The Lives of Mountains: A Cultural Orogeny in Peru's North Highlands

Author(s): George Lau

Year: 2016


There is no more palpable or ambivalent a presence in the Andean landscape than that of mountains--distant and harboring, fertile and terrible, rocky and liquid, inviting and impervious. Yet their understanding for Andean groups is only in its infancy, and largely informed by insights from Inka, colonial and ethnographic studies. This paper focuses on pre-Inka engagements with 'mountains' as nonhuman beings on the landscape, especially around Peru's Cordillera Blanca. I am interested in when and how they are seen to come about, their 'orogeny', and how they come to hold utmost importance for many groups as social others. Archaeological, linguistic and iconographic evidence from the region and adjacent areas help to explore three main points. First, mountains (locally, 'jirka') were seen as old, agentive beings. While human in nature/culture, they were profoundly nonhuman in form, materiality and action. Second, elements of their bodies (feet, orifices, prominences) formed key spatial contexts for human activity and organisation. Finally, dwelling and ritual sought to feed and tap into their reservoirs of potency through a cyclical process--theorised broadly as nurturing generative capacity. The different lines of evidence offer an emerging picture of ancient understandings of mountains and their mediating role for pre-Inka groups.

Cite this Record

The Lives of Mountains: A Cultural Orogeny in Peru's North Highlands. George Lau. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403069)


andes Archaeology stone

Geographic Keywords
South America

Spatial Coverage

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