Friday, February 09, 2018

from whence they came

So, Brayan, that is why I came to Peru. (setting the stage, the empire strikes back)

And I know what you are now asking: “Did you find the world of the Inca that that 12–year old boy once imagined?”

Or, I hope that is what you are asking. Otherwise, that hook will be unbaited. But, if that is your question, the answer is "yes." It turned out to be one of the most fascinating journeys I have ever taken.

I have already written in the abstract about the pre-Colombian history of Peru. Now, let me take you to the places we experienced on the trip.

On our last day in Peru, we visited the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History.  I wish we had started there, because the museum’s exhibits put the Inca within context. They were merely the thin layer of icing on a very thick cake of Peruvian history -- less than 100 years.

Had I not read Charles Mann's intriguing 1491 several years ago, I would have been surprised at the number of civilizations that preceded those in place when the Europeans arrived. The Americas were filled with thousands of years of history before the Inca -- or the Aztec -- or the Sioux.

Based on current archaeological information, civilizations have existed in what we now know as Peru for 5200 years -- the first being the Norte Chico , one of the first complex civilizations in the Americas. Most left behind pottery, but no grand structures.  Like this incredibly elegant, but simple, piece from about 2800 BC.

But some of the civilizations were monumental builders. Northwest of Lake Titicaca, around 1080 BC, in the shadows of a mountain formed in the shape of a puma, the Pukaras (at Pukara -- I like some of these simple relationships) built a ceremonial platform that formed the foundation for several temples.

The temples are now gone. But the platform is still clearly visible from the highway. Even from a distance, it is the stuff of which power is made. That is it at the far lower right. The brown lines.

Based on the sculptures displayed in Pukara’s museum, anthropologists have concluded the Pukaras were a people who built power through intimidation. This warrior wears the head of a decapitated enemy.

Even his back is covered with the trophies of triumph.

I will spare you the sculpture of a warrior -- or god -- eating a baby.

One of the greatest empires that preceded the Inca was the Wari. From about 500 to 1000 AD. This gate outside of Cuzco was designed to control and tax (of course; after all, it was a government) commerce flowing through their empire. Because they relied on stone construction, it still stands as a guardian in the hills above the city.

The Paracas existed as a civilization between 800 BC and 200 AD. Archaeologists have been able to reconstruct the society through one of Peru's most interesting archaeological discoveries -- underground chambers filled with mummified remains in funerary bundles along with garments, food, ornaments, and musical instruments. It is the equivalent of the Valley of the Kings.

Some of the pieces in the museum are majestic. Like these Wari warriors.

Others are whimsical. Like this piece. With his master looming in the background, this guy could be playing Figaro.

Both belie the false assumption that before the Inca, Peru was devoid of civilization -- even though that was a myth the Inca themselves perpetrated.

I had come to Peru to experience the Inca empire. I knew layers of civilization had preceded the empire, but my visit helped reinforce just how important these earlier people were in the creation of the Inca empire.

Like the Romans, the Ina incorporated many of the accomplishments of their predecessors -- and then altered them to suit their purposes. (It would be wise for those of us who bemoan changes in traditional societies to recall that change is inevitable.)

And even though the Inca empire lasted less than 100 years, it was the reason I came to Peru. And this jouney was centered around things Incan.

That is why we will talk about the Incan sites in the next essay.  

No comments: