Out of the many beautiful items created by the Inca the Spaniards were primarily interested in the gold and silver they held. Textiles and ceramics held no interest on their mission to horde as much gold from the Inca world as they could with little or no interest in nonviolent interaction.
The Inca made these Urpu jars in a wide range of sizes from small to large and they served their everyday lives as well as the dead, for they contained grave goods in some cases.
Their shape was round with handles and they had a tapered base. This design is reminiscent of Greek perfume jars, so archaeologists adapted the name “aryballos” as a description. However, there is no connection through culture or otherwise to the Inca and the Greeks. It is purely based on shape.
These jars were used primarily for transporting Chicha (corn beer), water and for food. Llamas can’t carry a very heavy load, so the Inca people improvised by carrying them themselves. They did this by using straps that wrapped around the Urpu, so the person could carry the heavy jars that rested upright against the spine.
If you look at the Urpu in most cases, there will be a small knob located on the neck in the form of the head of an animal artistically portrayed. Its function was to stop the strap from slipping during transport. It would be a messy business if the jars were to slip and shatter, spilling their contents everywhere. Furthermore, the Inca put two small lugs in place on the rim to allow for a cloth covering to stop spillage and spoilage. Its conical base was made in
The above photo is an actual Urpu (Aryballos) from Inca history.
this way because the Inca would insert it into sand or softer soil to pour its contents. They believed in pouring the heavy jars instead of picking them up because they felt it would reduce spilling.
If you have been playing the game Shadow of the Tomb Raider you have noticed these fine jars throughout the game. In all areas of Paititi (Hidden City) for one example. In actual Inca life, the colors they created these fine vessels from were rather narrow in scope. You can usually find them in earth colors of red, brown and orange with black decorations on them. On occasion you can find a few with a cream or even yellow bottom.
The design was carefully thought out by the artist. They were generally done to the tone of abstemiousness. You can find them decorated in designs echoing the flora and fauna of their environment.
That’s a wrap for this article. I had planned to post another double article, however, I ran out of time. So, that article shall post next time for this section time allowing. It wil be about the Inca foot plough better known as a Chakitaqlla or Chaki Taklla.
Stay tuned for the next update!
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2 thoughts on “Artifacts of SOTTR: The Urpu Jar of the Incas”
Loved this write up on urpus – very informative – thanks!