Ep. 2: Sacrifice & Sangre


In the Inka child sacrifice ceremony of Capacocha, we see ritual in its most brutal form, as the lines between statecraft and spirituality blur. This week’s episode takes us to South America, to learn about an empire that spanned the Andes mountain range. I learn what a huaca is and I become acquainted with the wine selection at the National Museum of the American Indian.



You should know that there was just no way in the world I could possibly include everything I might have wanted to say about the Inka in this episode. So I’m going to point you towards some of the sources I used while I was writing it.

First, information about the Inka broadly:

  • If you haven’t read the Wiki article on the Inka Empire, just do it. Ignore your high school teachers who told you it wasn’t a reliable source.

  • I’ve talked about my love for encyclopedias, and there are great entries on Inka Civilization and Inka Religion. I didn’t really get into Inka mythology beyond a discussion of the huacas, but there’s a fully fleshed out pantheon.

  • Also, check out this Nat Geo article for a more cohesive introduction to the empire. And, of course, some stunning photographs.

Now let’s get into more specifics.

Inka mummies are pretty incredible — both victims of Capacocha and royal Inka mummies. If you’re looking to learn more about them, check out these articles.

  • Juanita the Ice Maiden is the most well-known because she’s the best preserved. You can learn more about Juanita and the Ice Mummies (which sounds like a bizarre band name) here. 

I drew this flow chart while I was chatting with the missionaries. It's a little difficult to read, but it helped me organize my thoughts.
The mummy pictured was discovered with her half-sister and another boy. They were all found at Llullaillaco.
An example of the khipu, a system of recording information with knots in thread. Information is stored by using the type and frequency of the knots.

One thing that I didn’t really get into in this episode, which I wish I’d had time to discuss, was textiles. It’s certain that the Inka tied knots in thread as a form of record keeping, but there are also some arguments that myths may also have been recorded in the knots. These knots are called quipu, or khipu. And they’re insanely cool. However, the number of khipus we have to study is incredibly limited. Most of them were destroyed by the Spanish.

  • Harvard has the incredibly cool Khipu database project, which you should check out if you're looking for more in depth discussion.

  • If you're looking for scholarly articles, look for the work of Gary Urton. He's the go-to guy on the topic. 

A modern Andean women weaves a traditional Andean textile.

Something I touched on in the episode is the role of Spanish chroniclers in recording the pre-Spanish Inka. These are Spanish writers who recorded information about the Inka at the time of Spanish contact. These chroniclers are not primary sources, and you need to be careful when you’re reading them to take everything with a grain of salt. It might be true, but it might not be. Here’s a few to look into though:

  • Bernabé Cobo's History of the Inca Empire

  • Oviedo's General and Natural History of the Indies

  • Cristobal de Molina's Account of the Fables and Rites of the Incas

If you’ve got access to a JSTOR account, check out these scholarly articles:

  • Mumford, Jeremy (1998). The Taki Onqoy and the Andean Nation: Source and Interpretations. Latin American Research Review, Vol. 33 (No.1), pp. 150-165.

  • Silverblatt, Irene (1988). Imperial Dilemmas, the Politics of Kinship, and Inca Reconstructions of History. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 30 (No. 1), pp. 83-102.

  • Ceruti, Constanza (2004). Human Bodies as Objects of Dedication at Inca Mountain Shrines (North-Western Argentina). World Archaeology, Vol. 36 (No. 1), pp. 102-122.
An elegant urpu, a type a storage vessel. Geometric shapes and fauna tend to dominate the decorating schemes of Inka vessels.