Theses Doctoral

The Essence of the Inka: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of the Saqsawaman Landscape

Anspach, Justin Alan

This dissertation presents an interdisciplinary research project studying Inka engagement with the heavily modified ritual landscape of the 3000 hectare Saqsawaman Archaeological Park, located just north of the former imperial capital of Cuzco. First, through a close reading of cosmogenesis narratives, and a careful application of ethnographic comparison, I examine the nature of actors and agency in Andean and Inka thought and practice. Specifically, I bring up five themes - vitality, communication, identity, complementarity, and positioning - that are prevalent in Andean cosmology and that were therefore capitalized on in the built landscapes of the Inka. While prior research has focused on Inka stonework, I argue that it is the combination of stone with other elements - most notably water and the subterranean - that allows the most symbolically powerful deployment of landscape in epistemology and cosmology.
This argument is supported by an archaeological examination that uses survey and GIS techniques to map the Inka efforts at landscape manipulation in Saqsawaman. The results show that the Inka focused their efforts on areas where a combination of stone and water, along with subterranean access and viewsheds of sacred landscape, allowed for a more symbolically rich engagement with their universe. The ethnographic research and the survey together show that while stone was an important and enduring element in Andean belief systems, it is actually water which was the most important element of the ritual practice that sustained the cosmological universe. As a result, administrative focus on bounded stone sites has allowed elements such as water, as well as areas outside these boundaries, to be designated as unimportant - a process that has led to the loss of a great deal of knowledge and understanding grounded in a more comprehensive view of the larger landscape.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
D'Altroy, Terence
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 2, 2016