This intricately made container was part of the paraphernalia used in the chewing of coca, a practice that has continued in South America for thousands of years. Several accouterments were associated with coca chewing in Pre-Columbian times, and the precious materials and skillful manufacture of many of those that survive support the belief that it was an elite practice, reserved for sacrificial occasions and divinations. Powdered lime, chewed with the coca leaves to release the cocaine alkaloids, was kept in small containers such as this and dispensed with tiny spatulas or spoons. This relatively large example is an unusual combination of a shell in the back with a carved wooden front; however, what makes the container so remarkable is the masterful shell and stone inlay.
Wari or Tiwanaku culture, Peru or Bolivia
Middle Horizon, 600–1000
Wood, stone, shell, bone, reed
H. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 2010.50