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National Geographic Magazine


The Cotton King

The Cotton King was bundled in some 300 pounds of raw cotton filling. Typically the Inca wrapped their nobles in finished cloth. The extensive packing and wide assortment of items buried with them suggest an elite pair. The Cotton King was buried with everyday items—food, pottery, animal skins, and corn to make chicha, a fermented drink. Other objects signified his high place in society: Exotic bird feathers adorned his headband, which doubled as a slingshot; his mace, or club, signified a powerful warrior; and his sandals were a type worn by the upper class. Most revealing of his wealth were offerings of Spondylus oyster shells imported from warm waters off the coast of Ecuador. The baby who shared his bundle lay with its legs straight out, but the man’s pose, like the cotton filling, puzzled us: Rather than tucked in the fetal position typical of adults, his knees were bent as if kneeling, his toes pointed like a dancer’s.

Art by John Dawson, animation by Josh Korenblat and research by Ellie Boettinger

© 2002 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.