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Ancestors of the Inca Volume 58 Number 2, March/April 2005
by Alexei Vranich

[image] A woven bowl (A.D. 200-400) is decorated with the hues and designs of Tiwanaku. (Courtesy Denver Art Museum) [LARGER IMAGE]

If you didn't have a chance to visit the Denver Art Museum's exhibition "Tiwanaku: Ancestors of the Inca" before it closed in late January after a three-month stay, the show's catalog is an excellent way to explore the comprehensive collection of artifacts the museum assembled. However, many artifacts have no provenance or are from problematic private collections that some scholars have been unable or unwilling to inspect. Still, the museum deserves credit for shedding light on this little-known Andean society and creating a catalog that will appeal to the archaeology aficionado as well as the academic.

Tiwanaku was the capital city of a prominent South American culture that flourished during the later half of the first millennium along the southern shores of Lake Titicaca (modern Bolivia). Though it heavily influenced the surrounding and later societies of the southern Andes, and though many publications have been dedicated to describing its unique ruins and artistic style, Tiwanaku is still little recognized outside academia and sometimes even associated with Atlantis rather than the Andes.

The city's massive pyramids and colossal statues figured prominently in the religious and mythic histories of the Incas and local peoples. One Inca emperor ordered his mason to learn from the ruins. But Tiwanaku: Ancestors of the Inca (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2004; $40) goes far beyond stonework to introduce equally important artifacts, with a special emphasis on textiles, through detailed and well-illustrated articles written by the leading scholars in the field. Textile expert William Conklin's treatment of spectacular weavings from Tiwanaku and Wari, the other major civilization at the time in southern Peru, makes normally incomprehensible weaving technique and symbolism quite understandable. Though some articles can go into a level of detail usually reserved for the specialist, the highly graphic layout intersperses these academic pieces with easily digested vignettes, a structure that lets the reader browse the pictures, read the shorter text, and, if so inclined, turn to the scholarly narrative.

Alexei Vranich has been the director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology project at Tiwanaku since 1996.

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* See also our InteractiveDig Tiwanaku.

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© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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