Peruvians and Egyptians

by doconversationsblog

This post is provided by Anne Marie Creighton, who joins us this year as a research fellow in the Dumbarton Oaks Library.

As we finish up the library exhibit on Pre-Columbian processions that I talked about last week, one more rare book caught my eye. This one is called The Temple of the Andes, by R. Inwards, a British guy who published an account of his travels in the Andes in 1884. Inwards’ focus was on Tiwanaku, the center of a civilization that arose around AD 400 on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which now lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia, although his distinction between Tiwanaku and the Incas, both “Peruvians,” was often fuzzy.

One of my vacation pictures from a bay within greater Lake Titicaca

A picture I took of Lake Titicaca; if you traveled about a hundred miles out and to the right, you’d be at Tiwanaku

Some popular engravings of Tiwanaku come from this book, like this one of what’s known as the Gateway of the Sun. Colonial descriptions of Tiwanaku are extremely cool—authors described the ruins as stretching for hundreds of acres, and several expressed astonishment that it could have been built by humans at all. Unfortunately, Tiwanaku has suffered more than many archaeological sites from the depredations of time and inexpert reconstruction, so engravings like this provide valuable information for everybody. Wikipedia notes that one early reconstruction, in particular, “was not sufficiently based on research,” which is about as damning as I’ve ever seen that website be.

Gateway of the Sun, rear view

Inwards also provided a hypothetical reconstruction of what Tiwanaku would have looked at its height, which I think he painted himself. It’s more a fun historical artifact than an actually helpful reconstruction, compounded by the fact that he provided no notes about his methodology. I don’t know, therefore, where he got some of these ideas. (Venice, maybe.)

Inwards’ ‘reconstruction’

In the latter part of the book, Inwards began to compare the civilization at Tiwanaku to other groups, mostly ancient. Based on certain colonial accounts, for instance, he noted, “It is curious thus to notice at how many points the religious system of the Peruvians came into contact with Egyptian, Jewish and Mohammedan, and even Christian observances,” (29). Most of the writings he cited were from Spanish missionaries; I would like to point out, therefore, that their assertions that Inca beliefs often coincided with Christian ones must usually be taken with some grains of salt.

Inwards particularly emphasized Tiwanaku’s similarities with Egypt. Of his illustration below of Egyptian (left) and Tiwanaku (right) figures, he comments that the figure on the right “shows the peculiar mixture of the animal and human forms, indulged in equally by the Egyptians and the Peruvians” (30).

Inwards' artistic comparison between Egypt and Tiwanaku

Inwards’ artistic comparison between Egypt and Tiwanaku

Inwards also included this eccentric comparison of scale. A through F are Egyptian obelisks or statues. G is the roof of a medieval king’s tomb, placed sideways. The shaded shapes H and I are from Tiwanaku, K is the largest stone at Stonehenge, and L “is one of the largest stones of modern London, being one of those at the base of the fine Doric columns in Hardwick’s grand portico to the Euston Street Station” (31). The idea that a stone from a London train station should be labeled one of “The Great Monoliths of the World” —I can only think Inwards meant this as a self-deprecating gesture to showcase the grandeur of ancient civilizations by comparison, but none of his text even hints at that!

Inwards' comparison of scale

Inwards’ comparison of scale

Inwards’ zeal for comparing Tiwanaku and ancient Egypt struck me particularly because of a Mexican book, published in 1897, we included in the last Pre-Columbian library exhibit.

Title page

Title page

This bookLa clave jeroglífica aplicada á la conquista de México, was a study of the Aztec calendar and calendrical glyphs, I am not sure to what end (despite reading half of it), so the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs came up several times as a point of comparison. Was there something about the last twenty years of the nineteenth century that made people draw comparisons between indigenous American civilizations and ancient Egypt? Maybe these two books are just a coincidence, especially since the Egyptians have the world’s most famous system of hieroglyphic writing. Now that I’ve seen them, though, I’m on the look-out for more examples!

PS The Temple of the Andes is also available online. So if you want to explore more of that one, you can!