Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Of Summits and Sacrifice

Of Summits and Sacrifice

Thomas Besom
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Of Summits and Sacrifice
    Book Description:

    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 Sacrificeoffers 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79762-8
    Subjects: Archaeology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-3)

    Exhausted, the young woman stopped and gasped in the rarified air. Once she had caught her breath, she turned away from the slope and toward the boundless space surrounding her. At this altitude, almost 6,700 m,¹ the sky above was the dark hue of lapis lazuli. Before her and stretching into the far distance, she could make out range after range of grey, brown, and yellowish mountains, completely devoid of vegetation. The highest points, capped with snow,² were so bright in the afternoon sun she had to squint when she looked at them. She had a headache from the intensity...

    (pp. 4-24)

    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 Ecuador¹ to the Mapocho River in central Chile.² Its capital, Cuzco, was situated in the center (see Maps 1.1 and 1.2).³

    Inka expansion supposedly began during the reign of the ninth king, Pacha Kuti, whose name...

    (pp. 25-43)

    Much of the information on the important practice of human sacrifice in the Inka Empire comes from the Spanish and indigenous chroniclers of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. According to some sources, a particularly notable type of immolation involved theqhapaq huchas(often writtencapacochaorcapac hucha). These children and young women were specially chosen by imperial officials to be ritually slain at religious shrines and other holy sites.¹ Although many of the chroniclers discuss sacrificial rites involving women and youngsters (see Table 2.1), not all of these works can be considered primary data sources because later writers copied...

    (pp. 44-63)

    The Inkas practiced not onlyqhapaq huchasacrifice, but atleast four other types of human immolation. According to the ethnohistoric sources, they putrunas(male “citizens”) to death, ritually slew captive warriors, carried outnecropampasacrifices, which consisted of burying victims with a deceased ruler, and performed “substitute immolations.” The latter involved offering the life of one person so another individual who was very sick might live.

    Therunas—low-status, able-bodied men aged between twenty-five and fifty—comprised the backbone of Inka society. They headed households, paid taxes in the form ofmit’alabor, and served in the Inka army.¹...

    (pp. 64-93)

    As I state at the outset, I believe—based on the ethnohistoric sources and the work of Andean scholars—that the Inkas manipulated two types of ritual to unify the southern part of the empire. The first was human sacrifice, which we have examined in detail. The second type of rite was mountain worship, the subject of this chapter.¹ Mountain veneration was very important and widespread in the Andes. As with immolation, a great deal of data was recorded on the practice by the chroniclers of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, who are listed in Table 4.1.

    Not all chroniclers...

    (pp. 94-116)

    Diverse items were sacrificed to/on peaks in the Inka Empire, with the most significant and sacred offerings being human lives.¹

    People were frequently immolated on summits around Cuzco. Cobo and Polo state that children were ritually slaughtered in honor of Mantocallas Hill, which was greatly venerated.² Guaman Poma reports that each year the Inkas put ten infants to death to pay homage to Wana Kawri,³ while Cieza tells us that adults, both men and women, were slain on this summit in elaborate rituals.⁴ Pachacuti recounts the story of the three hundred men from Upatari who were killed and buried on...

    (pp. 117-145)

    The chroniclers give numerous reasons for worshipping mountains. For the most part, the explanations fall into fifteen categories: (1) the extraordinary nature of peaks; (2) their prominent role in Andean mythology; (3) their role as “stepping stones” to higher gods; (4) their capacity to control meteorological phenomena; (5) their association with water; (6) their connection with human health; (7) their association with economic production; (8) their link with travel; (9) their capacity to frighten or intimidate; (10) their oracular functions; (11) their incorporation into sight-lines; (12) their function as markers of limits and boundaries; (13) their role as unifiers of...

    (pp. 146-156)

    As an archaeologist, I am interested in the following questions: How would we recognize a site where a mountain was worshipped in the past? What are the distinct features of this practice, and what are its material correlates? What remains might we find in the archaeological record that would give us a hint as to why a summit was venerated? I will try to answer these queries.

    I would expect a peak adored in the prehispanic era to stand out from the surrounding pinnacles in some way: it may have an unusual shape, be snow-capped, be much higher than the...

    (pp. 157-163)

    According to Rowe, in the 1470s Emperor Thupa Yapanki led a large army down to southern Peru, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina,¹ where he subjugated numerous peoples. They included the Quilca, Tampo, Moquehua, Locumba, Sama, Tarapaca,² Atacameño, Colla, Chango, Diaguita, Chiquillane, and Picunche.³ Once his conquests had been completed, he faced a major dilemma: how best to incorporate these ethnic groups into the state and consolidate the vast territories they occupied. Since it would have been too costly in terms of manpower for him to have relied exclusively on military means, Thupa may have decided to manipulate human immolation⁴ and...

    (pp. 164-166)

    Early the next morning, the day of her immolation, one of the priests awakened the fourteen-year-old girl. He gave her something to eat and told her, “It’s nearly time to begin the sacred ceremony.”

    Thirty minutes later, a slow procession made its way from the stone hut to the top of the lofty peak, following a trail delineated by rocks.¹ The procession consisted of a high priest, theQhapaq Hucha, two lesser priests, and the Inka official. Once on the summit, they mounted a low platform that was rectangular in shape, about 6 × 10 m.² Whereas the previous afternoon...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 167-202)
    (pp. 203-208)
    (pp. 209-224)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 225-230)