The Incas and their Ancestors: The archaeology of Peru (1)

Here’s the link, the average goodreads rating is 3.55. I found the book via the AskAnthropology reading list.

It’s not the first book I read on this specific subject (THP also covers some of this stuff, but in much less detail), however we know a lot more now than we did when Métraux wrote his book (as Moseley puts it in the introduction, “Due to a tremendous escalation in Andean studies, more archaeological, historical, and anthropological research has been carried out during the current generation than during all prior centuries.”) so I’m learning a lot. A really nice thing about the book is that although it deals only with a very specific group of people, it still has some focus on highlighting general principles regarding human development. Of course a book like Boyd and Richerson’s The Origin and Evolution of Cultures (I’m planning on reading this at some point..) presumbly deals with such matters in much more detail, but it’s still nice to have at least some big-picture stuff in a book like this.

Some stuff from the first half or so of the book, as well as a few comments:

“Just as the historical accounts of Tahuantinsuyu are not without prejudice, the archaeological record did not remain unbiased by the Spanish arrival. The conquering forces quickly learned that great stores of precious metal existed in the ground. Much was purely geological in context, but the tombs of past lords and nobles also contained enormous stores of gold and silver. Within a generation of the conquest, looting operations grew so large and financially rewarding that they became legally synonymous with mining. Ancient monuments were divided into claim areas with titles registered in notarial archives. Title holders established chartered corporations to mobilize massive work forces and systematically quarry ruins. As with geological mines, the Castilian king was entitled to a 20 percent tax on all wealth extracted from the ground. Within a short span the Crown established a royal smelter in the Moche valley, not because of any local geological wealth but because the royal mausoleums of Chan Chan had been discovered and looting of the nearby Pyramid of the Sun was underway. […] the Andean Cordillera is probably the most intensively looted ancient center of civilization in the world.”

“Thanks to the rugged Cordillera, which is characterized by global extremes in environmental conditions, Andean civilization differs from other great civilizations of antiquity. If thriving civilizations had matured atop the Himalayas while simultaneously accomodating a Sahara desert, a coastal fishery richer than the Bering Sea, and a jungle larger than the Congo, then Tahuantinsuyu might seem less alien. Fundamental contrasts in the Andean Cordillera’s habitats confronted humans with radically disparate conditions and dissimilar ressources. […] The mountain, marine, desert and jungle habitats required distinctive adaptive strategies and promoted different evolutionary pathways, called Arid Montane, Maritime-Oasis, and Tropical Forest lifeways. The Incas were a montane society, but the land of the four quarters incorporated people adapted to other conditions.” (Many large civilizations of the past have had huge environmental variation within their borders, so I think Moseley may be overemphasizing here how unique the Inca empire was in this regard (see e.g. here), but it seems beyond argument that environmental factors played a major role in the structure and development of the Inca state.)

“About 90 percent of Andean runoff descends to the Atlantic watershed, while only 10 percent descends to the Pacific.”

“cold and anoxia oblige people to eat more, and highlanders are estimated to need around 11.5 percent more calories than lowlanders. Consequently, it costs measurably more to support life and civilization in mountains than in lowlands. Life is also more precarious because comparable food shortages, caused by drought and other disasters, exert greater nutritional duress at higher elevations than at lower ones. […] [But on the other hand…] High-altitude rainfall farming fluctuates less severely than low-elevation runoff farming and irrigation. Arid mountain soils, like sponges, absorb fixed amounts of moisture and must reach saturation before rainfall will produce runoff. […] if rainfall fluctuates by 10 percent […] then runoff [may] fluctuate on the order of 36 percent. […] the flow of Andean rivers fluctuates dramatically from year to year. […] Normally, runoff farming generates much higher yields than rainfall farming. […] During drought, rainfall farming is depressed less severely than runoff farming and coastal irrigation suffers the most because it is furthest away from mountain precipitation.”

“Seasonal variation increases with elevation, and plant-growth cycles are successively shorter at progressively higher altitudes. In the towering mountains, ecological zones are compressed and stacked atop one another. Andean people can trek 100 km as the crow flies and go from hilly jungle to alpine tundra, crossing counterparts of the major continental life zones. Mountain populations around the world pursue farming, herding, and the exploitation of multiple ecological zones because stacked habitats with different growing seasons are close together and the productivity of different zones fluctuates from year to year. In the Andes, this exploitation pattern moves people and produce up and down the mountains, and it is called ‘verticality’ in contrast to ‘horizontality’ which typifies lowland movement.
Verticality and horizontality are associated with different means of procuring resources. Mountain families typically exploit three or more ecological zones […] Consequently, they directly procure commodities from a series of habitats by moving produce along a vertical or elevational axis […] Alternatively, in desert and tropical lowlands people generally make their living in a single continental life zone. Because major zones are far apart, resources from distant habitats are procured indirectly by trade, barter, or exchange with other people […] In the world’s highest mountains many forces of natural selection are similar, including anoxia, cold temperatures, frost, hail, poor soils, short growing seasons, very limited crop diversity [few crops can survive in very high altitudes – US], rugged topography, and marked fainfall variation over short distances. Consequently, human populations in the Alps, Himalayas, and Andes exhibit many parallel adaptions, including symbiotic integration of agricultural and pastoral production, exploitation of multiple ecological zones, reliance on different crops from different altitudes, sequential timing of work in different ecological tiers, dependence upon dung fertilizer, frequent fallowing of fields, emphasis on long-term storage of food products, relatively little sexual division of labor in subsistence tasks, and a mixture of household and communal control of land use.”

“Mountain political centers, such as Cuzco, Huari, and Tiwanaku, expanded both through the uplands as well as down into the lowlands where resource diversity was greatest. In contrast, coastal centers, such as Chimor and Moche, expanded along the Pacific littoral, with little penetration into the highlands above 2000 m”

“Labor was the coin of the realm and the imperial economy extracted tribute in the form of work. […] [There were] three types of labor for the state that can be called agricultural taxation, mit’a service, and textile taxation. […] Agricultural taxation extracted work from both men and women. Commoners did not own land – it belonged to the ayllu. It was Inca practice to divide conquered agricultural land into three categories, ideally of equal size, all of which the peasantry was obliged to farm. The first category was dedicated to the support of the gods […] These lands were cultivated first, before other categories of fields. Yields went to support religious functionaries, priests, and shrine attendants […] The second category of fields belonged to the emperor […] Imperial fields were tended after religious ones, and yields went to support the imperial court and the needs of government. […] agrarian tribute from both religious and imperial lands was largely under Cuzco’s direct control. […] The third category of land was assigned to the local community for its support, redistributed annually to village members by the local kuraka. This allotment was not in equal parts, but proportional to the size of a family and the number of dependents under each head-of-household. As households grew or shrank, their share of land changed. […] Puna pasture lands and llama and alpaca resources were organized in a similar three-fold manner.”


August 31, 2013 - Posted by | Anthropology, Archaeology, Books, Botany, Evolutionary biology

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