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  • The Incas, Second Edition by Terence N. D’Altroy
  • Gregory Knapp
The Incas, Second Edition. Terence N. D’Altroy, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015, xiii + 547 pages, US$ 36.95 paper. ISBN: 978-1-4443-3115-8.

In the pursuit of sustainable development, societies around the world look for parallels and reference points in past transformations in human environment relationships. This is nowhere more apparent than in the Andes, where indigenous concepts and terms have been incorporated in modern constitutions, and ecotourism is increasingly married with cultural and historical tourism. Inca culture looms large in this context, and Terence D’Altroy’s overview of the Inca Empire provides a superb and up to date overview of this influential civilization.

This is a substantially revised and expanded (40 per cent longer) version of his book, which became the standard text when first published in 2002. It takes full advantage of the recent, renewed waves of research on Andean archaeology, ethnohistory, and ethnography, while building on the accomplishments of previous generations of researchers. Thus it can serve both as an introduction to the topic for novices, as well as an overview of recent findings for those familiar with the classics.

D’Altroy is a UCLA-trained professor of archaeology and anthropology at Colombia University who has specialized in the comparative study of empires; his archaeological research in the central Peruvian highlands and in northwest Argentina are touched on in this book, but most of the volume attempts to synthesize and make accessible a wide range of information about the Inca Empire. The Inca state itself receives the bulk of the attention: its antecedents, formation, urban design, ideology, politics, military, expansion, and methods of territorial rule. D’Altroy does however also devote attention to aspects of Inca life beyond the state, including the natural setting, methods of farming, and local community life, and local variations in policy and practices.

This edition places more emphasis on contributions from ethnography than the first edition did. A new chapter on “Thinking Inca” explores the concepts of vitality and the unity of space and time in Andean thought, and the discussions of material culture place greater stress on the animate character of objects. The respect for natural materials and settings, and the avoidance of representational art (including representations of rulers) brings to mind the aesthetics and spirituality of Shinto traditions in Japan, for example. Recent research on khipu knot-records by Salomon and Urton is detailed, and conflicting alternative narratives of events and processes are laid out. For the Inca, narratives of history and genealogy served social goals in particular contexts, and thus it may never be possible to arrive at precise chronologies of imperial events.

D’Altroy situates the empire in its broader context of pre-existing empires and chiefdoms, and stresses its brevity. There is no effort to discuss competing theories of state formation (whether Carneiro or Wittfogel), perhaps in part because this is not a pristine civilization, and in part because D’Altroy is an empiricist (in the good sense of the [End Page 205] term). The Inca were able to build on the legacies of the Tiahuanaco, Wari, and Chimu states, as well as large-scale chiefdoms and proto-states. The Inca state itself expanded through the strategic exertion of overwhelming force, combined in many cases with enticements and rewards for collaboration. This expansion was made easier by the previous demise of the Tiahuanaco and Wari; other authors have (problematically) suggested climatic reasons for the demise of these states and for the rise of the Inca associated with, for example, warming, cooling and/or drying trends. D’Altroy, perhaps wisely, avoids discussing these climate scenarios and hypothetical discussions of collapse. He is also skeptical about the role of the Moray terrace site as an agricultural microclimate research station or macroclimate early warning device, and is generally positive about the ability of farmers in the empire to locally adapt to environmental conditions and changes.

The book discusses the widespread relocations of individuals and groups of people in the empire, drawing upon new evidence from archaeology and analysis of human remains as well as from ethnographic sources. These relocations and the suppression of inter...