A priceless Incan carved wooden vessel, known as a canopa, will soon be on its way back to its rightful home in Peru.

4 November 2021

The beautiful piece that dates back to the Incan Empire (1440–1532 CE) was returned today to the Ambassador of Peru, His Excellency Miguel Palomino de La Gala, in a special handback ceremony at the Embassy of Peru in Canberra.

Carved from the fork of a tree, the canopa depicts two llamas, and has a characteristic rounded hollow on its back, where offerings were dedicated to the care and fertility of animal herds.

The canopa was intercepted by the Australian Border Force upon arrival from the USA, under suspicion that its export from Peru contravened that country's cultural property laws.

The Office for the Arts was called in to investigate and, after consulting with pre-Columbian cultural experts, determined there had been a breach of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986. Steps were then taken so the canopa could be given back to the Peruvian Government.

The return is timely given the upcoming 51st Anniversary of the UNESCO Convention Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 and the International Day Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property on 14 November. Peru and Australia are signatories to this international treaty and will continue to work closely to protect significant objects of cultural heritage.

Learn more about the protection of Movable Heritage.


A carved Incan canopa that depicts two llamas. It has a rounded hollow on its back, where offerings were dedicated to the care and fertility of animal herds.

Dr Stephen Arnott PSM, Office for the Arts, and His Excellency Miguel Palomino de la Gala, Ambassador of Peru, at the handover of the priceless Incan canopa at the Embassy of Peru in Canberra.