The Archaeology of Qhapaq Ñan (Inca Royal Road)
- Manuel PeralesManuel PeralesUniversidad Nacional del Centro del Perú
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.
Throughout history, trails, paths, and roads have been fundamental components for the development of human societies, particularly in the case of those that achieved complex forms of organization. In this sense, many ancient states implemented road systems that facilitated the flow of people and goods throughout their domains, at the same time that they strengthened control over conquered populations and sustained the structure of the government apparatus. In the case of Tawantinsuyu, the powerful state built by the Incas, rulers ordered the construction of a vast and sophisticated network of roads that extended from southern Colombia to the central region of Chile and the Argentinian northwest, running through territories currently belonging to Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Although the entire network is known today as Qhapaq Ñan, this term originally referred only to the major axis of the system, represented by the great royal road that connected Cusco, the Inca capital, with Quito and the northern border of the empire.
Due to the advanced technology used in their design and construction, Inca roads garnered the admiration of the earliest Europeans in the Andes, who praised the level of organization and administration of communications handled by the state, as well as the integral infrastructure of the whole road system. Features of the system that were especially praised by the Spanish were bridges, storehouses, and facilities known as tambos, which were frequently used as inns for travelers during Spanish rule. Later, these references made 19th-century explorers and 20th-century researchers of different nationalities turn their attention to the study of Qhapaq Ñan. Since the 1990s, these studies have shown a marked increase and are being carried out from different disciplinary fields, theoretical perspectives, and methodological approaches. After the inclusion of the Qhapaq Ñan in the UNESCO World Heritage List, modern populations from the different localities associated with the Inca roads are increasingly claiming a role in research, conservation, and cultural management projects carried out by governments, institutions, and academics in their respective countries. This has opened an important debate on the processes of cultural heritage declarations, at the same time that it has highlighted the importance of the Qhapaq Ñan as a powerful element of cultural vindication and as a device with great potential for the promotion of Andean integration.