Inside NMAI: Down the Inka Road
Fifth graders from Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia

Fifth graders from Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia explore The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire, 2016. Bilingual, hands-on activities reveal the engineering feats of indigenous peoples throughout the Inka Empire. Photo By Alexandra Harris.

Fifth graders from Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia explore The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire, 2016. Bilingual, hands-on activities reveal the engineering feats of indigenous peoples throughout the Inka Empire. Photo By Alexandra Harris.

Building with vibrant murals
The finely cut stones at the bottom of the wall indicate that it was probably once part of a temple complex, and the vibrant murals above suggest that the building is now a school. Photo by Ramiro Matos.
The finely cut stones at the bottom of the wall indicate that it was probably once part of a temple complex, and the vibrant murals above suggest that the building is now a school. Photo by Ramiro Matos.
The Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon)

 

The Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) is an exquisite structure carved directly into the large rocks high above an archaeological site near the town of Pisac. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

 

The Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) is an exquisite structure carved directly into the large rocks high above an archaeological site near the town of Pisac. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

Structure with mural under construction

 

Construction is underway on this structure, but this mural depicting several of the Inka rulers is still visible. Photos by Ramiro Matos, July 2017. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

 

Construction is underway on this structure, but this mural depicting several of the Inka rulers is still visible. Photos by Ramiro Matos, July 2017. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

Matos exploring the Qorikancha in 2014

Matos exploring the Qorikancha in 2014. Photo by Amy Van Allen.

Matos exploring the Qorikancha in 2014. Photo by Amy Van Allen.

Matos observing an Inti Raymi Festival at Saqsaywaman

Matos observing an Inti Raymi Festival at Saqsaywaman, the sacred upper Temple of the Sun in Cusco, 2013. Photo by Amy Van Allen.

Matos observing an Inti Raymi Festival at Saqsaywaman, the sacred upper Temple of the Sun in Cusco, 2013. Photo by Amy Van Allen.

Matos and author Van Allen at the Qorikancha

Matos and author Van Allen at the Qorikancha (the sacred lower Temple of the Sun) in Cusco conducting field work for the Museum’s Inka Road project, 2013. Photo courtesy of Amy Van Allen.

Matos and author Van Allen at the Qorikancha (the sacred lower Temple of the Sun) in Cusco conducting field work for the Museum’s Inka Road project, 2013. Photo courtesy of Amy Van Allen.

Inka wall and column

 

A beautiful example of preservation and re-use: the wall of stones is an Inka wall, the base of the column is pre-Inka (probably Wari) and the yellow and orange walls are contemporary. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

 

A beautiful example of preservation and re-use: the wall of stones is an Inka wall, the base of the column is pre-Inka (probably Wari) and the yellow and orange walls are contemporary. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

Town of Pisac

 

During a field work visit to Peru in July 2017, Matos and his research team trek along the Inka Road toward an archaeological site. The road travels through the town of Pisac and up the mountain, where terraces hug the slope. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

 

During a field work visit to Peru in July 2017, Matos and his research team trek along the Inka Road toward an archaeological site. The road travels through the town of Pisac and up the mountain, where terraces hug the slope. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

Inka Road and mountainous vista

 

The Inka road is visible in the lower part of this vista, cutting horizontally across the terraced fields. The dramatic snow-capped sacred peak of Ausangate rises above all. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

 

The Inka road is visible in the lower part of this vista, cutting horizontally across the terraced fields. The dramatic snow-capped sacred peak of Ausangate rises above all. Photo by Ramiro Matos.

The exhibition took several years to develop. Since opening in June 2015, additional work has been completed. The spectacular Inka tunic has “rotated,” or been changed out, three times. The first three tunics were on loan, first from Dumbarton Oaks, then from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The current tunic is from the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian – Smithsonian. (Now, all objects in the show are from the Museum’s vast collection.) Several new panels have been added, including a feature on vertical agriculture and terracing, one of the Inka’s great engineering contributions to the world. And from time to time, we perform maintenance, replacing the touchable fur on the llama panels, or installing software upgrades to the immensely popular touch table, the Cusco Experience.

Other additions happen away from the gallery. Part of the suspension bridge, built at the 2015 Folklife Festival by the community members who maintain the Q’eswachaka bridge in Peru, is being readied for its debut in the Museum’s imagiNATIONS Activity Center in New York City (coming May 2018), where it is the feature for fiber technology. In addition, a Spanish-language version of the exhibition is beginning to tour in South America. The Ministry of Culture of Bolivia opened the panel exhibition in the museum complex along Lake Titikaka in May 2017, where it will be the feature for one year. Already, thousands of people have seen the exhibition there. The Mayor of Cusco recently visited the NMAI to see the exhibition and the Cusco Experience, in hopes of bringing them to Peru. Discussions are underway with several more of the Inka Road countries. Updates on openings will be posted to the traveling exhibition page on the Museum’s website: nmai.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/traveling/.

Ongoing Research

In some ways, the Inka Road project is the project of a lifetime. Museum curator Dr. Ramiro Matos (Quechua), an archaeologist from Peru, has spent his entire career researching the legacy of the Inka Empire in the Andes, from his own home in Caja Espíritu, through his tenure at the National University of San Marcos (Peru), to the Smithsonian. The Ministry of Culture of Peru presented Dr. Matos with a lifetime achievement award in 2015. It recognized his 55 years of archaeological research on indigenous societies in the central highlands of Peru, from pre-ceramic times through the Inka. And even though the exhibition is open, Dr. Matos’s research continues.

Dr. Matos spent June and July of 2017 in Peru. Part of the time was in the capital city of Lima, meeting with officials at the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Tourism, and giving lectures at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and Ricardo Palma University. The majority of the time was in the city of Cusco and in the Cusco Valley, expanding the research done for the exhibition. For example, the “Cusco Experience” mentioned above is based on a 3D reconstruction of the city of Cusco at the height of the Inka Empire. That map was developed by architect-archaeologists Dr. Ricardo Mar and Dr. José Alejandro Beltrán Caballero, of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona, Spain), from the Inka remains still visible throughout the city.

Over the last two field seasons, Dr. Matos has reunited with Drs. Mar and Beltrán Caballero for similar work at the archaeological site of Pisac, northeast of Cusco in the Cusco Valley. This summer, the work included use of a drone in order to capture aerial views, as well as photogrammetry lasers for precise building and wall reconstruction. (The photogrammetry and photography work done by our Museum for the exhibition will soon be available on the Smithsonian’s 3D viewer at https://3d.si.edu; search “Models” for “NMAI.”)

Eventually the research team hopes to perform similar research across the entire Cusco Valley. Dr. Matos’s summer research was made possible by a generous gift from Kenneth and Ruth Wright, whose own work in the Cusco Valley, particularly in Machu Picchu, Tipón and Moray, has been instrumental in highlighting the hydrological acumen and achievements of the Inka.

Coming Next

The exhibition in Washington, D.C., is open until June 2020. Programming will continue throughout this time, including celebrating Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun, each June. The cultural interpreters are completing an exploration cart with many of the handling objects purchased for the exhibition, such as beautifully woven textiles, various musical instruments and ornamental items used to decorate the llamas in the caravans. Teachers can look forward to lessons on Inka roads and bridges, terraces and water management with the Museum’s new educational initiative, Native Knowledge 360˚ (AmericanIndian.si.edu/nk360) as well as additional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) lessons from the Smithsonian.

Matos presented a paper at a conference on Inka engineering held in Cusco in November, concurrent with the listing of the Inka Road as one of the engineering marvels of the world by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Society is also working on a companion publication about Inka engineering, highlighting some of the research featured in the exhibition. And, of course, Dr. Matos is planning his next research trip and lining up new speaking engagements.

The Inka Empire may have ended nearly 500 years ago, but the Inka legacy and influence continue in contemporary communities all along the Andes. The Museum has plenty of work still to do to highlight this dynamic region and its people.

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