Gold Llama, 14th-15th century AD
Gold
4.6 (height) x 5.8 (width) x 0.7 (depth) cm
Peru

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This tiny gold Peruvian llama stands at only 4.6 centimeters high, but it packs a lot of personality with its large eyes, smiling mouth, and lively demeanor. The Incas likely created the figurine as an offering to the gods during ritual sacrifices, as llamas were pivotal to the success of the vast and prosperous Incan empire, providing meat and wool, and acting as pack animals carrying goods through the treacherous terrain and high altitudes of the Andes mountains. The object’s construction from sheets of hammered gold also held special significance for the Incas, as they associated gold with the regenerative powers of the sun, often referring to it as “the sweat of the sun.” All of the gold throughout the empire belonged to the Inca ruler, as they believed him to be a descendant of the sun god.
Though miniature gold models like this were common, very few remain due to the Spanish conquest of the empire during the 1520s, when most of these objects were melted down for their precious metal, which was sent back to Spain. While modern transportation systems and agricultural practices have largely decreased the need for llamas, they remain a symbol of Peruvian identity today.

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