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An Inka Offering at Yayno (North Highlands, Peru): Objects, Subjects and Gifts in the Ancient Andes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 August 2018

George F. Lau*
Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK Email:


While Marcel Mauss's landmark essay on The Gift has been vital in social anthropology, inspiring a vast and influential secondary literature, the gift has been much less prominent in archaeological interpretation. This study considers evidence for an ancient Andean gift economy, a system of reciprocal exchanges focused on making people and ensuring group social relations, rather than accumulating wealth/capital. Excavations at Yayno (north highlands, Ancash, Peru) revealed two features dating to the time of the Inkas: 1) a slab-lined cist burial; and 2) an offering deposit containing abundant long-distance trade and sumptuary items. Besides its mountaintop location, the burial's intrusive character and foreign items indicate that the offerings were made to propitiate the place, ruins and their divine aspect. This essay studies the reciprocal acts that led to the offerings, comparing them to gifting patterns in Inka human sacrifices known as capac hucha. The key actors in the exchange were children, divinities, Inka bureaucrats, local leaders and state subjects.

Research Article
Copyright © McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2018 

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