Archeological and artistic sources of
coca consumption in pre-hispanic America

Fierens E
Verh K Acad Geneeskd Belg 1991; 53(5):463-85


The use of coca in pre-hispanic America is confirmed by archeological and artistic sources, such as sculptures, ceramics, fabrics and pictures. The historical and geographical diffusion of these pieces of evidence seems to point to the fact that coca has been a strong element in the union of the different cultures of this continent. Those pieces of evidence were mostly found in a religious bond and indicate towards the divine character awarded to this plant; this divinity will, later on, be confirmed by the Inca's, who will raise it to a god. Owing to its many properties such as its use in the course of initiation rituals and of important celebrations, and seeing its fundamental importance in economy, coca was allowed a manifold value. The investigation of as well the technical (materials, workmanship,...) as the esthetic factors (form, style,...) of the works of art, combined with the study of the cultural background, shows that the use of coca seems to have been a privilege of the upper social classes. It is just from the Inca period (1450-1530) that the whole people could reach to coca, so that its stimulating properties outweighed the symbolic meaning.

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