The best example of pottery produced before the days of the Inca Empire is found in the ceramic produced by the Moche or Mochica culture that thrived from 100 to 700 AD in the northern Peruvian coast. The Moche produced large amounts of pottery aided by the use of molds to create large quantities of specific shapes. Their color pallet was mostly limited to red, black and white. They used anthropomorphic figures and animal faces and bodies to shape their ceramic. They were the only pre-Inca culture to incorporate realistic facial expressions and emotions in their pottery work, a characteristic that the Inca pottery did not employ.
Moche sculptural bottles representing cormorants. Museo de Arte Precolombino, Cusco.
During the Inca Empire the production of pottery in the Andes was an art already developed in the region for thousands of years. One characteristic of Inca pottery is that it did not portray the human form, unlike other cultures that thrived before them, instead they used geometric patterns and shapes and heads of animals. The production and the use of pottery during the Inca Civilization had two purposes, utilitarian and ceremonial.
Ceremonial pottery also known as huaco was of the best quality material and the most elaborate, it was made specifically for ceremonial purposes or rituals only, such as in burial grounds containing drinks and food that the dead would need for its journey. The finest pottery and ceramic was produced for religious ceremonies, they would contain the food offered to the Inca gods such as Inti or Sun.
Cupisnique bottle. Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History.
Utilitarian pottery was produced for everyday use and was usually thicker and less elaborate. The most common Inca vessel was the stirrup spout which is a bottle shaped vase intended for holding liquids with a long neck that forms the spout which usually serves as a handle. Inca effigy jars were also a popular utilitarian ceramic that was made in large quantities since they were casted from a mold, whereas the stirrup spouts were handmade and welded into the vessel.