Huayna Capac’s Hand: Making Inca Mummies, and Making Mummies Inca, in the Early Modern Atlantic World, 1532–1749

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:50 AM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center)
Christopher H. Heaney, Penn State University and Barra postdoctoral fellow, McNeil Center for Early American Studies
It is a tenet of Peruvian ethnohistory that when the Inca emperor died, his body was preserved. Yet sixteenth century Spaniards, let alone Incas, did not call it a mummy—a specific materia medica made from ancient Egyptians that only recently referred to the dead as well. Although scholars have explored words indigenous Peruvians used for their dead—mallqui, aia, munao, yllapa—my paper articulates how Europeans included Andeans within the category of mummy. I argue that it hinges on the word embasalmado, or embalmed, and the specifically medical and royal meanings it implied. Early Spaniards to Cusco described the Inka dead as como embalsamados. It was only when they were confiscated in 1559 that ‘como’ was definitively dropped. This change likely owed to Inka testimony, but also to the dead’s physical examination in Spanish contexts as medical as they were religious. While non-Inka dead continued to be described as curado—as one did with leather or meat—the Spanish identified the Inka dead as treated with balsam or a similar material, which forestalled speculation that their incredible preservation owed to saintly grace but also established Inka medical expertise at this specialized art, and, possibly, highlighted Peru’s importance as a site of balsam and other medicines. Nevertheless, these Inkas embalsamados kept something of the royal uncanny, whose affect overwhelmed the impulse to delimit them solely as objects of idolatry. As Acosta and Garcilaso’s scientific and surprisingly emotional descriptions circulated in the Atlantic world, English translators favorably compared Peru’s dead to that of ancient Egypt, while French encylcopedistes finally deemed Peruvians capable of being mummies, and—notable in the history of science and global antiquity—mummies capable of being non-Egyptian.