Empires of the dead: Inca Mummies and the Peruvian ancestors of American anthropology

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Empires of the Dead is a history of the collection of Inca, Andean, and ancient Peruvian mummies and skulls, from 1532 to the present. That history started with Spain's invasion of the Inca empire of Tawantinsuyu in 1532, which revealed that South America was home to the world's oldest cultures of artificial mummification. Those cultures' climax were the Inca rulers and sacred Andean ancestors who commanded rains, lightning, and their descendants after death. To convert those descendants to Christianity, the Spanish confiscated these ancestors-the first European collection of Indigenous remains in the Americas. They destroyed many but studied others, such that by the end of colonial rule, in 1821, scholars believed that "Inca mummies" and "ancient Peruvian" skulls could be collected and measured to question the antiquity and "civilization" of the American "race." Peruvian and foreign scholars populated their museums and nineteenth-century world's fairs with these Indigenous human remains, encouraging the looting of Indigenous American tombs elsewhere. Yet Peruvian and Indigenous scholars like archaeologist Julio César Tello (1880-1947) also studied that dead as an anti-racist gesture, arguing that mummification and a pre-Hispanic cranial surgery named trepanation were ancient Andean bodily knowledges disrupted by colonialism. By mapping the exhumation and movement of these Peruvian ancestors of American anthropology, this book explains how "ancient Peruvians" became the single largest population in the Smithsonian and many other museums in Peru and around the world, and it explores what their recollection means to the researchers and communities who seek and curate them today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages358
ISBN (Electronic)9780197542583
ISBN (Print)9780197542552
StatePublished - Jul 20 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities

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