The Inka married the earth: integrated outcrops and the making of place.

Author:Dean, Carolyn
Position:Critical essay

According to a Quechua story told in the Andes today, the ancient Inka (Inca) of that area married Pachamama (Mother Earth) and produced human offspring. (1) A trace of that union is still manifest in the ruins of Inka buildings in the form of rock outcrops--masses of bare rock protruding from the surface of the earth--that were integrated by Inka builders into masonry structures in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries throughout the Inka realm, an empire that eventually reached the greatest extent of any pre-Hispanic state in the Americas (Fig. 1). By providing firm, petrous foundations for Inka structures, Mother Earth herself, called Pachamama by the Inka and other Quechua speakers, appears to have readily consented to, if not actually joined in, Inka building activity. Because integrated outcrops occupy the interface between nature and art, they exist simultaneously as parts of, and blur the boundary dividing, natural and built environments. (2) As places of union between Inka and earth, integrated rock outcrops also served as powerful signs of belonging in a particular locale, and therefore functioned as imperialist claims to the possession and assimilation of new territories.

The Inka are justifiably renowned for the precision of their cut stonemasonry, which they employed in the most prestigious of structures, and for which blocks of stone were worked to fit one against another without the use of mortar. The carving of large boulders and outcrops has also gained the attention of scholars in recent years (Fig. 2). (3) Largely unexamined, however, is the significance of outcrops that have been used as fundamental, inextricable parts of Inka architecture. These outcrops have been carved with bedding joints so that masonry walls sit firmly on and around them. By focusing here on this particular overlooked aspect of outcrop carving, one that binds it to Inka architecture and renders it inseparable from the built environment, we explore some of the ways the Inka perceived and deployed visual culture within, and as part of, the natural environment. At the same time, Inka practices in which natural and cultural forms are interwoven prompt us to rethink the nature/culture paradigm and its expression in the visual arts.

Edward Ranney, the gifted photographer of Inka monuments, has observed, "Archaeological documentation of Inca culture has consistently failed over the years to convey the intimate relation between the monuments and their surroundings." (4) What Ranney describes as an "intimate relation" between built and natural environments parallels the relationship between Inka and earth described in the Quechua story related above. Such sites of intercourse between the Inka built environment and the natural environment are a hallmark of many Inka settlements, for it was a common Inka practice to employ outcrops of living rock--that is, rock in its natural state--as parts of the foundations of their structures. Indeed, integrated rock outcrops can be found in the hum-blest, most functional areas of settlements, as well as in their sacred sectors. While the Inka are not the only people to incorporate rock outcrops in building, their usage of them is more consistent and widespread than that of any other Amerindians or, for that matter, of any other culture in the world. (5) The ongoing Inka practice of integrating rock outcrops into their structures suggests a strategy akin to grafting, wherein Inka walls appear to grow from the earth's stony skeleton, rather than being set on it (Fig. 3). Bedding joints, manually pecked from outcrops with hammer stones, provide firm footings for worked blocks. Often ashlars are snuggled into gaps in or between outcrops, purposefully confusing the juncture between living rock and worked masonry (Fig. 4). In fact, it might be more accurate to replace the word "buildings" with "graftings" when describing those Inka structures incorporating rock outcrops. In such structures, grafted edifices appear to grow from foundations of living rock, like plants depending on stable and well-grounded roots to support them as they emerge from the earth's surface.

The Inka practice of grafting structures onto rock outcrops served to interweave the built environment and the natural environment, creating a stunning amalgamation of nature and architecture. In the early twentieth century, the anthropologist and archaeologist Adolph F. Bandelier puzzled over what he called the "strange" incorporation of outcrops and boulders into buildings at the Inka site of Pilko Kaina (Pilco Kayma) on the Island of the Sun in what is today Bolivia. He confessed, "The purpose of making a rude mass [of rock] an integral part of the side of a room is not clear to me." (6) Since Bandelier's day, little has changed. While many scholars of Inka architecture have commented on the frequent integration of natural outcrops, few have attempted to offer a convincing rationale for the Inka's integration of outcrops into their structures, and none has examined its possible significance beyond observing that rock was important and often sacred to the Inka. On a practical level, grafting structures onto bedrock provided stable foundations in the Andes, an area prone to earthquakes, and so was utilized wherever natural conditions allowed. (7) Yet the incorporation of outcrops was clearly more than a utilitarian adaptation to sometimes unstable Andean plate tectonics, as integrated rocks are the featured monuments at many sites, with the locations of outcrops frequently affecting the form and placement of structures, as well as the overall design of settlements or parts of settlements. (8) The significance of integrated outcrops during the period of the Inka imperium can be better understood by looking not only to what we know of Inka beliefs and practices but also to ethnographic sources--information from and about modern-day indigenous Andean peoples who also articulate their relationship with the earth through the ways they build with and on it. Of course, much has changed in the Andes since Spanish colonization in the early sixteenth century, and ethnographic information must be weighed carefully in light of manifold economic, political, and social upheavals. Nonetheless, it would be folly to reject out of hand the contemporary insights of indigenous Andeans, many of whom have a firm sense of their own culture and its history. (9) While modern stories about the ancient Inka and their relationships with rocks cannot be taken literally, they ought to be taken seriously.


The integrated rock outcrop occupies the boundary, the threshold, between what the Inka perceived as ordered and unordered spaces, a fact that has heretofore remained unexplored in the scholarship on Inka visual culture. According to Inka oral culture, architecture (like agriculture, animal husbandry, and weaving) was a means of bringing order to untamed areas and peoples of the Andes. John Bierhorst, in his study of Andean stories, past and present, observes that agriculture and architecture are inextricably linked as human activities that give order to the natural world and make it comprehensible according to Andean ways of thinking. (10) The Inka, participants in this worldview, articulated their particular understanding of building as a fundamental ordering activity through the incorporation of natural--and therefore unordered--outcrops into their structures, where the outcrops remained as signs of what existed prior to the establishment of Inka order. The integrated outcrop, linked as it is to both unordered nature and the regulated Inka world, can be seen as the necessary interstitial space between domesticated places and wild spaces. It is also the location where complementary opposites meet. Sites that represent the conjoining of complements occupy a special place in Inka and, more generally, indigenous Andean thought. Quechua speakers, such as the Inka, use the word tinkuy or its cognates to identify places where, or events in which, complements merge: the confluence of rivers, ritual battles between necessary enemies, and so on. Tinkuy, then, identifies a conjoining of complementary forces or entities. A related concept, yanantin, is used by the contemporary Macha of Bolivia to describe a thing in which complements are united. As the ethnographer Tristan Platt explains, yanantin can be translated from the Quechua as "helper and helped united to form a unique category"; glossed simply as the word "pair," it is equivalent to the more familiar Quechua term qhariwarmi, meaning "man-and-woman" as a single entity composed of complementary opposites brought together. (11) Platt relates how the Macha instructed him that "everything is man-and-woman [tukuy ima qhariwarmi]," meaning that the essential structure of the universe is complementary opposition. (12) Whatever expresses the union of complements is an example of qhariwarmi.



The intertwined concepts of tinkuy, the conjoining of complements, and qhariwarmi, conjoined complements, have deep roots in the Andean area. In the second decade of the seventeenth century, the indigenous Andean author Juan (Joan) de Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamaygua depicted the complementary workings of the cosmos with glosses in Spanish and the native languages of Quechua and Aymara (Fig. 5). (13) Many scholars have discussed and analyzed Santa Cruz Pachacuti's drawing, which distinguishes among four hierarchical levels divided into two complementary columns with a mediating center. (14) While the drawing's right side (that is, right from the perspective of the drawing itself) is generally associated with masculine concepts and figures, the left comprises feminine ones. In the upper pictorial right (viewer's left) is the sun, shown as the great-grandfather of man. Below, Venus as morning star is glossed as man's grandfather, and, still lower, the...

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