High Altitude Archaeology
Part 2 (back to Part 1)
"It's been 16 years since I started doing this," recounts Johan Reinhard, easily the world's leading high altitude cultural anthropologist and archaeologist. "I began very much interested in comparative religion, shamanism in particular. I started in the Himalaya with Hinduism and Buddhism and then moved into South American and Inca history, ethnography, and archaeology. I was mostly interested in sacred mountains and their cultural significance and found out a lot by just climbing the peaks."
Johan is no stranger to the Andes. He has climbed more Andean peaks than anyone. "When I found visible sacrificial Inca sites in the Andes I became interested in how this age-old practice fit into modern day religion." Johan began speaking with villagers who lived near the sacred high peaks. Little by little he was able to paint a historical and ethnographic picture of the sacred Inca practice of human sacrifice to the high mountain deities. But Reinhard would only be able to verify this story by testing it against what he might find on archaeological expeditions to the sacrificial sites.
These sites are mostly above 17,000 feet -- the highest points that humans could reach -- and are identified by stone structures and ruins. The world's highest archaeological site is an Inca ruin, presumably a temporary stone shelter, on the summit of Llullaillaco at 22,015 feet in Chile. "It isn't easy doing these excavations," Johan admits. "You have to be able to stay at altitude for a long time." But through his perseverance and dedication to working at altitude, we're now able to piece together details of the capacocha ritual, the most important Inca ritual surrounding human sacrifice.
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