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Inka Human Sacrifice and Mountain Worship

Strategies for Empire Unification

Thomas Besom

Publication Year: 2013

The Inka empire was the largest pre-Columbian polity in the New World. Its vast expanse, its ethnic diversity, and the fact that the empire may have been consolidated in less than a century have prompted much scholarly interest in its creation. In this study, Besom explores the ritual practices of human sacrifice and the worship of mountains, attested in both archaeological investigations and ethnohistorical sources, as tools in the establishment and preservation of political power.

Besom examines the relationship between symbols, ideology, ritual, and power to demonstrate how the Cuzqueños could have used rituals to manipulate common Andean symbols to uphold their authority over subjugated peoples. He considers ethnohistoric accounts of the categories of human sacrifice to gain insights into related rituals and motives, and reviews the ethnohistoric evidence of mountain worship to predict locations as well as motives. He also analyzes specific archaeological sites and assemblages, theorizing that they were the locations of sacrifices designed to assimilate subject peoples, bind conquered lands to the state, and/or justify the extraction of local resources.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4

Copyright Page

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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

It was February 2, late in the evening. I was squatting by the side of a rivulet, having washed a pile of aluminum pots, bowls, and utensils. I slapped my bare hands against my down parka to warm them and to revive the circulation. Although it was summer in the southern hemisphere, the temperature was below freezing, and a ribbon of ice had formed along...

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pp. 1-19

This book is concerned with human sacrifice and mountain worship in the Inka Empire of South America. Why am I investigating these practices? After all, most Westerners regard the former with abhorrence,1 especially the ritual killing of a child,2 and consider the latter to be incomprehensible. Just because people today find them revolting and/or unfathomable...

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1: Symbols, Ideology, Ritual, and Power

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pp. 20-33

To a great extent, political power is founded on ceremony,1 a dictum that is as true for societies today as it was for the Inkas five centuries ago. After conquering the inhabitants of southern Peru, northwestern Argentina, and the northern half of Chile—especially the Pica and Pecunche—the Cuzqueños had to find a way to exercise authority over...

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2: Ethnohistoric Data on Human Sacrifice and Mountain Worship

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pp. 34-56

Although the method that I describe for gleaning significance from archaeological materials (see chapter 1) may sound good in principle, it can be difficult to put into practice. The scholar is greatly aided in her/ his effort if s/he can find an additional and independent source of information.2 Ethnohistoric works, which are records left by a literate people...

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3: The Archaeological Materials from Cerro Esmeralda

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pp. 57-78

In 1995, with a Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation, I visited the Regional Museum in Iquique, where I studied and photographed the offerings that were found on Esmeralda (see maps 0.2 and 3.1; also see photos 3.1 and 3.2). This set of remains came to light during the 1970s, when a construction crew that was building a road...

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4: Discussion of the Materials from Cerro Esmeralda

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pp. 79-101

What type of immolation is represented by the bodies from Esmeralda? The victims would seem to be aqlla-kuna who took part in a qhapaq hucha sacrifice (see chapter 2). They are of the right gender, being female, and ages, the girl being about nine, her companion being between eighteen and twenty years old. Their clothing is consistent with that of the chosen...

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5: The Archaeology of Cerro El Plomo and the Santiago Area

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pp. 102-143

El Plomo, the mountain near whose summit the “mummy” of the boy was found (see photo 5.1),1 has long been associated with legends of lost Inka treasure; the word plomo, which in Spanish literally means “lead,” is mining slang for silver.2
In 1895 or 1896, Gustavo Brant and Rudolfo Luck, who were members of the German Athletic Club of Santiago, made what they thought was...

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6: Discussion of the Archaeological Materials from Cerro El Plomo and the Santiago Area

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pp. 144-187

Like the two females from Esmeralda, the boy whose remains were discovered on El Plomo was a sacrifice. According to the doctors who examined his body, he was completely normal and healthy at the time of his death. They note, however, that the fingers of his left hand are frostbitten and...

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7: Discussion of the Anthropomorphic Statuettes

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pp. 188-201

The themes of human sacrifice, state bureaucracy, and political power relate to another type of artifact that has been found on El Plomo and elsewhere: the anthropomorphic statuette. Such pieces are usually of gold, silver, or Spondylus; the metal figurines can be either hollow or solid...

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8: Conclusions

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pp. 202-216

In the present work, I argue that mountain worship and human immolation, especially the sacrifice of qhapaq huchas, were important in Qulla Suyu. The lords of Cuzco used the practices to rationalize their conquest of southern lands, to justify their extraction of local resources, and to integrate subjugated peoples. Their ultimate aim was to unify the empire, thus...

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pp. 217-236

By consecrating the victim at the Adoratorio—the circular “temple” on the slopes of El Plomo—and by burying him alive in the Enterratorio, the Inkas may have created a myriad of metaphorical rings. They may have bound themselves to the mountain-god in a circle of reciprocal responsibilities that guaranteed the renewal of life: in exchange for the spirit and...

Appendix A: Results of Segmental Hair Analysis

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pp. 218-219

Appendix B: Typical Inka Vessels

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pp. 220-239


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pp. 221-267

Glossary of Andean Names and Terms

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pp. 268-276


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pp. 277-302


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pp. 303-309

Back Cover

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pp. 329-329

E-ISBN-13: 9780826353085
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826353078

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 842262262
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Inka Human Sacrifice and Mountain Worship

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Subject Headings

  • Incas -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Incas -- Religion.
  • Incas -- Politics and government.
  • Human sacrifice -- Andes Region.
  • Andes Region -- Religious aspects.
  • Mountains -- Religious aspects.
  • Andes Region -- Antiquities.
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