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Treasures of the Andes: The Glories of Inca and Pre-Columbian South America    by Jeffrey Quilter order for
Treasures of the Andes
by Jeffrey Quilter
Order:  USA  Can
Duncan Baird, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In his Introduction to this glorious coffee table sized volume, Jeffrey Quilter presents the 'Realm of Inti', the Inca sun god, telling us that 'the lords of that mighty Andean realm were the inheritors of thousands of years of rich and diverse cultural traditions and innovations.' The book covers seven major periods of Andean prehistory, in a region whose civilizations were often shaken by the widespread effects of El Nino events. Plentiful photos range from images of ancient sculptures and golden treasures to magnificent views of mountain scenery.

Quilter tells us that the first humans showed up in the area around 10,000 BCE, and domesticated the alpaca and llama around 5,000 BCE. There's a fascinating discussion of an early temple complex at Chavin de Huantar, site of an oracle, and a cult of gods that evolved over hundreds of years. 'Chavin art is commonly considered the first great art style of ancient Peru' - the examples shown are impressive. Other wonderful artworks (masks, figurines and stunningly embroidered mummy mantles) came from cemeteries on the barren Paracas peninsula. Next, we see the beautiful, colorful art of the Nasca people (who also built subterranean conduits and spiral water cisterns to access water resources). Pan pipes, widely used in this era, still make music today. The Nasca collected trophy heads from enemies, and also practiced head deformation and trepanning. The famous Nasca lines are discussed, including a theory that they were used in rituals to bring water from the mountains. The Moche, who dominated the north coast, also performed human sacrifice. There's a splendid image of a Moche metalwork owl, who looks about to pounce on prey.

In 650-1000 CE, the Wari and Tiwanaku highland powers dominated (the Incas viewed the city of Tiwanaku (east of Lake Titicaca) as their 'ancestral homeland'). Quilter speaks of Tiwanaku as a 'City of Festivals', providing an experience 'that today could only be reproduced by combining a place of worship, an amusement park, and a beer garden.' The Wari created the first enduring Andean empire, and used knotted string recording systems like the later Inca khipu. Pachacamac was a cult and pilgrimage center near modern Lima, famed for its oracle. Its deity was the 'lord of earthquakes'. Outstanding examples of Lambayeque metalwork include a semicircular knife in gold and precious stones. Trade was carried out as far north as Columbia and Mexico - for lapis lazuli, tropical bird feathers, and the prized thorny oyster. Another majestic site lies at Chan Chan, capital of the Chimu empire, which eventually fell to the Inca. There are wonderful photos of the famed Inca royal estate of Machu Picchu here, and Quilter gives a detailed account of life under Inca rule. Each Sapa Inca (ruler) was mummified, and treated as if still alive!

Jeffrey Quilter concludes by reminding us that 'it is surely the people of the Andes who comprise the region's greatest treasure.' I have not been to Peru but would love to go there. Reading Treasures of the Andes gave me a much better appreciation of the cultural breadth and depth of the region, and even more interest in visiting. It's an informative book, beautifully illustrated by color photos of scenery and art that bring the ancient peoples of the Andes to the mind's eye.

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