Dr. Ramiro Matos (Quechua), senior curator for Latin America at the National Museum of the American Indian, has been working for five years on the project Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Road. In July he and a very small team of museum staff traveled across Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, completing the research needed to present the Inka Road in a major exhibition scheduled to open at the museum in Washington, D.C., in June 2015, and via a symposium and other online events open to a worldwide audience.
The Inka Road is an engineering and distribution marvel. The road system spans more than 24,000 miles, greater than the distance between Florida and Washington State. The Inka used the road to move natural resources from one area to another, transport armies, see to the needs of their citizens, and develop new and sophisticated methods for administering their empire. The forthcoming exhibition will showcase the museum’s stunning collection of objects as it explains the origins of the Inka Empire, details the four expansion areas of the empire (called suyus), and highlights why the road is still relevant today.
Archaeologists from throughout Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia—the six countries that today comprise the region covered by the Inka Road—are key partners in the project. This summer, Dr. Matos and project team spent two weeks in Cusco, Peru, working with consultants on ethnohistoric data for a 3-D model of the Inka capital that will serve as the centerpoint of the exhibit. They then journeyed to Lima for a series of meetings with museum professionals, government agencies, and government representatives. Onward they went to Ecuador, to work with partners in both Cuenca and Quito, and from there to Pasto, Colombia. The research is now close to complete, and the production work is about to begin.
In addition to research, the team began scouting for production for photography, video, and 3-D modeling, which will occur next summer if funding permits. Team members have been gathering information for potential cultural arts programs, as well as for the museum shop. They have also been purchasing objects to create “discovery boxes” in the museum’s two imagiNATIONS Activity Centers (open in DC, forthcoming in NY). These boxes will feature hands-on objects that children can explore to learn more about the communities that today live along the Inka Road.
Please join us in Washington, D.C., on November 14 for a symposium on the engineering principals of the Inka Road. This program will bring together ten of the project’s consultants to discuss the wide range of innovations achieved by the Inka, from the hydrology of Machu Picchu to the model reconstruction of Cusco. The symposium also will be webcast.
Stay tuned for updates about this blockbuster exhibition. In the meantime, here are a few more photographs to give you a sense of what we saw during the research trip.
Cusco was the capital and center of the Inka Empire and remains central to the Quechua people, descendants of the Inka. Archaeological evidence of the Inka abounds in Cusco, and Quechua can be heard throughout the city.
It's astounding how Inka stonework still stands and is being used today. Clockwise from upper left: Pavement of an Inka road. Inka walls—yes, those carvings represent serpents. An Inka doorway, now the entrance to a hotel.
The festival Inti Raymi occurs every June around the time of the solstice and marks both traditional and modern governing authority. In the festival, the Inka takes his place in the center of Cusco, and delegations from the four suyus pay him homage. Part of the ceremony takes place at the Plaza de Armas, where the current mayor of Cusco is presented with symbolic control of the city from the Inka. Part of the ceremony takes place at Saqsaywaman, the ceremonial sight at the northwest end of the city; Saqsaywaman serves as the head of the puma, the symbolic shape of Cusco.
Beyond the capital
Each of the suyus brought different economic and cultural resources to the empire. For example, sites near the coast were important for spondylus shell, which was used as currency as well as in jewelry. Northern sites are famous for the engineering of rope bridges.
At Pachacámac, near Lima, el templo del Sol (the Temple of the Sun). Sections of the temple are original, others are being restored. Detail: Some of the temple's red paint survives; the use of adobe makes construction here very different from the methods and materials seen in Cusco.
In southern Ecuador the road meets the Rio Jubones. Imagine a cable rope bridge here; you would cross underneath the bridge, perhaps in a basket. Concrete abutments anchored the bridge in recent times. You can also see the Inka Road along the hills on each side of the river.
All photos were taken in July 2013 by Amy van Allen, NMAI.