¿Que es un Tumi?


A tumi is a sacrificial ceremonial knife characterized by a semi-circular blade, made of either bronze, copper, gold-alloy, wood, or silver alloy that was used by some Inca and pre-Inca cultures in the Peruvian Coastal Region.  Tumi were produced for ritual use and for burials of elite members of ancient Andean society.  In Andean mythology, the Moche, Chimu and Incas were descendants of the Sun, which had to be worshiped annually with the festival of Inti Raymi.  During this important religious ceremony, the High Priest would sacrifice a completely black or white llama, using a tumi.  Other Andean cultures such as the Paracas culture have used tumi for the neurological procedure of skull trepanation.1

Today in Peru, to hang a tumi on a wall means good luck.   The tumi is one of the national symbols of Peru and has become a symbol used in Peruvian tourism publicity.  I saw them for sale everywhere as we explored southern Peru.  And of course, like a good tourist I purchased a copper and turquoise tumi that now hangs on my office wall.  Everyone can use a little extra good luck, including me…

1 Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art: Guide to the Collection. London, UK:GILES. pp. 91. http://www.birminghammuseumstore.org/gutoco.html. Retrieved 06-28-2012.


Ancient Incan mummy had lung infection, according to novel proteomics analysis

Ancient Incan mummy had lung infection, according to novel proteomics analysis.

The Andean Spiral

I spent the weekend in dual celebration of my and my friend’s birthdays.  After a weekend full of fun and festivity, I woke up this morning contemplating the Andean Spiral.  This week’s topic on all things Peru is inspired by this contemplation.

Spirals are found in Ancient iconography of many cultures.  The spiral has been found carved into cave dwellings, rocks and tombs all over the world and can be dated as far back as 24,000 year ago.  Examples exist in Greek and Celtic art, the Nazca earthworks in Peru, Native American petroglyphs, Arabic architecture, Japanese rock gardens, Hindu spiritual texts, Australian aborigine paintings, and African art.

To the Andean people, both ancient and modern the spiral is an important symbol.  Our guide in Cusco, Al, explained to me that to Peruvians the spiral represents equilibrium.  The spiral is an ancient a symbol of unity, wholeness and completion.  It represents the never-ending cycle of life and a path to the Creator.  As I traveled through Peru, I noticed that the spiral is often combined with the Andean Cross in iconographic representation

Peruvian Silver Chakana Spiral Pendant.  Shamans Market.http://www.shamansmarket.com/-strse-1588/Peruvian-Silver-Chakana-Spiral/Detail.bok


Chumbivilcas Textiles. Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco.http://www.textilescusco.org/eng/chumbivilcas.htm

The spiral symbol has been adopted by modern Peruvians as pervasive symbol used to promote pride in their ethnic heritage.  Peruvians wear this symbol proudly, most often on a piece of jewelry, such as a silver necklace.  The symbol is also present as a design in many woven articles, such as blankets and shawls.  The spiral has also be adopted as a symbol of their tourist industry.  It is incorporated into the “P” in Peru on their tourism logo.

The Andean Spiral is an interesting symbol that simultaneously represents ancient Andean culture as well as modern Peruvian culture.  The spiral has also become representative of Peruvian tourism.  Peru is heavily dependent upon tourism to generate income for its residents.  To modern Peruvians the spiral is symbolic of their ethnic identity – who they are past, present,and future.

Craven Community College, Study Abroad Peru, 2012 – YouTube

Hola Amigos!  Check out this cool new video from our trip to Peru.  One of our participants, Mark, has edited video footage and still pictures to give everyone a glimpse of what the trip was like.  Thanks Mark!


Craven Community College, Study Abroad Peru, 2012 – YouTube.

Ancient pre-Inca tomb found in northern Peru – Yahoo!7

For those of you who have been following along with me, particularly those of you who were interested in Prehistoric Andean cultures and their sacred sites.

Ancient pre-Inca tomb found in northern Peru – Yahoo!7.

The Legend of Huacachina


Huacachina is a beautiful island oasis we visited while traveling south of Lima, Peru.  We spent the afternoon in Huacachina after returning from our flight over the Nazca lines.  Several in our group opted to ride a dune buggie up the sand dunes and surf down on body boards.  I, however, an not a fan of sand in general and especially near my face.  So I, along with the rest of our group spent several hours exploring the lagoon and its surrounding oasis.  During our exploration I learned of the Legend of Huacachina.

Huacachina is made up of two Quechua words – Wakay meaning “to cry” and china meaning “young woman.”1  So, Huacachina means young crying woman, named after the legend of its creation.  There are several variations to the legend but they all start out with a beautiful young Inca princess.  In most of the accounts, the princess was in love with a handsome prince, but alas he passed away suddenly.  The princess cried so much that her tears created the lagoon.2  The princess then would sit by the lagoon pining for her lost love.  This is where the story starts to deviate more significantly.

In one account the princes was startled by a hunter while bathing in the lagoon. She runs from the lagoon, and as she does so, the folds of her mantle stream behind her creating the surrounding sand dunes.1,3  In other accounts she sees him watching her in her mirror and runs, creating the dunes.  Another variant states the when the woman sees the hunter she drops her mirror and that creates the lagoon.4   All accounts do agree that the princess becomes a siren, a mermaid, that lives in the lake to this day tempting swimmers…

1 2007     The Legend of Huacachina. Huacachina.com Tour Agency. Accessed July 5, 2012  http://www.huacachina.com/en/intro/legend.htm

2  Brinkman, Holly. 2010. The Legends of Peru: Ica and Huacachina. The Larikuy Blog: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Peru, the Land of the Incas. Accessed July 5, 2012. http://www.karikuy.org/blog/2010/09/24/the-legends-of-peru-ica-and-huacachina/

3  Silva, Cassie. In the Land of Sand: Dune Surfing in Huacachinca, Peru. Go Nomad.com: Inspiration and links to plan your trip. Accessed July 5, 2012. http://www.gonomad.com/features/0901/peru-sandboarding.html

4  Arnault, Henry. 2011 The Legend of Huacachina. Ezine Articles. Accessed July 5, 2012. Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/5966478

Inca Religion: ¿Qué Creen?

This weekend I was contemplating Inca Cosmology, in particular the gods and goddesses they worshiped in relation to the sacred landscape.  Understanding the Inca pantheon was inspired by what our guides explained to us while in Peru, augmented through research upon our return.  I thought I would share what I learned with you today 🙂


Viracocha is the great creator god originally worshiped by the pre-Inca inhabitants of Peru and later assimilated into Inca mythology. Viracocha was seen as the creator of the substance from which all things are created. Viracocha created the universe, sun, moon and stars, time by commanding the sun to move over the sky, and civilization itself. He is depicted wearing the sun for a crown, with thunderbolts in his hands, and tears descending from his eyes as rain.

According to Incan mythology, Viracocha rose from Lake Titicaca during the time of darkness to bring forth the  light. He created humans by breathing into stones, but his first creation were brainless giants that displeased him. He destroyed them with a flood and made a new, better group from smaller stones. Legend states that Viracocha walked across the water of the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, never to return.  He then wandered the earth disguised as a beggar, teaching his new humans the basics of civilization, as well as working numerous miracles. The Inca thought that Viracocha would re-appear in times of trouble.1

One version of the legend states Viracocha had one son, Inti, and two daughters, Mama Quilla and Pachamama. In this legend, he destroyed the people around Lake Titicaca with a Great Flood called Unu Pachakuti, save two individuals tasked with bringing civilization to the rest of the world.  These two beings were Manco Cápac, the son of Inti, which means “splendid foundation,” and Mama Ocllo, which means “mother fertility.” Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo founded the Inca civilization.2

Tunupa at Ollantaytambo

According to our guide at Ollantaytambo, Al, a representation of the messenger of Viracocha named Tunupa is present in the side of Cerro Pinkuylluna mountain facing the ruins. The angry-looking depiction of his face is made up of indentations that shape his eyes and mouth and a protruding carved rock denoting his nose. Inca ruins built on top of the face are representing a crown on his head. Tunapa was the pilgrim preacher of knowledge, the master knower of time, and described as a person with superhuman power.


 Pachamama translates to Mother Earth or Mother  World  (In Quechua: mama = mother / pacha = world or land) and evolved into meaning the cosmos or the universe.  In Inca mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting.   She was married to the Sun God Inti. After Spanish Conquest of the Andean region, which forced conversion to Roman Catholicism, the figure of the Virgin Mary became enmeshed with that of the Pachamama for many of the indigenous people.   

Pachamama is a thought of as a good mother, therefore, people toast to her honor before every meeting or festivity.  A small amount of chicha is poured out onto the floor as an offering before drinking the rest.   In Quechua this toast is called challa.  Pachamama also has a special worship day called Martes de challa (Challa’s Tuesday), when people bury food, throw candies, and burn incense.3


Inti is the ancient Incan Sun God.  Inti is depicted as a golden disk with a human face. The sun was an important aspect of ancient life because it provided warmth and light.  Because of this Inti was also thought of as the Giver of Life.  The sun was also important agriculturally.  Inti was worshiped by farmers who relied on the sun to receive good harvests.  The Sapa Inca, as ruler of the people, claimed divine heritage and direct descent from the Sun.  The Incas believed that the Sapa Inca was the living son of Inti the sun god.

The festival of Inti Raymi, which honors the sun-god, was held during the winter solstice, which was around June 24 in the Incan Empire.  The festival was held in Cuzco and was attended by the four sectors of Tahuantinsuyu. (Tahuantinsuyu  is what the Inca actually called themselves as a culture.  Inca was what they called the ruler.)  In Quechua, Inti Raimi, means “resurrection of the sun” or “the way/path of the sun.”  Military captains, government officials, and the vassals who attended were dressed in their best costumes, and carried their best weapons and instruments.  Preparation for the festival of Inti Raymi began with a fast of three days.  This festival itself would last nine days, and during this time the people consumed massive amounts of food and drink.4

 1 Juan de Batanzos, Narrative of the Incas, ed. Dana Buchanan, tr. Roland Hamilton, University of Texas   Press (1996)

 2 “Glossary, Inca Gods”. First People of America and Canada – Turtle Island. 

   http://www.firstpeople.us/glossary/native-american-gods-south-america-inca.html. Retrieved 06-28-2012

 3Lira, Jorge A. Diccionario Kkechuwa – Español, Instituto de Historia, Lingüistica y Folklore,Tucumán, Argentina, (1944)

 4 William Leonard Fash, Mary E. Lyons The Ancient American World , Oxford University Press (2005)

¿Cuál era Machu Picchu de Todos modos?

In my last post I promised to ponder the mysteries of Machu Picchu.  Why build it?  Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).

Our guide at Machu Picchu, Victor the Peruvian Archaeologist, disagreed with this theory.   When some of the guards at the site heard Victor tell us his theory about Machu Picchu they got a bit miffed.  In fact, they spent the rest of the afternoon following us around the site, stopping him and giving him a hard time – asking for his credentials many times throughout the day and taking pictures of him.  Clearly they did not like what he had to say.  It led me to do a little digging about just what Machu Picchu was.  So here is what I have found – there are 5 predominant theories about Machu Picchu.

The 5 theories:

Machu Picchu was the First/Last Inca City

Hiram Bingham, a history professor from Yale University, discovered Machu Picchu in 1911 while exploring the Peruvian Andes.  Bingham had 2 theories about the site.  First, that it was the first Inca city, the birthplace of Inca civilization.   He later modified that theory and thought that the site was the lost city of Vilcabamba la Vieja, where the last independent Inca rules stood against the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.   

Archaeological research has now shown that Vilcabamba la Vieja was located in Espíritu Pampa, a jungle site located 130 km (80 mi) west of Cusco.

Machu Picchu Was a Holy Nunnery

Bingham also suggested that Machu Picchu could have been a temple of the Incan sun god, Inti, where Virgins of the Sun lived.  Virgins of the Sun were a holy order of chosen women who dedicated themselves to Inti.  Bingham had based this theory on skeletal remains found at the site.  Early 20th century osteologist, George Eaton, identified almost all of the remains as females. 

This theory was refuted in 2000, when anthropologist John Verano examined the bones and identified half of them as male.  The new interpretation was based on skeletal markers between genders that were not known during Eaton’s time.  Veran also suggested that the smaller stature of Andean people may have contributed to the inaccurate gender coding. 

Currently, archaeologists interpret the remains to represent domestic workers who were brought to the site – the people who cooked, cleaned, grew the crops, etc.

Machu Picchu Was a Royal Retreat

This theory is the most popular of the five proposed.  It is the theory most archaeologists adhere to.  This is also the interpretation of the site given by the tour guides when tourists visit Machu Picchu.  This theory argues that was the royal retreat of the 15th-century Inca Emperor Pachacuti.  The site would have been a place for the ruler to hold court, relax, and entertain guests.   The “royal estate” theory, first proposed in the 1980s, is largely based on a 16th-century Spanish document that referred to a royal estate called Picchu, which was built in the same general area as Machu Picchu. 

As I stated at the beginning of this post, our guide Victor, disagreed.  Victor believes that MP is even older.  His argument:

  • Machu Picchu has architectural styles that represent several of the prehistoric cultures from the region.
  • The Spanish were not told about it by the Inca who gave them information on every other area held by the empire, to its very edges.
  • Finally, he believes that the Inca had lost knowledge of the site and that is why the Spanish never found it.

Machu Picchu Was a Re-creation of the Inca Creation Myth

Some scholars have speculated that the Inca built Machu Picchu for spiritual reasons.  An Italian astrophysicist, Giulio Magli, argued that the site was a” scaled-down version of a mythic landscape from the Inca religion,” in other words, a pilgrimage site.  He argued that worshipers symbolically recreated the origin myth where their ancestors traveled from Lake Titicaca to the Cusco region.

Machu Picchu Was Built to Honor a Sacred Landscape

Archeologists Johan Reinhard argued that Machu Picchu occupied a special place in the “sacred landscape” of the Inca.  Machu Picchu is built atop a mountain that is almost completely encircled by the Urubamba River, which the Inca named the Vilcamayo, or Sacred River.  The rising and setting of the sun, when viewed from specific locations within Machu Picchu, aligns neatly with religiously significant mountains during the solstices and equinoxes.

The Inca worshiped the Sun in the form of Inti and believed that the sun was their divine ancestor.  The Inca, like many cultures throughout the Latin American region in Prehistory, sacralized the landscape.  Remember the 3 levels of the universe, the heavens, earth, and the underworld.  Machu Picchu was, and still is, a place where the Earth literally touches the sky. 

Which is the Truth?

The truth is we will never know for sure.  Many of these theories are not mutually exclusive.  Many cultures, both modern and in prehistory, do not distinguish between church and state the way we do.  In Pre-Hispanic American cultures the ruler was sacred.  Rulers were conduits to the gods, the intermediary between the people and the heavens, and often rulers were viewed as gods.  Rulers lived in central places that functioned as both sacred ceremonial centers and administrative centers for the everyday business of running the empire.   We can clearly see evidence of  recreation of the landscape in areas of the site and evidence of ceremonial usage based on astronomical observances. 

Did Pachacuti live there?  Probably.  Was he the only one?  Probably not.  Victor’s argument made sense to me.  I did see the differences in architectural styles intermingling at the site.  And it sure would have been a lot of work to construct for just a summer palace of one ruler. And why didn’t the Spanish conquistadors find it?  What is Machu Picchu? A real life archaeological mystery, lost in time….

Chair of Social Science, Humanities,
& Foreign Languages

Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

800 College Court
New Bern, NC 28562
Email: bellaceroc@cravencc.edu
Phone: 252.638.7328
Fax: 252.638.3231

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