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August 31, 2010

The Great Inka Road


This summer, Ramiro Matos, an archaeologist and curator on the staff of the National Museum of the American Indian, is conducting field research to document oral histories and contemporary life along the roads that traversed, and united, the Inka Empire. “Through the engineering of the roads,” Dr. Matos explains, “the Inkas and their subject peoples established the best system for communication, trade, and long-distance political integration in the pre-Columbian world. The road network connected hundreds of settlements, provinces, and regions of Tawantinsuyu, the four regions, or suyus, of the empire, with Cusco, its capital city, the center of the universe.”

Writer and photographer Megan Son will be reporting regularly on Dr. Matos's fieldwork, which is supported in part by an award from the Latino Initiatives Pool of the Smithsonian Latino Center. “Instead of presenting the Inka Road as a system of linear routes connecting spaces for the purpose of travel and trade,” Dr. Matos writes, “I hope we will be able to convey a sense of the road in the framework in which it was created and within which it still shapes life in the Andes—as threads interwoven to form the fabric of the physical and spiritual world. The role of the Inka Road as a protagonist in the history of indigenous people in the Andes is the central focus of this work.”

  Grande Route Inca_Megan Son_2  Megan Son

 Ramiro and people along the road_2 

Ramiro Matos (2nd from left), speaking to people along the Inka Road


From the humid coastal desert of Lima, the plane ascends with the Andes as it flies inland to Cusco, the religious­–political seat the Inkas and former capital of Tawantinsuyu. From the main plaza of Haukaypata, roads lead to the four provinces. Now covered in asphalt, the original stones were laid for pedestrians. The city has seen upheaval. Stripped of its wealth and splendor by the conquering Spanish beginning in 1533, Cusco went through a colonial transformation. The cathedral replaced a palace; monasteries, temples. The stately architecture that housed Inka rulers now contains restaurants and shops, and the smooth pillowed stones of ancient Inka walls stand behind neon signs.

Stone walls in Cusco_2 Stone walls in Cusco

Often called “the archaeological capital of the Americas,” the sites of Cusco and its region—the walled complex Sacsayhuamán, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, the Inka estate of Tipón, the sacred site of Koricancha—are a backdrop to the ethnographic investigations that are the point of this trip. Over seven weeks, Dr. Ramiro Matos and I will travel in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, talking to the people who live along the massive network of Inka roads, researching the traditions that persist and the culture that continues.  —Megan Son

The Cathedral of Santo Domingo, built on the foundations of the Inka palace Kiswarkanchar 

Comments (20)

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Interesting stuff. I've just started reading Kim MacQuarrie's 'Last Days of the Incas' so it dovetails well.
I'm curious as to your use of 'Inka' rather than 'Inca'. I've always seen it spelled as 'Inca', including when I was in Peru. What's the history behind the different spellings?

Would absolutely love to take a trip through the Andes and meet folks living there. I realize this maybe a little off base but you guys know that back in the early 70's real close to the Argentinian border in the Andes is where that famous Rugby team plane crashed. I'm visiting nearby and looking to visit the memorial.

I'm taking an immersive learn Spanish tour from http://learnspanishprograms.org in S. Argentina...maybe our paths will cross?
Best of luck on your trip!


Although I've never been to Macchu Picchu, I've read a lot about it and I'm planning to go next year.

Cusco or "Cuzco" (in Quechua) seems to be "THE" place to see when visiting Peru, an awesome site of ancient ruins that looks like a fortress.

Years ago, I did a report about Korikancha, an important temple, and a few other sites. It sure makes a difference to visit a place like that when you have some knowledge of its past.

I envy you!

This is realy intresting the Inka Road...
It seems like you learn a lot form that experience. ( :


As a Spaniard, I enjoyed your text very much.

I also noticed the "Inka" spelling. Inca is the way we say it, but Inka offers a new perspective, so I say go for it! Also, in Spain we say Cuzco instead of Cusco (with a "th" sound).

I teach screenwriting and I will be glad to refer your text to some of my students who are working on a story on the subject.

Screenwriter and teacher

I have a brother in law who is headed to Macchu Picchu around March 11 - loverd the pictures - it looks like an amazing journey

He is finishing with some firefighters doing relief work in Peru

Nice post.I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts. Thanks for this information. I really appreciate your work, keep it up.

A friend of mine visit Macchu Picchu last year. I saw some amazing pictures. I just find the history of the Incas fascinating. Thanks

I think is very interesting and people can learn a lot !!!!

I'm an Architectural Design Consultant and I just love this kind of historical places. Do they speak Spanish or Inkan language? I am studying Spanish so when I visit one of the Spanish country I will be able to communicate easily.

Nice post about the historical places.And the pictures are really fantastic.I am fond of historical places.It must be lot of fun to visit a historical place or country.

So beautiful places and nice picture of you. Thanks for your useful information sharing.

nice posted and amazing pic, and classic. very artistic

Amazing Pictures! Some day I want to travel through the Andes. But I need to learn Spanish first.

Visiting historical places makes one be intouch with both nature and the sipirtual side. I would love to travel through Andes. I have been learning to speak Spanish and I think I can cope with the language now.

Great pictures, there and a lovely article, will keep reading.

A fascinating adventure and I'm sure you unearthed some fairly groundbreaking findings, literally!

The second picture is perfectly shot. And the rest are all great. I really love it. Thanks for posting it here.

Hola friends. My name is Walter Varela. I am Argentine. This blog is my language, but is fantastic. Seizing the opportunity that they are traveling the roads of the Inca. I encourage the people to know in Argentina "Purmamarca". A town frozen in time. I recommend purmamarcajujuy.blogspot.com know through how to get there you can find, its history and culture. It is a place to visit, come back and do not forget .- Congratulations for your blog. It is of the highest quality.

Miguel Varela Walter

Some close friends of mine visited Macchu Picchu 3 months ago and thought it was amazing. There is so much Inca history and its most fascinating to explore more of this region and Hope to do so myself this coming year.


August 13, 2010

Scouts bring QR Codes to NMAI

“The Scouts are coming! The Scouts are coming!” This was a clarion call for several weeks in our Resource Center meetings.  We knew that about 45,000 Boy Scouts and Scout leaders were coming to Washington, DC  at the end of July for the 2010 National Scout Jamboree to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Scouting.  We heard that hoards of Scouts would be coming to the Resource Center for an activity that was part of a scavenger hunt type of game called ScoutQuest. We would provide an activity for them to do, making a simple ring-and-pin game, and help them learn about traditional Native American games. This was part of a wider activity that included several Smithsonian museums.RCScoutQuestSmlest

Then we heard that several codes were posted throughout the museum that the Scouts could scan with their smartphones to follow their quest. Codes? What kind of codes, I wondered? Then I saw one outside the Resource Center. It was a QR code.

Let me back up a little here. I am an instructional technologist the museum hired to help develop and implement technology-enhanced museum activities.  I first heard of QR codes in context with “mobile learning,” or the use of mobile devices like cell phones, tablet PCs, and PDAs for educational purposes.  I had recently returned from ISTE, a major educational computing conference held this year in Denver, Colorado.  There I learned of one impressive use of smartphones and QR codes by McGuffey School District, Pennsylvania called “Mobile Zebra.” They posted a short YouTube video of how they use QR codes in their school district for a wide variety of educational purposes that I found quite inspiring.

QR stands for Quick Response, and QR codes take the idea of the one-dimensional bar code and adds the second dimension. They can be scanned from any direction, and are capable of holding much more information than a bar code.  In fact, they can code up to 3K of text, or 3,000 characters, which works out to close to a full double-spaced typed page.

Probably the most common use of QR codes is to connect mobile devices to Web content, which brings us back to our ScoutQuest story. The Scouts were instructed on how to download a free QR code reader to their smartphones so that they could access the information and clues for their quest, which took them to twelve DC locations. NMAI had the most quest locations of all of these stops. In addition to the Resource Center location, where they learned about Native games, there were QR codes installed in Our Lives next to the Metis Saint-Laurent Bombardier, in Our Universes to highlight the Yup'ik Qasgig, and in Our Peoples to teach about the Cherokee syllabary. A fourth code at the entrance to the museum gave information about the museum and stressed the connection between Scouting and respect for Native cultures. It also gave out one of the clues to the ScoutQuest game. The clue was "loyal" (I like that). Carolyn Rapkievian, NMAI Assistant Director for Education and Public Programs, provided the museum's content for the ScoutQuest developers.

I am professionally curious about this particular technology and its potential uses for museum programs and exhibits. Though my phone is "smart" enough to make use of one of the free QR code readers, I wasn't ready to invest in the data plan. But I did discover ZXing, an online QR code reader that let me upload my photos of the ScoutQuest codes and see what they contained. For instance, the code shown above gave the URL for the Resource Center ScoutQuest information:


If you put that URL in your browser, it will take you to the ScoutQuest page for the Resource Center, formatted for a smartphone.

Will we be seeing more of these codes employed at Smithsonian anytime soon? A couple of issues militate against that. Firstly, QR codes have not caught on in the United States as they have in other places, like Europe and Japan, where they are becoming commonplace.  Boy Scouts and McGuffey School District students excepted, not many people in this country would know what a QR code is.  Secondly, these codes are not particularly attractive in the aesthetic sense. I realized this when I heard that there was some discussion about using QR codes for a mobile device tour of the Infinity of Nations exhibition that is about to open at the George Gustav Heye Center in NYC. The exhibit designers nixed the idea because of the unaesthetic appearance of the codes.

QR codes may slowly find their place in other places, though, as for a special, limited event like ScoutQuest. Also, the information-holding capacity of the codes make them attractive for more technical applications. For instance, NMAI has looked into using the codes in Collections, so that staff and researchers can immediately get catalog information on each item by scanning a QR code that is kept with each piece (we already use bar codes to keep track of their locations). I have asked that we explore the use of QR codes posted next to plants in the NMAI landscape. Imagine having the ability to take a photo of a QR code next to a plant with your smartphone and immediately get a short video of one of our cultural interpreters explaining the importance of the plant for Native communities. I think it's a sweet idea.

NMAIMission I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to decode this QR code (hint, use the ZXing decoder). If you see these codes popping up in the near future, remember, you saw them here first.

Comments (14)

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Hi, Mark. QR Code popularity is coming to the U.S. faster than you might think. Estimates range from months to a year or so, but I believe we're approaching a "tipping point" (user acceptance/awareness combined with availability of smartphones and code reader software). Android and Nokia are starting to include reader software by default, with Apple and HP/Palm likely to follow.

As to the aesthetic issue, I agree that QR Codes are ugly -- especially if one crams in too much data, making the code larger. However, creative firms like Warbasse Design (http://www.warbassedesign.com) have made great strides with highly functional designer codes.

The biggest issue, however, is engagement. If the Web site behind the tag optimized for mobile browsers and provides meaningful content, then the QR code is facilitating a richer media experience. If not, then it's just more spam.

We all know the fact that when you are a scout,you must be ready anytime.Always on the go.Congratulations to all the scouts that went to Washington for a special mission.Now they knew few of the traditional games of American they got a from lesson from it.God Bless

These are kind of neat, and it's great to see QR codes used in educational contexts. Also, I tried this on an iPhone using the free NeoReader application and in conjunction with the BrowserChanger app (available from Cydia) I was able to have the URLs available directly in Opera Mini ( http://www.opera.com/mobile/ ) which is great because it generally loads the pages much faster than mobile Safari.

I still remember during those times when I played as the Princess Leia in our final scout play. Congratulations to all the scouts.

Hei from the fjord,

Appreciate your further educating us on QR codes, for instance that it stands for Quick Response. Funny how it didn't even cross my mind what that stood for until you were kind enough to point it out! :-)

Seems fitting for how fast new technologies continue to move and critically thinking about them as you have done here is not to be left in the dust. We've got to stay aware and optimize attention with these latest and greatest developments. Think it's supper that you're doing so in museum applications, hadn't thought of that yet either!

Toward furthering awareness and applications of QR codes we've begun testing of our own for quick exchange of personal/professional details with others at conferences.

Maybe we'll be scanning each others QR codes with you sometime soon!

All our love to you and yours Mark from your friends in Norway! :-) :-)

Tim and Andrine Tindvik Owen

Great article. I use dynamic qr codes. They allow you to update information (e.g., phone number in a contact qr code) without changing the code.

Nice article, congratulations to all scouts.

creative post idea is great thanks for who decide to make this post here at present we wants to give time on these things.

indeed Scouts is a place to learn all kinds of code that are beneficial to human life.

QR Code is very usefull, on android market we can download use this QR Code. Thanks for your article. It's help for me.

This is rly a nice post!

thx for sharing it :-)

Very interesting. Certainly an ideal time to enter in the world of applications.

Nice article,Salute you all.
Thanks for sharing.

this is really a new invention , congratulations :)

August 11, 2010

Having Faith: Site-Specific work

Belmore1  Belmore2 
 Michael Belmore completing work on Dark Water, Minden, Ontario. Photos by Mary Anne Barkhouse, 2010.

If you purchased the catalogue for HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor, you may have seen detailed images of the work, Dark Water, by artist, Michael Belmore whose solo installation will open in September in part two of the exhibition. The complete work, composed of 11 sheets of hammered copper balanced on steel stands, was actually only recently finished in its entirety in time for shipping to New York. It has taken Belmore over 18 months of work to complete, including time spent researching and acquiring maps of the New York waterways, design, and the arduous process of shaping the copper with a blowtorch and endless hours hammering.  

Promise2  Promise-front-web

An early design drawing (left) and the finished work, Promise (2007) by Jeffrey Gibson. Photo by  Jeffrey Gibson.

One of the exciting, and some would say, most nerve-wracking aspects of planning exhibitions with living artists is giving them the opportunity to create new work. Design drawings, lists of materials and measurements can only tell you so much; you often don’t really know how the final product will come together until it arrives or is installed on site.  For Off the Map, which I organized at the GGHC in 2007, we worked tirelessly with the artists Jeffrey Gibson and Erica Lord, to help them plan their site-specific works, respectively, Promise and Binary Selves. The results were beyond our expectations. The only drawback to this approach is that work not completed until the installation cannot photographed in time to be included in the exhibition publication. It is definitely a trade-off, but the new work we’ve seen so far has underscored, for me, the importance of encouraging new work in our galleries from these young, smart and talented artists.  We await the arrival and installation of the complete work, Dark Water, with much anticipation!  

Binary Selves  OTM-3sm 
    Concept drawing and detail of final installation, Binary Selves (2007), by Erica Lord.

Comments (2)

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Awesome drawings! looks quite stunning and lively! Will surely put it on my blog.

What an incredible journey across such wonderful places. I have never visited that area of world but would love to some day.