Ontological foundations of Inka archaeology

Author(s): Bruce Mannheim

Year: 2016


The “ontological turn” ties several core anthropological questions about cultural variability in human interaction with the world, all of which can best be summarized by Sapir’s dictum—from the 1920s— that “the worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.” Drawing on evidence—ethnographic, grammatical, cognitive, material, and visual—from the central Andes (principally from Southern Quechua and their Inka ancestors), I discuss several areas in which sensitivity to ontological ordering principles constrain the interpretation of archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence: properties of the world; spatial orientation and principles of semiotic interpretation; agency; and causal structures. In each case I identify social practices that presuppose and entail the ontological categories. All ontological structures are produced by social practices or by social practices plus cognitive mechanisms identified independently of the ontological question; none make reference to “cosmology.” And in conjunct, they permit a more parsimonious interpretation of material evidence, suggesting that some absences of evidence are in fact evidence of absence. Most strikingly, they suggest a new interpretation of the spatial organization of Inka Cuzco.

Cite this Record

Ontological foundations of Inka archaeology. Bruce Mannheim. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 402938)


Geographic Keywords
South America

Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;