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Of Summits and Sacrifice

Of Summits and Sacrifice
An Ethnohistoric Study of Inka Religious Practices

A comprehensive survey of human sacrifice and mountain worship among the Inka, exploring a trove of colonial historical data and contemporary interpretations.

November 2009
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244 pages | 6 x 9 | 25 line drawings, 3 maps, 7 tables |

In perhaps as few as one hundred years, the Inka Empire became the largest state ever formed by a native people anywhere in the Americas, dominating the western coast of South America by the early sixteenth century. Because the Inkas had no system of writing, it was left to Spanish and semi-indigenous authors to record the details of the religious rituals that the Inkas believed were vital for consolidating their conquests. Synthesizing these arresting accounts that span three centuries, Thomas Besom presents a wealth of descriptive data on the Inka practices of human sacrifice and mountain worship, supplemented by archaeological evidence.

Of Summits and Sacrifice offers insight into the symbolic connections between landscape and life that underlay Inka religious beliefs. In vivid prose, Besom links significant details, ranging from the reasons for cyclical sacrificial rites to the varieties of mountain deities, producing a uniquely powerful cultural history.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1: Ethnohistory and the Inkas
  • Chapter 2: Qhapaq Hucha Sacrifice
  • Chapter 3: Other Types of Sacrifice
  • Chapter 4: Mountain Worship
  • Chapter 5: Mountain Offerings
  • Chapter 6: Reasons for Worshipping Mountains
  • Chapter 7: Material Correlates of Mountain Worship
  • Chapter 8: Conclusions
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Glossary of Andean Names and Terms
  • Reference List
  • Index

Thomas Besom is Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Binghamton University in New York.


After having experimented with several ways of relating . . . the story of the Incas, who were Peru's natural rulers, it has seemed . . . [that] nothing could be simpler or surer than to tell what I many times had the opportunity of hearing as a child, from my mother's lips, or from those of . . . our closest relatives.

Every week, the members of her family . . . came to visit her. On these occasions, the conversation turned almost invariably to the origins of our [Inca] kings and to their majesty. It also concerned the grandeur of their empire, their conquests and noble deeds, their government in war and peace. (Garcilaso 1961: 42)


In the middle of the fifteenth century, a small kingdom in the highlands of southern Peru began to expand. Within one hundred years, it had become the largest state ever formed by an indigenous people anywhere in the Americas. At the height of its power, the Inka Empire stretched about 4,000 km from the Ancasmayo River that marks the present border between Colombia and Ecuador to the Mapocho River in central Chile. Its capital, Cuzco, was situated in the center (see Maps 1.1 and 1.2).


Inka expansion supposedly began during the reign of the ninth king, Pacha Kuti, whose name means "cataclysm" or "he who transforms the world." He subjugated various ethnic groups living near Cuzco, most notably the Chanca. Pacha Kuti then turned his attention towards the lower Urubamba Valley and Vilcapampa in the north, Vilcas and Soras in the west, and the provinces of Aymara, Omasayo, Cotapampa, and Chilque in the south. With these areas under his control, he defeated the Lupaca and incorporated their lands on the southwestern shore of Lake Titi Qaqa into the realm.


Between about 1463 and 1471, it appears that Pacha Kuti ruled the empire with his son and chosen successor, Thupa Yapanki. During this period, Thupa defeated a number of peoples—including the Cañari, Quiteño, and Chimu—thereby adding northwestern Peru and a large part of Ecuador to the Inka state (see Figure 1.1). After his father's death in about 1471, Thupa Yapanki led his armies southward, where they subdued such diverse ethnic groups as the Quilca, Tampo, Moquehua, Locumba, Sama, Tarapaca, Atacameño, Colla, Chango, Diaguita, Chiquillane, and Picunche; he annexed southern Peru, northern and central Chile, and northwestern Argentina. Together these regions comprised Kunti Suyu and Qulla Suyu, the southernmost of the four quarters into which the empire was divided.


Thupa Yapanki passed away in about 1493, and the maskha paycha—the red fringe worn by the king as a symbol of office—went to Wayna Qhapaq. He acquired new territories in northern Peru and Ecuador, and under his leadership, the state reached its greatest extent. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro and an army of 260 Spanish mercenaries arrived in the country, initiating the Conquest of Peru. At the same time that the foreign invaders were destroying the empire and transforming it into a colony, the so-called chroniclers, most of whom were Spanish, were recording information on the Inkas: their writings relate the "history" of this people, describe their beliefs and practices, and report on the administration of their state.


Much research has been devoted to the emergence and expansion of archaic polities, including that of the Cuzqueños. A question less adequately addressed, but just as important, is how such a state survived after its formation. Kurtz thinks its continued existence was never assured. Rather, it had to be actively pursued and, to a large extent, depended on its leaders' ability to legitimate its authority, usually through ritual. I believe—based on a reading of the chronicles and the works of various Inka scholars—that after defeating the different ethnic groups at the southern extreme of the empire, the lords of Cuzco incorporated them into the polity using sacred rituals. The rites involved mountain veneration and the sacrifice of qhapaq huchas, specially chosen children and young women (see Figure 1.2).


Why these practices? I would suggest that both were important throughout the Andes. As the power of rituals partly derives from people's familiarity with them, the Inkas specifically chose these two for manipulation.


Supporting the notion that mountain worship was very significant is a list, much abridged, from the late-sixteenth century source Albornoz of the empire's major waqas (holy sites, many of them peaks). In Cayambe province, located in Ecuador, he says the people venerated three summits called Chimborazo, Chicchirazo, and Carorazo. In the region around the city of Quito, the principal waqa was a mountain named Piccinca (Pichincha). Albornoz also tells us that the natives of Cajamarca, a province in the northern highlands of Peru, revered Apoparato, a volcano, while the inhabitants of Tarma, an area in the central highlands, venerated a peak referred to as Guayoay Vilca. Moving farther south, the indigenous people of Acari, a coastal province, had as one of their most sacred sites a summit known as Luhutare, which was composed of sand. In the mountainous regions of southern Peru, the Collagua worshipped the peak Hambato (Ampato), while the inhabitants of Arequipa adored a volcano known as Putina (El Misti). Albornoz also notes that the native peoples in northern Chile revered numerous volcanoes and snow-capped summits.


Human sacrifice was of considerable importance throughout the empire. According to Hernández Príncipe, a priest and extirpator who worked in the Huaylas province of northern Peru, members of an ayllu (kin group) in Recuay reported that they had contributed twelve people for immolation during the time of the Inkas. These victims, or qhapaq huchas, were distributed far and wide: four were sent to Quito; two to Lake Yahuarcocha, in the northern part of the realm; three to Cuzco; two to Lake Titi Qaqa, near the center of the state; and one to Chile. Another kin group provided seven qhapaq huchas, two of which traveled to Quito, one to Cuzco, and two to Lake Titi Qaqa. The other two victims were sacrificed locally.


Archaeological evidence supports the ethnohistoric data demonstrating the significance of mountain worship and human immolation. Between 1898 and 1999, the bodies of at least twenty-seven sacrificial victims were discovered on the slopes and summits of peaks in southern Peru, northwestern Argentina, and the northern half of Chile (see Map 1.3). Johan Reinhard found six "mummies" on El Misti Volcano—three male, three female—and the corpses of four people on Mount Ampato. In the latter case, three of the victims were probably female, one possibly male. Four sets of remains were recovered from Pichu Pichu, one from Sara Sara, and one from Chachani; all except one, the skeleton of a boy excavated on Pichu Pichu, were likely female. All of these pinnacles are situated in the austral regions of Peru.


In northwestern Argentina, the cadavers of what were presumably young women came to light on Nevado Chuscha and Quehuar, the body of a youth was unearthed on the upper slopes of Cerro El Toro, and the corpse of an infant of indeterminate sex was uncovered on Nevado Chañi. The remains of three individuals, two females and an immature male, were excavated on Llullaillaco, and the cadavers of boys were found on Aconcagua in west-central Argentina and on El Plomo in central Chile. Finally, a pair of mummies—one a young woman, the other a little girl—were recovered from Esmeralda, a hill on the north coast of Chile near the city of Iquique.


As far as I know, during the past one hundred years no bodies have been discovered on the peaks of Ecuador, northern or central Peru, or western Bolivia. Why not? It is especially puzzling given that Albornoz lists numerous peaks in the northern part of the Inka state that were considered sacred and that very likely received offerings of human lives. Reinhard provides one possible answer. He maintains that in the northern and central Andes the snow-line is considerably lower than in the southern Andes, and the mountains tend to be more heavily glaciated. With more ice and snow, these peaks tend to be more technically demanding than summits in southern Peru, northwestern Argentina, and northern Chile. Thus, the lords of Cuzco—who had no crampons, ice axes, or other ice-climbing equipment—could not have even reached the high summits in the northern and central parts of the empire, let alone build structures or make sacrifices on them.


There are other reasons why no immolation victims have been discovered in recent times on more northerly mountains. According to Reinhard, the Inkas most likely would have left offerings, including qhapaq huchas, for these peaks at sites below their permanent snow-lines. Such sites would have been relatively accessible to the Spanish priests and extirpators who waged systematic campaigns to wipe out all traces of the native religion. In fact, there is ethnohistoric evidence of destruction of the corpse of a sacrificial victim buried alive on a mountain in northern Peru. The victim was a girl named Tanta Carhua, and Hernández Príncipe recorded his search for her final resting place:


I went with much fear and distrust . . . and tired and fed up by the precariousness of the track, I lost my courage . . . but [finally] I recognized the site because of the sacrifices of llamas and the altars from where she was invoked. . . . We labored there for almost the entire day . . . and [in a shaft], made in the manner of a well, very well leveled out, . . . [we found] the capacocha [qhapaq hucha] seated, in the way of her pagan ancestors, with jewels in the shape of tiny pots and jugs and silver pins and silver charms.


It is possible the Europeans discovered and destroyed not only the body of Tanta Carhua, but those of numerous other qhapaq huchas immolated in the northern and central parts of the polity. The few sets of remains that may have survived into modern times could also have been disturbed by treasure hunters, who have plundered archaeological sites throughout South America.


Ethnohistoric Research


Many questions surround the twenty-seven sets of remains found on sacred mountains of the former Inka Empire. How do we know they are examples of human sacrifice, and what were the most important characteristics of this practice? Was there more than one type of immolation, and can we determine the symbolism or purpose behind a particular immolation? Were all of the remains also connected with mountain worship? What are the major features of this practice, its material correlates, and how might we recognize a site where a peak was venerated? What was the relationship between this type of rite and human sacrifice? What might we discover in the archaeological record that would indicate why a specific summit was worshipped? Finally, how could the practices have been manipulated by the Cuzqueños to incorporate conquered peoples into the empire?


In the chapters that follow, I try to answer these questions, relying in part on sources of information independent of the archaeological data: the ethnohistoric works of a literate people who recorded the history and culture of the nonliterate Inka. The chronicles they produced provide a wealth of data on rituals from antiquity.


Why do I need two lines of evidence, and why must I—to the extent possible—keep them separate? To avoid making tautological arguments or using circular logic. That is, I want to refrain from using (mis)interpretations of the archaeological data to gain a(n) (mis)understanding of ethnohistoric information, and applying this (mis)understanding to reinforce the original (mis)interpretation of archaeological materials. In such a case, I would risk simply confirming what I thought I knew (which could be wrong). A better procedure, and one that comprises part of the scientific method, is to employ an independent source of evidence to test my hypotheses. After first identifying and explaining patterns in the ethnohistoric data, I can then look for similar patterns in the archaeological record to confirm their existence and to shed new light on the record.


The Andean chronicles constitute the independent line of evidence required for my research. They were penned by a disparate group of people under a variety of circumstances. While most of the authors were Hispanic, a few were of mixed Spanish-indigenous descent. Some were administrators, judges, and scribes who were writing for the Spanish Crown; others were priests and high officials of the Catholic Church. Still others were soldiers-of-fortune who recorded their experiences for posterity. The so-called "native chroniclers" belonged to elite Andean families that had been deprived of their power under colonial rule, and one goal of their writing was to demonstrate that their history was on a par with that of Europeans. Several writers traveled extensively in the Andes, recording information on provincial customs and local beliefs; other chroniclers stayed in Cuzco, conducting interviews with the relatives of former Inka kings. A few individuals set pen to paper around the time of the Conquest, while others wrote their accounts after Peru had been under Spanish domination for over a century.


Just as the authors of the chronicles were a diverse lot, so were the texts they created. A number of works are long narratives describing the history and culture of the Cuzqueños. The purpose of many of them is to legitimate, for the benefit of readers in Spain, the subjugation of Andean peoples. Numerous civil records relate to administrative and judicial matters, among them the visitas, official censuses taken in indigenous communities to determine how much the inhabitants owed the Crown in taxes. These reports are important to contemporary scholars interested in religion because they include questions about tribute, some of which supported state rituals, given to the Inkas before the Europeans arrived. The civil documents also include testimony from lawsuits: "Justicia 413" deals with a land dispute between two ethnic groups, the Canta and Chaclla. The latter used a qhapaq hucha ceremony involving the conveyance of sacrificial blood as a way to usurp Canta territory.


Not only are there civil records pertaining to colonial bureaucracy, but ecclesiastical documents having to do with the missionizing efforts of the Catholic Church. Among the religious records are treatises by priests, including Albornoz and Arriaga, who actively took part in the campaign to extirpate all vestiges of "idolatry" in Peru. Field reports by Hernández Príncipe, Calancha, and other members of the clergy provide information about local cults, including people's recollections of what these cults were like before the Conquest. Proceedings from ecclesiastical suits relating to the Church's effort to stamp out Andean religion are another important source of information. As part of this brutal campaign, connected with the Inquisition, individuals were charged with practicing idolatry and hauled before tribunals made up of ecclesiastical authorities. During their trials, the accused were allowed to speak, as were the accusers and witnesses. All their statements were included in the proceedings. Such documents—an example of which is the testimony of Hacas Poma—are great sources of data on native religion, including sacrifice and mountain worship, and on resistance to Catholic conversion.


Although the Spanish chronicles contain valuable information, we have to be very critical in evaluating, and deciding whether to accept, the data they provide. Their authors could only make sense of the Andean world through the lenses provided by their European culture. As a group, the chroniclers had certain prejudices, fundamental beliefs about the workings of the universe, assumptions about the relationship between humanity and society, and basic ideas about social hierarchy, justice, and history—cultural baggage that influenced how they perceived the Inkas. Each writer, as an individual, also had his own unique background: education, personal experiences, motivations, goals, and biases. These more specific features of his persona also would have affected how he saw the Andean world. Furthermore, the chroniclers did not exist and write in a cultural vacuum, but were part of the colonization process. Consequently, their works are not simple records of Inka history and society, but reinterpretations of the Andean past that reflect the introduction of new political, social, economic, and religious institutions.


This brings us to a fundamental question: How do we assess the reliability of a particular source? One method involves scrutinizing the author's life, looking for clues about how he approached his subject matter. In other words, we can examine the general and more specific characteristics of his persona in relation to his work. How might his prejudices have affected his understanding of Inka society? How would his vocation—say, as a Jesuit priest—color his perceptions of Andean religion? How might the data on indigenous culture have been manipulated to achieve personal goals?


Important Ethnohistoric Sources


One important and fairly reliable chronicler, whose work I cite frequently, is Pedro Cieza de León. A soldier-of-fortune, Cieza arrived in the New World around 1535, shortly after the Conquest. During the next fifteen years, he witnessed the start of the transformation of the Inka Empire into a Spanish colony. He was intelligent and had keen powers of observation, qualities that served him well as he traveled around the Andes collecting information. In each region through which he passed, Cieza questioned the local inhabitants about their history and social institutions, even interviewing a descendent of Emperor Wayna Qhapaq in Cuzco in 1550. Everything he learned was meticulously recorded in his journals, along with data from other authors, including Domingo de Santo Tomás and Pedro de la Gasca. Cieza's work stands out among the early chronicles because of his methodical and analytical approach, and because he benefited from the more in-depth and sophisticated exchange of ideas that took place in his day between Andean peoples and Europeans. Such exchanges could occur only after the Spanish had systematically studied the indigenous languages, and the conquerors and vanquished had lived together for almost a generation. A final note about Cieza: because he shared with the Dominicans the belief that conversions to Christianity had to be voluntary, he was motivated to learn about local customs to show the native folk the error of their ways and to make them understand the "true" path to salvation.


Another prominent and authoritative author, especially on matters relating to Inka theology, is Juan Polo de Ondegardo. During the 1550s he served in Cuzco as the corregidor, a judicial and administrative official who represented the Spanish Crown. In this capacity he launched an exhaustive investigation of Andean beliefs, rituals, and shrines, and came to grasp the fundamental principles underlying native religion. Between 1561 and 1571 he wrote a series of reports, some of which deal with autochthonous theology, that were extensively copied by later authors, including Acosta and Cobo. Like Cieza, Polo was bright and diligent, and traveled widely in Peru. He also was well educated. These features of his life and personality shine through in his work. Polo's rationale for studying the sacred practices of the Andes was different from that of Cieza, as he dismissed the idea that conversion had to be voluntary. Rather, he held that the indigenous people would only embrace Christianity and remain with the Church if coerced—and if the objects of their idolatry were demolished. Realizing that the Spanish could not eliminate all traces of native religion unless they understood it, Polo made careful inquiry into the subject as part of his anti-idolatry campaign.


One of the best ethnohistoric works dealing with Inka culture in general—and with Andean religious practices in particular, including human sacrifice and mountain worship—was penned by Father Bernabé Cobo. The quality of his writings can partially be explained by considering aspects of his life and characteristics of his persona. First, he was given an exceptional education by the Jesuits, who taught him the importance of conscientious scholarship. He also spent more than forty years in Peru, during which he journeyed far and wide, working as a missionary and extirpator of idolatry, and gaining considerable knowledge of the native peoples' sacred rituals and beliefs. He benefited from having access to the manuscripts of many earlier scholars: Acosta, Arriaga, Cieza, Garcilaso, Pedro Pizarro, Molina, Sarmiento, and Polo. An intelligent and acute observer of human behavior, Cobo had an eye for minute detail. His motives for conducting research on Inka theology were similar to Polo's in that he completely rejected the notion of Las Casas and Garcilaso that the prehispanic religion of Peru had held partial truths and had been "preparatory" to the arrival of Christianity. Instead, he firmly believed, as did many of his contemporaries, that the indigenous people had been the victims of a double deception: because of fallacious reasoning, they had allowed themselves to be duped by the Cuzqueños, who claimed descent from the Sun, and to be misled by demons. Cobo used his studies of Andean doctrine to demonstrate the faults in autochthonous people's thinking and the errors of their ways.


A significant indigenous chronicler is Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, who wrote a thousand-page letter to the king of Spain containing a tremendous amount of information. It is, unfortunately, confused and contradictory as well. The chronicle is profusely illustrated with detailed pen-and-ink drawings that, according to Silverblatt, are generally more reliable than the text. The work is most convincing when it deals with Andean religion. In terms of background, Guaman Poma was from a noble family that resided in the Ayacucho area. Because he was a native of Peru, some scholars have idealized him and credited him with giving us an unbiased look at pre-Columbian culture. He lived and wrote in a colonial context, however, so his perceptions of the prehispanic era were undoubtedly influenced by the social conditions and institutions of his time. Be that as it may, he does provide an autochthonous model for interpreting Andean society during the Inka period. Hence, Guaman Poma's chronicle, though it must be read with care, is a unique and valuable source of data.


Part of Guaman Poma's rationale for penning his manuscript was to draw attention to the deplorable conditions in colonial Peru, including the Europeans' mistreatment of indigenous people. The rhetorical method he uses is to compare and contrast life under the Inkas with daily existence after the arrival of the Spanish. Another motive for writing the manuscript relates to Catholicism: having served as Albornoz's assistant during the latter's anti-idolatry campaign, he wanted future extirpators to employ the information provided to crack down on Andean religion. Thus, he hoped to strengthen the Catholic Church and to help native people accept the "true" faith. He did not, however, want Europeans to use his work as a pretext for further exploitation of the conquered natives.


Of great value to researchers studying the sacred beliefs and practices of the Cuzqueños is the Huarochirí manuscript. This significant and fascinating document is the only work known in which a pre-Conquest set of myths is recorded in the original language, Quechua. It consists of a compilation of stories, all of which were part of an ancient religious tradition, recounted by an anonymous group of Andean natives. In addition to portraying the activities of superhuman beings (including the mountain-god Parya Qaqa) as they fight, mate, wander the countryside, interact with people, and receive sacrifices, the manuscript provides the rationale for various political, social, topographical, and cosmological relationships in the province of Huarochirí, located on the central coast of Peru, before the Spanish.


As with Guaman Poma's work, contemporary scholars have tended to read the Huarochirí manuscript uncritically and to accept the notion that it presents a "pristine" view of prehispanic society, but this document, too, is the product of colonialism. It is closely associated with Father Francisco de Avila—a Jesuit priest who labored to stamp out the last traces of Andean cults in Peru (hereafter, I will cite the Huarochirí manuscript as "Avila 1991")—although it is not known exactly what role he played in recording the myths. The indigenous people whose testimony is preserved in the work had spent their entire lives under Spanish domination. Their recollections of the sacred legends had to be influenced by their interactions with colonial authorities, who had persecuted them for their beliefs and forced them to convert to Catholicism. Also, the act of transcribing their words only could have taken place after the Conquest, since the Inkas had no system of writing, and the Huarochirí stories were originally part of an oral tradition. One indication of the extent to which the text was influenced by European culture is that its overall structure parallels that of the Bible.


What motivated Avila to support the composition of the Huarochirí manuscript? Salomon believes he intended to use the information in his attack on idolatry. Interestingly, the work seems to have been written, in part, independently of Avila and of Spanish misconceptions about Andean sacred beliefs, thus providing the most authentic expression of pre-Conquest religion that we have. In particular, it reflects certain broad cultural concepts found in Inka cults that are alien to European theology.


Problems With the Use of Ethnohistoric Sources


Cieza, Polo, Cobo, Guaman Poma, and the Huarochirí manuscript are important and generally reliable sources. This does not mean that all the information they provide is of equal quality. Consider what Cobo says about giants. He tells us there is considerable evidence that these beings used to live in Peru and may have occupied much of America, but probably died out hundreds of years before the rise of the Inkas. How do we evaluate such statements? Is it just a matter of determining whether they are true or false? Or do we need to figure out how Cobo reached these conclusions? What makes this author so remarkable, and fairly unique among the chroniclers, is that he provides the data on which his interpretations are based. In this case, he reports that enormous bones were discovered by Spaniards in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. His descriptions of the skeletal materials and the geological contexts from which they came are detailed enough to leave no doubt that what the Europeans found were the semifossilized remains of extinct megafauna. Cobo, however, could not interpret the bones in terms of modern paleontology; he had to use conceptual categories from seventeenth-century Spanish culture, one of which was "giants," who appear in Greek and Roman mythology (Polyphemus), the Bible (Goliath), and European folklore (Gog and Magog).


Returning to the original question, how do we assess the validity of Cobo's inferences? Given the discovery of the skeletal materials, and the fact that the existence of giants was taken for granted in seventeenth-century Europe, it seems logical for Cobo to conclude they lived in South America. Nonetheless, most contemporary scholars would dismiss his interpretations. But, it is not just that he was wrong: once you disentangle his "facts" (what Cobo saw and heard from reliable people) from his cultural baggage (his belief in giants), you are left with virtually nothing. This can be a fundamental problem with many ethnohistoric sources in the Andes: although they can tell you about life in colonial Peru and the cultural background of their authors, they may contain very little hard data on the prehispanic era, or on the Inkas.


Although some Andean chronicles are considered good sources of information, others are regarded as unreliable because they contain distortions, inconsistencies, and misinformation. According to Randall, ethnohistorians frequently try to resolve the contradictions in a work by saying the author was lying, confused, or prejudiced; then they brand the work as suspect and disregard its data. A better approach, if a chronicler is found to be biased, would be to use caution in assessing the information, and not just assume all of it is wrong and throw it out. Take the case of Garcilaso de la Vega, whose descriptions of sacred beliefs and practices in the Andes are largely fanciful. The problems with his commentaries stem from the fact that his mother was a niece of Wayna Qhapaq, and he was proud of his indigenous heritage. Consequently, he tried to prove to his Spanish readers that Inka culture was worthy of study, and that the differences between Christianity and Andean theology were not as profound as earlier authors had claimed, to which end he played up certain features of native religion while deemphasizing other aspects. Neither the particulars of his life, however, nor the questionable veracity of his manuscript can always help us to evaluate the truth of specific pieces of data. For instance, what are we to make of his statement that the inhabitants of Cac-Yauiri province venerated and made sacrifices to a hill with the shape of a sugar-loaf? The information seems reasonable.


Scholars trying to assess the veracity of a chronicler's work based on the details of his life face another problem: they are likely to discover contradictions that cannot be easily resolved and make it difficult to determine the quality of his data. Take the case of the Augustinian priests. One would expect them to be unreliable regarding Inka religion because of their biased and intolerant beliefs; on the other hand, while waging their campaign to wipe out all traces of Andean idolatry, they probably learned a great deal on the subject.


Ethnohistorians looking at the prejudices of certain writers, and/or trying to explain conflicting information from different sources, sometimes create contradictions of their own. Many researchers think that early authors such as Cieza are more trustworthy because they interviewed people who lived under Inka rule. A late chronicler like Cobo, however, would have had several advantages over his predecessors, including what Randall calls the "perspective of time" and the availability of numerous works from which to obtain data.


Ethnohistorians are not the only researchers who can be critiqued for how they deal with the chronicles. Randall says that archaeologists are worse because they sift through sixteenth- and seventeenth-century documents, picking out information that supports their interpretations of excavated materials while ignoring everything else.


A Structuralist Approach to Ethnohistory


A better way to make use of ethnohistoric literature is through the structuralist approach advocated by Urton. Paraphrasing Zuidema, he notes that all written documents in the Andes were composed after the Spanish arrived, which means that every one of them, including the Huarochirí manuscript, bears some European influence. There are no completely autochthonous texts dealing with the structure, organization, and/or history of the Inka Empire. Because we lack the means to evaluate the historical accuracy of the chronicles, at least from an indigenous perspective, we cannot use them to create a reliable history of the Inkas. According to Urton, rather than reading the ethnohistoric sources "literally," we should interpret them "structurally"—meaning we should view them as purposeful representations, or misrepresentations, of prehispanic society and history. We need to be aware that in writing their texts, the Spanish chroniclers were influenced by a range of factors: the political, social, and ritual structures that existed in their own times and during the pre-Conquest era; the motivations and social contexts of the indigenous informants from whom they obtained their information; and their own backgrounds and agendas.


How do we do research from a structural or "mytho-historical" perspective? Urton compares his methodology with that of scholars who favor a more literal approach. The latter tend to interpret differences between competing documents as discrepancies; for them, carrying out an ethnohistoric study involves resolving these discrepancies and deciding which source is more valid. Urton believes we should attempt to understand how and why various chroniclers—who may have used different informants or different types of informants—may have reached different conclusions about Inka society and history. Such a methodology is creative, allowing us to come up with a number of "approximations" of the Andean past, each of which reflects the unique viewpoint of an individual or group with its own motivations, biases, and ideas that induced it to represent Inka culture in a particular way.


Yet Another Approach


Some approaches to ethnohistoric research tell us a great deal about colonial society in Peru. Others shed light on how the chroniclers manipulated the past for their own ends or how they were compelled to produce a particular version of history. These approaches are not as useful for studying the Inkas themselves, and have even less utility for determining whether a specific bit of information relating to the Late Horizon is true. Given that much of our understanding of human sacrifice and mountain worship comes from pieces of data scattered through the chronicles, how can their veracity be evaluated?


There is a method that is employed, to a greater or lesser extent, by all researchers, although they are rarely explicit about it. Sometimes they use it unconsciously. It works as follows: as we read the publications of other scholars and engage in our own research, we build up a corpus of knowledge. This corpus can consist of information from many different types of sources, including archaeological, ethnohistoric, historic, ethnographic, iconographic, linguistic, physical, ethnobotanical, astronomical, agricultural, hydrological, and so on. From our body of knowledge, each of us constructs her/his own complex model. Every time we come across a new bit of data whose verity we want to test, we see how well it fits with our model. If we find the piece of information to be acceptable—that is, if it does not contradict any already held "facts," and is in harmony with our generalized perceptions—we can add it to our ever-growing corpus. It thus becomes part of the standard by which the veracity of other data will be tested in the future. If it goes against a previously adopted "fact," researchers have two options. They can modify their model so the new piece of information fits, and accept it. Or, what is more likely, they can reject it and consign it to a category such as "erroneous beliefs and misconceptions."


This method allows us to decontextualize a bit of data and to evaluate it on its own merits, rather than based on the strengths and weaknesses of the author in whose work it appears. The approach can be employed to refute Cobo's notion, though he is a reliable source, that giants lived in Peru. We reject it because it runs counter to twenty-first-century thinking, which does not permit us to put giants in the category "real beings." The methodology also lets us accept Garcilaso's statement that the inhabitants of Cac-Yauiri worshipped a hill, even if the chronicler is unreliable. But despite these uses, the approach is rife with problems. If a scholar uses it at a subconscious level, or is not explicit about how he employs it, then other researchers will not be able to tell how he assesses the veracity of his data, making it difficult for them to evaluate his work. Another shortcoming is that each person's corpus of knowledge is distinct, being based on a unique combination of sources, emphasizing certain aspects of a topic while downplaying others, and differing in term of the quality of information comprising it. Thus to some degree, each scholar employs a different standard by which he measures the verity of new ethnohistoric data.


My Approach to Ethnohistory


In my investigation of human sacrifice and mountain veneration, I have combined several approaches. On a general level, I examined all the ethnohistoric texts I could find, written by as many authors as possible, and extracted pertinent information on the two topics; at this stage, I accepted every bit of data. I then systematically organized the data set to look for patterns. When I found patterns that run counter to my accepted "facts" about the Inkas, or that contradict one another, I tried to account for them. They can often be explained in terms of the lives of the chroniclers. For example, suppose two groups of writers say things that are diametrically opposed. In such a case, I can determine which characteristics the members of each faction shared—such as biases, fundamental beliefs, educations, personal experiences, and motivations—and then try to figure out how the similarities in their personae might have led them to view Inka culture in the same way. I also can look at the variation between the two groups to ascertain if differences in their cultural backgrounds may have induced them to see Andean society in distinct ways. If several chroniclers present exactly the same data on mountain worship and/or human immolation, I can find out if the later authors were plagiarizing the works of earlier ones. It is also possible they were reporting on beliefs and practices that were well established and widespread in the Andes.


To be more specific about my ethnohistoric research, I took information obtained from the chronicles pertaining to human sacrifice and mountain veneration and reduced it to generalized descriptions of the practices. Through a reading of numerous authors—among them Cieza, Polo, Hernández Príncipe, and Cobo—I determined the types of immolations that were carried out during the Late Horizon and ascertained the major features of each type, its material correlates, and the reasons behind it. By consulting a different set of sources—including Albornoz, Avila, Guaman Poma, and Cobo—I have attempted to understand the relationship between Andean peoples and high peaks. I examined the kinds of offerings that were left for summits, the range of ceremonies that were devoted to them, and the motives behind these ceremonies. I also learned how to recognize a site in the archaeological record where such a rite took place.


I would like to reiterate that in working with, and discussing, the ethnohistoric data, I try to keep it separate from archaeological information. As stated earlier, by maintaining independent lines of evidence, I am attempting to avoid tautologies when it comes to interpreting archaeological data. Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of the present work to actually compare and contrast the two types of evidence—a task that will have to wait for my next volume.


Outline of Research


In Chapter 2, I present data from the chronicles relating to qhapaq hucha immolation—the ritual slaying of young women and children by the lords of Cuzco. I talk about the victims themselves and discuss how they were gathered in the imperial capital, feasted, and redistributed to the provinces. I relate how they were put to death, and suggest reasons for their sacrifices. From the mass of descriptive information, I derive material correlates for the practice that represent a model for predicting what the remains from a qhapaq hucha immolation would look like in the archaeological record.


Chapter 3 deals with four other types of sacrificial victims found in the Inka Empire. They include runas, or male "citizens" of the state; the servants and/or relatives of a deceased ruler; captive warriors; and "substitute" victims. I present all relevant data recovered from the ethnohistoric documents: each type of victim, the manner in which he or she was dispatched, the distinctive features of the sacrifice, and the purpose(s) it may have served. I synthesize the facts from the chronicles and come up with material correlates for the four varieties of immolation.


Chapter 4 concerns mountain worship. I discuss the different ways Andean peoples conceived of high peaks—for example, as deities—and the diverse forms that mountain-gods were believed to take. I describe sacred sites associated with summits, cyclic and periodic rituals carried out for them, and miscellaneous practices connected with them.


Chapter 5 deals with the bewildering variety of items offered to peaks during the Inka period, including human lives, llamas, guinea pigs, metal items, shells, textiles, coca leaves, corn and corn products, feathers, and food. This section also covers nonmaterial contributions made to high pinnacles.


In Chapter 6, I examine the chroniclers' explanations for why Andean groups revered summits. The lords of Cuzco may have co-opted and manipulated mountain worship to create limits and boundaries, to tie conquered peoples to the state, and to reinforce imperial authority.


Chapter 7 is concerned with the material correlates of mountain veneration, distilled from the ethnohistoric data. I determine how to recognize sites where mountain-gods were venerated in antiquity, and discuss what artifacts might be found in the archaeological record that would give us a hint as to why a summit was revered.


In Chapter 8, I summarize the major points from each chapter, then consider some of the implications of this work for future studies in the Andes, particularly by archaeologists trying to interpret human remains and artifacts discovered on pinnacles in southern Peru, northwestern Argentina, and northern Chile.


The Spelling of Quechua Terms


In my work I use a number of words from Quechua, the language of the Inkas. Each of these words can be, and historically may have been, spelled in many ways; the term "Inka," for example, can be written "Inca" or even "Inga." One reason for the variation in orthography is that there is no one-to-one correspondence between the letters of the Spanish alphabet and sounds in Quechua. There are also regional differences in how the language is pronounced. For consistency's sake, I use a phonemic alphabet to write Quechua terms and names. Urioste discusses this alphabet—the symbols that comprise it and the sounds they represent—in his notes at the beginning of Guaman Poma's chronicle. He also gives the phonemic spellings for many common and/or important nouns found in La nueva corónica, which I have adopted. I make three exceptions to this general rule of writing Quechua words phonemically. When it comes to place-names, for the most part I employ the traditional Spanish orthography since many of these spellings have been around for a long time and are well established. The second exception relates to the names of indigenous chroniclers; I write them as they did, since their works are cataloged in libraries under the original spellings. Thus, we have "Guaman Poma" rather than "Waman Puma." Finally, when I quot


“This is an important contribution. There is no equivalent book that brings together in such detail the historical sources dealing with the topic of Inka human sacrifice and mountain worship.”
Johan Reinhard, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographical Society


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