The Islands of the Sun and the Moon in Bolivia's Lake Titicaca were two of the most sacred locations in the Inca empire. A pan-Andean belief held that they marked the origin place of the Sun and the Moon, and pilgrims from across the Inca realm made ritual journeys to the sacred shrines there. In this book, Brian Bauer and Charles Stanish explore the extent to which this use of the islands as a pilgrimage center during Inca times was founded on and developed from earlier religious traditions of the Lake Titicaca region.
Drawing on a systematic archaeological survey and test excavations in the islands, as well as data from historical texts and ethnography, the authors document a succession of complex polities in the islands from 2000 BC to the time of European contact in the 1530s AD. They uncover significant evidence of pre-Inca ritual use of the islands, which raises the compelling possibility that the religious significance of the islands is of great antiquity. The authors also use these data to address broader anthropological questions on the role of pilgrimage centers in the development of pre-modern states.
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This book brings together ethnographic, textual, and archaeological data to describe the nature and history of the Islands of the Sun and the Moon, located in Lake Titicaca (Bolivia). In the early sixteenth century AD, these islands were among the most sacred places in the Inca world. However, within a few years after the conquest of Peru by the Spanish Empire, the islands became a looting ground for treasure hunters, and their Inca temples became quarries for cut stones to build churches on the mainland. By the eighteenth century, the islands had fallen into the hands of a few powerful landowners, and their sacred status was nearly forgotten.
From 1994 to 1996 we directed an archaeological research program to understand the history of the islands. Our research included a systematic survey of both the islands as well as test excavations at a number of their archaeological sites. The survey of the islands (1994-1995) located more than 180 prehispanic sites that span from 2000 BC to the time of European contact in the 1530s. The survey results greatly improved our understanding of the islands' history and documented that the Inca were the last of several complex polities to occupy them. The test excavations (1995-1996) yielded detailed information on several of the most important sites on the islands and helped to refine the ceramic sequences for the region. Furthermore, during the 1995 field season, we directed archaeoastronomy research on the islands and identified the remains of two towers that marked the June solstice sunset as seen from the Sanctuary area on the Island of the Sun. In conjunction with this field research, we also examined historical texts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that describe the pilgrimage route to the islands.
The survey and excavation data provide a fascinating corroboration of key early colonial documents describing the Islands of the Sun and the Moon as an important pilgrimage center in the Inca Empire. They also furnish significant insights into the pre-Inca use of the islands and raise the compelling possibility that the religious significance of the islands is of great antiquity. These results are relevant to broader anthropological problems concerning the role that pilgrimage centers hold in the development of premodern states.
"Well written and cogently argued, this book will appeal to... scholars of complex societies worldwide."—Helaine Silverman, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign