Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-8bbf57454-9s44l Total loading time: 0.199 Render date: 2022-01-21T17:47:09.490Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Article contents

The context and meaning of an intact Inca underwater offering from Lake Titicaca

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 August 2020

Christophe Delaere*
Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Oxford, UK Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
José M. Capriles
Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, USA Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas y Arqueológicas, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, Bolivia
*Author for correspondence: ✉


As the Inca Empire expanded across the South American Andes during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries AD, Lake Titicaca became its mythical place of origin and the location of a pilgrimage complex on the Island of the Sun. This complex included an underwater reef where stone boxes containing miniature figurines of gold, silver and shell were submerged as ritual offerings. This article reports a newly discovered stone offering box from a reef close to the lake's north-eastern shore. The location, content and broader socio-cultural context of Inca sacrifices are examined to illuminate the religious and social meaning of underwater ritual offerings at Lake Titicaca.

Research Article
Antiquity , Volume 94 , Issue 376 , August 2020 , pp. 1030 - 1041
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Abbott, M.B., Binford, M.W., Brenner, M. & Kelts, K.R.. 1997. A 3500 14C yr high-resolution record of water-level changes in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru. Quaternary Research 47: 169–80. Scholar
Albarracin-Jordan, J. 1999. The archaeology of Tiwanaku: the myths, history, and science of an ancient Andean civilization. La Paz: Fundación Bartolomé de las Casas.Google Scholar
Andrews, A.P. & Corletta, R.. 1995. A brief history of underwater archaeology in the Maya area. Ancient Mesoamerica 6: 101–17. Scholar
Andrushko, V.A., Buzon, M.R., Gibaja, A.M., McEwan, G.F., Simonetti, A. & Creaser, R.A.. 2011. Investigating a child sacrifice event from the Inca heartland. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 323–33. Scholar
Arkush, E. 2006. Inca ceremonial sites in the southwest Titicaca Basin, in Stanish, C., Cohen, A.B. & Aldenderfer, M.S. (ed.) Advances in Titicaca Basin archaeology: 209–42. Los Angeles: University of California, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Scholar
Bandelier, A.F.A. 1910. The islands of Titicaca and Koati. New York: The Hispanic Society of America.Google Scholar
Bauer, B.S. & Stanish, C.. 2001. Ritual and pilgrimage in the ancient Andes: the Islands of the Sun and the Moon. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
Besom, T. 2010. Inka sacrifice and the mummy of Salinas Grandes. Latin American Antiquity 21: 399422. Scholar
Besom, T. 2013. Inka human sacrifice and mountain worship: strategies for empire unification. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.Google Scholar
Billaud, Y. 2017. Archaeology of underwater caves in France: an overview, in Campbell, P.B. (ed.) The archaeology of underwater caves: 145–61. Southampton: Highfield.Google Scholar
Bouysse-Cassagne, T. 1992. Le Lac Titicaca: histoire perdue d'une mer intérieure. Bulletin de l'Institut Français d’Études Andines 21: 89159.Google Scholar
Bouysse-Cassagne, T. 2017. Las minas de oro de los incas, el Sol y las culturas del Collasuyu. Bulletin de l'Institut Français d’Études Andines 46: 936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bray, T.L. 2009. An archaeological perspective on the Andean concept of camaquen: thinking through late pre-Columbian ofrendas and huacas. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19: 357–66. Scholar
Bray, T.L., Farfán, S. Chávez, Ticona, M. Alejo & Chávez, S.. 2019. Recientes excavaciones en Intinqala: un sitio de ocupación Inca en Copacabana, Bolivia. Boletín de la Sociedad de Investigación del Arte Rupestre de Bolivia 33: 4271.Google Scholar
Ceruti, M.C. 2004. Human bodies as objects of dedication at Inca mountain shrines (north-western Argentina). World Archaeology 36: 103–22. Scholar
Cieza de León, P. 1984 [1553]. Crónica del Perú: primera parte. Lima: Academia Nacional de Historia, Pontífica Universidad Católica del Perú.Google Scholar
Delaere, C. 2016. Le patrimoine subaquatique du lac Titicaca, Bolivie: utilisation et perception de l'espace lacustre durant la période Tiwanaku (500–1150 PCN). Unpublished PhD dissertation, Université libre de Bruxelles.Google Scholar
Delaere, C. 2017. The location of Lake Titicaca's coastal area during the Tiwanaku and Inca periods: methodology and strategies of underwater archaeology. Journal of Maritime Archaeology 12: 223–38. Scholar
Delaere, C. In press. Las figurillas miniaturas en contextos de ofrendas subacuáticas: sacrificios de sustitución y legitimación del poder Inca en el lago Titicaca. Studium Veritatis.Google Scholar
Delaere, C. & Warmenbol, E.. 2019. The watery way to the world of the dead: underwater excavations (old and new) at the cave of Han-sur-Lesse, Belgium, in Büster, L., Warmenbol, E. & Mlekuž, D. (ed.) Between worlds: 137–61. Cham: Springer. Scholar
Delaere, C., Capriles, J.M. & Stanish, C.. 2019. Underwater ritual offerings in the Island of the Sun and the formation of the Tiwanaku State. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 116: 8233–38. ScholarPubMed
Dransart, P. 1995. Elemental meanings: symbolic expression in Inka miniature figurines. London: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London.Google Scholar
Gaspari, A. 2003. Archaeology of the Ljubljanica River (Slovenia): early underwater investigations and some current issues. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 32: 4252. Scholar
Goggin, J.M. 1960. Underwater archaeology: its nature and limitations. American Antiquity 25: 348–54. Scholar
King, H. 2012. Peruvian featherworks: art of the pre-Columbian era. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.Google Scholar
Martínez-Carrillo, M.A., Solís, C., Bautista, I.H., Sánchez, R.J., Rodríguez-Ceja, M., Ortiz, M.E. & Chávez-Lomelí, E.. 2017. Radiocarbon dating of underwater archaeological objects from the Nevado de Toluca, Mexico. Radiocarbon 59: 1705–12. Scholar
Mignone, P. 2009. Miniaturas zoomorfas del volcán Llullaillaco y contraste entre régimen y vida comunitaria en la capacocha. Boletín del Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino 14: 5568.Google Scholar
Moseley, M.E. 2001. The Incas and their ancestors: the archaeology of Peru (2nd edition). New York: Thames & Hudson.Google Scholar
Neveu-Lemaire, M. 1906 [1877] [1892]. Les lacs des hauts plateaux de l'Amérique du Sud. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.Google Scholar
Pärssinen, M. 2005. Caquiaviri y la provincia Pacasa: desde el alto-formativo hasta la conquista española (1–1533). La Paz: CIMA.Google Scholar
Pärssinen, M. & Siiriäinen, A.. 1997. Inka-style ceramics and their chronological relationship to the Inka expansion in the southern Lake Titicaca area (Bolivia). Latin American Antiquity 8: 255–71. Scholar
Ponce Sanginés, C., Reinhard, J., Ortiz, M. Portugal, Siñanis, E. Pareja & Ticlla, L.. 1992. Exploraciones arqueológicas subacuáticas en el Lago Titikaka. La Paz: Editorial La Palabra.Google Scholar
Portugal Loayza, J. 2000. Un ayllu Uru en el noreste del Lago Titicaca: Ojchi. Textos Antropológicos 8: 1146.Google Scholar
Ramos Gavilán, A. 1860 [1621]. Historia de Copacabana y de su milagrosa imajen de la vírjen. La Paz: Imprenta de la Unión Católica.Google Scholar
Reinhard, J. 1992. Underwater archaeological research in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, in Saunders, N.J. (ed.) Ancient America: contributions to New World archaeology: 117–43. Oxford: Oxbow.Google Scholar
Reinhard, J. 2005. The Ice Maiden: Inca mummies, mountain gods, and sacred sites in the Andes. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.Google Scholar
Reinhard, J. & Ceruti, M.C.. 2010. Inca rituals and sacred mountains: a study of the world's highest archaeological sites. Los Angeles: University of California, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.Google Scholar
Roche, M.A., Bourges, J., Cortes, J. & Mattos, R.. 1992. Climatology and hydrology of the Lake Titicaca basin, in Dejoux, C. & Iltis, A. (ed.) Lake Titicaca: a synthesis of limnological knowledge: 6383. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. Scholar
Ronchail, J., Espinoza, J., Callède, J. & Lavado, W.. 2014. Evolucion del nivel del Lago Titicaca durante el siglo 20, in Pouilly, M., Lazzaro, X., Point, D. & Aguirre, M. (ed.) Linea base de conocimientos sobre los recursos hidrologicos e hidrobiologicos en el sistema TDPS con enfoque en la cuenca del Lago Titicaca: 113. La Paz: UICN & IRD.Google Scholar
Rowe, J.H. 1946. Inca culture at the time of the Spanish Conquest, in Steward, J.H. (ed.) Handbook of South American Indians: 183330. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
Sagárnaga, J. 1997. Figuras Inka en el contexto altiplánico. Tawantinsuyu 3: 8694.Google Scholar
Van der Sanden, W.A.B. 2013. Bog bodies: underwater burials, sacrifices and executions, in Menotti, F. & O'Sullivan, A. (ed.) The Oxford handbook of wetland archaeology: 401–16. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Scholar
Schobinger, J. 1999. Los santuarios de altura incaicos y el Aconcagua: aspectos generales e interpretativos. Relaciones de la Sociedad Argentina de Antropología 24: 727.Google Scholar
Sillar, B. 2009. The social agency of things? Animism and materiality in the Andes. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19: 367–77. Scholar
Stanish, C. 2003. Ancient Titicaca: the evolution of complex society in southern Peru and northern Bolivia. Berkeley: University of California Press. Scholar
Stanish, C. & Bauer, B.S. (ed.). 2004. Archaeological research on the Islands of the Sun and Moon, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia: final results of the Proyecto Tiksi Kjarka. Los Angeles: University of California, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Scholar
Tantaleán, H. & Blanco, L. Flores. 2012. Una introducción a la arqueología de la cuenca del Titicaca, in Blanco, L. Flores & Tantaleán, H. (ed.) Arqueología de la cuenca del Titicaca: 1926. Lima: Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos. Scholar
Vellard, J. 1954. Dieux et parias des Andes: les Ourous, ceux qui ne veulent pas être des hommes. Paris: Émile-Paul.Google Scholar
Weide, D.M., Fritz, S.C., Hastorf, C.A., Bruno, M.C., Baker, P.A., Guedron, S. & Salenbien, W.. 2017. A ~6000 yr diatom record of Mid-to Late Holocene fluctuations in the level of Lago Wiñaymarca, Lake Titicaca (Peru/Bolivia). Quaternary Research 88: 179–92. Scholar
Westerdahl, C. 2005. Seal on land, elk at sea: notes on and applications of the ritual landscape at the seaboard. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 34: 223. Scholar
Yaeger, J. & López, J.M.. 2018. Inca sacred landscapes in the Titicaca Basin, in Alconini, S. & Covey, A. (ed.) The Oxford handbook of the Incas: 541–57. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Scholar

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The context and meaning of an intact Inca underwater offering from Lake Titicaca
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

The context and meaning of an intact Inca underwater offering from Lake Titicaca
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

The context and meaning of an intact Inca underwater offering from Lake Titicaca
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *