faith, archeological sites visited in Machu Picchu, and first hand observations of native crafts in Cusco. These observations were later contributors to answering out research question. By asking critical questions about what materials the Incas used to make handcrafts, and the meanings behind their patterns and symbols, we were able to infer different aspects and components of Incan daily life.

Pre Inca Ceramic (photo credit: Natalio Pinto)

Conclusion: There is no definitive evidence of Incan theology being represented through pottery and handcrafts, but we can make evidence-based inferences regarding the theological significance of symbols on pre-Incan pottery.

We must reject our hypothesis due to the lack of definite evidence regarding the representation of Incan theology through pottery and handcrafts. All the information gathered during our field observations and research demonstrate no solid evidence that patterns or symbols on Incan pottery and handcrafts truly demonstrate Incan theology. However, we can infer daily life aspects of their theology through symbols Incas implemented in their handcrafts and pottery.

The Inca civilization was composed of various cultures that assimilated their traits and traditions, demonstrating how previous cultures influenced the Incas, because they adopted some of those pre-Incan beliefs. For instance, the Nazca are one example of a pre-Incan culture which influenced Incan pottery. Nazca pottery included “many naturalistic depictions including birds, 3 plants, animals, and fish as well as supernatural themes” (Proulx, p.13 2007). This use of symbols that include religion indicate supernatural themes on Nasca pottery, leading us to infer that nature for pre-Incan cultures, and by extension the Incan civilization, was an important aspect of their daily life.

Qotakalli Vase (photo credit: Maria Paula Alarcón)

Another connection we are able to make regarding Nazca culture and Incan culture is based on shamans. They were part of their supernatural themes since they were portrayed with “ritual attire: animal skin capes, gold mouth masks and forehead ornaments, gold bangles or hair ornaments" (Proulx, p.15, 2007). All the symbols the Shaman was shaped with on ceramics represented him as a religious figure from the society. His appearance with abundant jewelry and other ceremonial attire, lead us to make an inference-based conclusion that the Shaman had superiority over other members of the society. So given all the research about Incan theology and Nasca culture as well as evidence-based conclusion making, we state that pre-Incan cultures such as the Nazca, have highly influenced other religions.

Through the use of pottery and its elements, civilizations such as pre-Incan cultures and the Incan Empire, have given us a glimpse of their history and everyday life. Not only is pottery a way to represent our past but also human development, because throughout the years humans have developed from using physical art such as pottery to having digital photos to represent their life. This development has improved human's ability to communicate the past for upcoming generations to know how other civilizations lived and their components. The use of pottery has made humans advance in today's technology for further investigation on civilizations that inhabited the world, that shaped today's society. Thus, from pottery and handcrafts, to digital photos and other advances in technology, something new from our past is discovered everyday such as their abilities in hunting to architectural buildings. Moreover, artifacts such as pottery and handcrafts are a way for humanity to receive a glimpse of daily life from other civilizations through physical interaction and techniques shown on the artifacts.

Works Cited

Alarcón, M. (2017). Andean Pottery [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.

Alarcón, M. (2017). Incan Calendar [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.

Alarcón, M. (2017). Qotakalli Vase [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.

Pinto, N. (2009). Pre Inca Ceramic. [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from

Proulx, D. (2007). Nasca Ceramic Iconography: An Overview. Retrieved from

Tepper, L. (2017). Nazca Pottery [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.

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