Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Role of Mummies in the Structure of the Empire

How did the Incans maintain power over their empire?

In the National Geographic Special Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World (2009), it is noted that during the time of the Incan Empire, as few as 100,000 Incas were able to rule over 10 million subjects. In an interview, Terence D’Altroy, a professor of anthropology at Columbia, points to a combination of innovations and the continuation of existing structures as allowing the Inca to maintain control over this huge empire. The Inca moved many of those living in the lands they came to control, to increase the agricultural productivity of the empire or for political reasons, and created a vast system of roads (Tyson, 2010). However, the Inca also tried to present themselves as a larger version of the pre-existing system of local lords, seeking to create a system of mutual obligations that tied their subjects to the Empire (Tyson, 2010).

What was the role of the Capacocha sacrifices in the power structure of the Empire?

In addition to the religious associations of the Capacocha child sacrifices, these acts played an important role in the way that Inca rulers maintained control over the expanse of their Empire. Andrushko, Buzon, Gibaja, McEwan, Simonetti, and Creaser (2011) note that one reason such rituals would be performed would be to mark a historic event in the life of the emperor. Furthermore, they point out that the children selected were chosen from the far reaches of the Empire (2011).  This incorporation of children, and through them of villages, from well away from the center of the state into an event that could have as its primary cause the life of the person who most represented that state served as a form of bringing the more geographically isolated elements into closer association with the whole. Reinhard and Stenzel (1996) also comment on the unifying element of the sacrifices. They point out how the children were often taken to Cuzco, the capitol city, for celebrations before the sacrifice, refocusing attention on this center. Capacocha sacrifices also occurred on sacred mountains that had strong religious importance for the people of those areas; by holding this ritual in those places, the Inca authorities incorporated the deities of the mountain into the state religion (Reinhard, J., & Stenzel, M., 1996).

The element of honor of these rituals also enabled further Inca control by encouraging a desire to participate. The child involved in the sacrifice was thought to become a deity, and becoming such a sacrifice brought great honor and prestige to the family involved (Hammond, 1991). This is illustrated in the National Geographic Mummified Child Sacrifice video. Through analysis of a sample of hair from the mummy La Doncella, researchers learned that a year prior to her death, the girl’s diet shifted to include maize and animal proteins, markers of a noble diet. Such changes as diet were likely ways that those chosen to participate in Capacocha sacrifices experienced the honor of the act. It is possible that one of the reasons the Inca were so successful in expressing control in this way was because the people welcomed this honor.

What was the role of the royal mummies in the power structure of the Empire?

Baur and Rodríguez (2007) discuss an excavation hoping to uncover some of the royal mummies lost during the Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire. They remark that “when the Spaniards entered the city, they were amazed to see the mummies of previous kings and queens playing an active role in the politics of the day” (Baur, B.S., & Rodríguez, A.C., 2007). The mummies of previous Inca rulers were not separated from the day to day functioning of the empire. In the palaces, they were used as advisers to the current king, and the most trusted were used as ambassadors; at times throughout the year, the mummies were publically assembled in the plaza. Baur and Rodríguez explain this approach as a way to legitimize the current king. They argue that this display served as a physical, direct line of descent of divine leaders stretching back through time. Such proof of descent was perhaps particularly important for the Inca leaders because, in addition to the need to maintain the loyalty of the outer regions of the empire, there could often be internal power struggles. The Inca did not have a concept of primogeniture; legitimacy as a ruler was decided through success, fostering competition and disagreement (Tyson, 2010). In such a system, the ability to display a line of ancestors and predecessors may have been a way to further legitimize rule.

One of the topics discussed by Metcalf and Huntington in Celebrations of Death (1991) is the way that royal corpses are manipulated to serve the living (p. 135). Some of the examples they discuss include the use of effigies, such as with the Shilluk or in France, that represent the immortal kingship by representing the ruler or the power of the ruler in the period between the death of the old ruler and the time the new ruler formally takes power (p. 163, 173). With the French monarchy particularly, the effigy is made to resemble the king as closely as possible, and for several days it is treated as though it were the king himself (p. 175). Such a situation seems to draw an interesting parallel with the Inca example. There certainly seem to be important ideas of religion and ancestry involved with the treatment of Inca mummies; additionally, in the Inca practice the mummies continue to hold importance after a new ruler has taken power, while in France the effigies serve largely to hold the place for the next king. However, the line of leaders that was at times put on display in the plaza could be related to the importance of the idea of an immortal kingship that lives beyond individuals who may hold it for a time. In both situations, the divine right and inevitable continuity of leadership seem to be expressed to at least some extent.

Works Cited

Andrushko, V. A., Buzon, M. R., Gibaja, A. M., McEwan, G. F., Simonetti, A., & Creaser, R. A. 
     (2011). Investigating a child sacrifice event from the Inca heartland. Journal of 
     Archaeological Science, 38(2), 323- 333.
Bauer, B. S., & Rodríguez, A. C. (2007). The Hospital of San Andrés (Lima, Peru) and the 
     Search for the Royal Mummies of the Incas. Field Museum of Natural History.  
Hammond, N. (1991, May 28). Mummified body is key to Inca ritual. The Times.
Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved 
Metcalf, P., & Huntington, R. (1991). Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary 
     Ritual. Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Mummified Child Sacrifice. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved February 29, 2012 from 
Reinhard, J., & Stenzel, M. (1996). At 22,000 feet children of Inca sacrifice found frozen in time. 
     National Geographic, 196(5). 
Tyson, P. (Ed.). (2010, January). Rise of the Inca. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from 

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