Document Type


Publication Date



Earth Sciences



Publication Title

Heritage Science


For millennia, qeros have been a primary component of ceremonially and politically important toasting rituals in the Andes and retain their cultural significance to this day. These wooden drinking vessels underwent a stylistic and technical revolution in the colonial period (1532–1821 AD). Among an array of features that distinguish colonial qeros from their Inka predecessors is the presence of lead white, a pigment that was introduced to the Andes by the Spanish. Here, we present lead (Pb) isotope measurements of lead white pigments from 20 colonial qeros from the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in a private collection. Although most of the vessels are not known to be associated with one another, their lead white pigments fall into three distinct and internally consistent groupings in Pb isotope space. We interpret the isotopic signatures of two of the groups to indicate that the lead white was imported from Europe. We suggest that the largest grouping (comprising pigments sampled from 12 qeros) is decorated with lead white of Andean origin. These isotopic signatures may have a chronological component, and strongly suggest some form of centralization in pigment acquisition, manufacture, and/or distribution in the colonial period.


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