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Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Inca

Lost Civilizations

Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Inca

Lost Civilizations

From their mythical origins to astonishing feats of engineering, an expertly informed reassessment of one of the great empires of the Americas: the Inca.
In their heyday, the Inca ruled over the largest land empire in the Americas, reaching the pinnacle of South American civilization. Known as the “Romans of the Americas,” these fabulous engineers converted the vertiginous, challenging landscapes of the Andes into a fertile region able to feed millions, alongside building royal estates such as Machu Picchu and a 40,000-kilometer-long road network crisscrossed by elegant braided-rope suspension bridges.
Beautifully illustrated, this book examines the mythical origins and history of the Inca, including their economy, society, technology, and beliefs. Kevin Lane reconsiders previous theories while proposing new interpretations concerning the timeline of Inca expansion, their political organization, and the role of women in their society while showcasing how their legacy endures today.

208 pages | 45 color plates, 8 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2022

Lost Civilizations


History: Ancient and Classical History

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"In The Inca, Lane, a researcher at the University of Buenos Aires, offers a concise and well-illustrated introduction to this bygone realm, describing its history and culture and chronicling its rise and fall. Like much about the Incas, their origins are open to debate. Lane—with this subject and many others—sorts through competing theories, showing how recent scholarship is reshaping traditional ideas and providing a more persuasive explanation for the limited archaeological evidence. . . . The Inca is a volume in the Lost Civilizations series, which prompts Lane to wonder: ‘How lost are the Incas?’ He reports that, five hundred years after the Incas’ conquest and marginalization, their descendants retain a vital culture, experiencing a ‘steadily growing pride and revindication’ of their indigenous past, including their language and religion. The Inca empire may have gone the way of all empires, but, like the sapa Inca, who lived on after death, its spirit is very much alive."

Gerard Helferich | Wall Street Journal

“Splendid. . . . Brief, excellent pedagogical work. Highly recommended [for] general readers.”


“This book is a valuable new contribution to Inca studies. Lane skillfully integrates the Inca historical narrative (from chroniclers’ accounts and archaeology) with details of local languages, gender relations, and everyday life to retell the fascinating story of South America’s largest empire. Lane’s book is carefully researched, engagingly written, and highly readable, an excellent introduction to the Incas.”

Elizabeth DeMarrais, University of Cambridge

"Lane has succeeded in producing an outstanding exploration of up-to-date Inca scholarship. . . . [The Inca] is a comprehensive outline of Inca culture which includes a good examination of how native pre-Hispanic traditions continue to have relevance and currency in the present-day Andean republics."

Frank M. Meddens, University of Reading, coeditor of "Inca Sacred Space"


Archaeology in the Andean countries is a living science which has to do not only with the past, but also with the present and with the future.—Philip A. Means, Ancient Civilizations of the Andes
In a book series about lost civilizations we have to ask ourselves: how lost are the Incas? The reason for this question is simple. Many other ancient civilizations, such as Egypt, Mesopotamia or the Indus, disappeared in the remote past, but the Inca collapsed well within our historical timeline. The modern era is said to have begun in the fifteenth century, with the European Renaissance and the advent of the Age of Discovery, and definitely by 1492 when European discovery of the Americas ushered in the first truly interconnected, globalized world, albeit one founded on colonization, exploitation and rapine. Comparatively, the last rump state of the Incas, that of Vilcabamba, ensconced in the lush eastern lowland rainforest of the former empire, was finally defeated in 1572. Its last independent ruler, Túpac Amaru, the final sapa Inca (Quechua for ‘unique Inca’), was publicly beheaded that same year in the main square of Cuzco – the former empire’s capital – on the orders of the Spanish viceroy Francisco de Toledo. But detailed knowledge of the Inca Empire and its peoples lasted beyond the destruction and chaos of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.
The Inca Empire disappeared less than five hundred years ago; its demise within this historical period means that direct and indirect links to this Andean past can still be found across many of their former lands. This is especially true of Peru and Bolivia – areas which formed the core of the Inca dominions –where indigenous peoples still make up more than 50 per cent of the population, and Quechua and Aymara, two of the main languages of the empire, are widely used. Aside from language, traditions, superstitions and often worldviews harken back to the pre-European indigenous past and by association the Inca. In this volume, we analyse precisely this: evoking the Inca past, while delving into what it says about the present and future of the former imperial Inca lands, especially Peru.
Indeed, for the Peruvian state, the Inca have become a useful nationalist trope. This trope was especially helpful for at least two of Peru’s twenty-first-century presidents, Alejandro Toledo (2001–6) and Ollanta Humala (2011–16). Outside of the old colonial Creole elite, these presidents found popular acclaim and legitimacy by mining their country’s indigenous, and especially Inca, past. Alejandro Toledo became Peru’s first indigenous president in July 2001, and was inaugurated against the imposing backdrop of Machu Picchu, that pre-eminent ancient Inca citadel and modern World Heritage Site set in the Sacred Valley, the old heart of the old Inca Empire. In so doing, President Toledo was both directly Machu Picchu, citadel of the Inca. referencing his indigenous roots and stressing his government’s spiritual, and indeed physical, links to the Inca Empire.
This harking back to an idealized Inca past is not a modern phenomenon. By the end of the sixteenth century early indigenous chroniclers such as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616) and, in particular, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (c. 1535–1616) waxed nostalgic about the virtues of the empire and the supposed PaxIncaica, or Inca-imposed peace, it had brought to the conflict-ridden Andes. Later, in the eighteenth century, indigenous rebel leaders such as Julián Apaza Nina (1750–1781) and José Gabriel Condorcanqui (1738–1781) respectively adopted the titles Túpac Catari and Túpac Amaru ii, both in direct reference to the last independent Inca ruler, Túpac Amaru i. Túpac Amaru ii, like his ancestral namesake, was also executed in the main square of Cuzco.
Even at its more frivolously commercial or cultural level, the Inca are still omnipresent. Peru’s national soft drink is known as Inca Cola, an incredibly sweet, fluorescent yellow concoction of lemon verbena or hierba luisa (Aloysia citrodora) and a lot of fizz. Scotland aside (Irn-Bru), Peru is the only country where Coca-Cola has not become the best-selling soft drink in the land. Rural communities and revivalist movements have ensured that the indigenous past of their countries and the culture of the Inca resonate across contemporary South American culture, from the continued existence of indigenous languages such as Aymara and Quechua, to rituals celebrating specific moments within the Inca religious calendar – for instance the IntiRaymi (the Inca festival of the Sun) – to a generalized veneration of the Pachamama (Mother Earth) across the Andean region.
Some of these cultural expressions are pure invention, with this invented material culture of the Inca being used to justify modern identity politics. A case in point is that of the supposed Inca flag – the wiphala. This pixelated rainbow-coloured pattern is increasingly used by indigenous groups, and others, as a sign of self-identification. In particular, the Movimiento de Unidad Plurinacional Pachakutik – Nuevo País (Pachakutik Plurinational
Unity Movement– New Nation) of Ecuador uses the flag as its emblem, where the ‘Pachakutik’ of the title alludes to the ninth ruling Inca, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1418–1472), of the traditional Cuzco dynastic lineage. Yet the wiphala seems to be a relatively modern invention, like the Scottish use of tartan, dating in this case most likely to the mid-twentieth century.
All these appropriations, half-truths and myths propagate the Inca ideal among local populations and governments and serve as a reminder of the past, as well as a justification for the present revindication of indigenous rights. Obviously, this happens across the world: witness the ideological tussle between Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia concerning rights over the legacy of Alexander the Great. Yet an important difference in the Andes is that descendents of the original communities are still with us today, separated by only a meagre five hundred, rather than thousands, of years from their ancestors. They live in the same areas and generate – no matter how diluted – a worldview that provides a direct link to this same past.
The question ‘how lost are the Incas?’ brings with it, then, a deeper query, which dwells at the heart of this book: why the Incas? Why were they, in particular, the apex of South American civilization? What factors seem to have predestined them for glory, and how did they maintain power once they achieved it? Indeed, many beguiled travellers of the past and modern tourists alike look at the extremes of climate, altitude and landscape of the Central Andean highlands and wonder how anyone could have eked a livelihood, much less forge an empire, in these seemingly austere and harsh lands. Yet the fact remains that the same region that formed the core of the Inca Empire had previously been the location of the Huari and Tiahuanaco empires, based respectively in modern-day southern Peru and northern Bolivia, and earlier even than these, the northern Peruvian highlands were home to the widespread religious cult of Chavín. Indeed, while the coastal regions of the Central Andes were home to equally spectacular pre-Hispanic civilizations such as the Nazca, Moche and the Chimor, the area of expansive empires in the Andes was always the highlands. Coastal cultures tended to stay on the coast with only brief forays into the highlands; while alternatively, the highland Chavín, Huari, Tiahuanaco and the Inca encompassed from the coast to the tropical forests.
Travellers and tourists who see marginality and poverty in the modern Andean highlands fail to appreciate the vast under- lying richness and sheer potential of this region. Its vibrancy and diversity is based on closely packed economical resources (in some areas a scant 250 kilometres (155 mi.) takes you from the Pacific Coast all the way to the Amazon) located at different ecological niches from the coast to the highlands, in intermontane valleys and onwards to the edge of the Amazonian jungle. These formed the productive backbone of the largest indigenous empire ever to grace the Americas. At its height, the Inca Empire stretched along the coast and central spine of the Andes from southern Colombia down towards Chile and northwestern Argentina, bulging eastwards towards the Amazon Basin. Home to possibly more than 15 million people, and replete with an array of cities, roads, temples, nobles, administrators and the beginnings of a professional standing army, the complexity and scale of this technologically Bronze Age empire almost defies belief.
Emerging from the Cuzco region in the southern Peruvian highlands, the Inca Empire rose to cover more than 2 million square kilometres (770,000 sq. mi.). Yet for the duration of its existence it was all but cut off from other major cultures by jungles, mountains and the South Pacific Ocean, to the extent that the Incas, and indeed South American civilization, emerged – similarly to Map of the Inca Empire and its quarters. Mesoamerica – largely independently of outside influence, thereby developing a distinct South American worldview and manner of doing things. The peculiarities of the Incas extended, for instance, from their ‘writing’ based on knots on strings known as quipu, to an almost complete lack of a trading currency, and a highly animistic local and state-based religion.
In this book, then, we explore the development of Inca culture, society and economy within the ecological and geographical context of South America, and how by the fifteenth century their empire rose to dominate western South America. We focus on their myths, history and beliefs, and how, even after collapse, their memory inspired generations from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first century. Finally, we reflect on their continued influence: an influence that still matters for many across the Andean region.

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