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The Great Inca Road, A Spectacular Photography Exhibition
Many theories have been offered to explain why the Incas built this stunning complex of stone buildings in such a remote place, on a high bluff nearly encircled by a river. Was it a fortress? An astronomical observatory? Researchers now think it was probably an Inca ruler's rural retreat, built on a spot chosen for its views of nearby sacred mountains. Photo: Heinz Plenge.

NEW YORK, NY.- "Highway of An Empire: The Great Inca Road," an exhibition of more than 50 striking photographs featuring the 25,000 miles of roads and trails that the Incas built six centuries ago in South America, opens Saturday, October 17 at the American Museum of Natural History. On view in the IMAX Corridor on the second floor through September 2010, the exhibition explores the roads that crisscrossed the Incan realm, radiating out from Cuzco, the Inca capital tucked in the mountains of modern-day Peru.

The vast Inca Empire owed its reach and power to this extensive and intricate network of roads. Linking forts, religious sites, and administrative centers from the Pacific coast to the Amazonian rainforest, the Inca roads allowed armies and imperial officials to conquer and then control the largest empire in the Americas.

In this series of stunning photographs, "Highway of An Empire" reveals the diversity of this road system - from broad paved highways to woven suspension bridges to beaten tracks through barren desert - and of the landscape through which it travels. Other highlights include intriguing round terraces of Moray, which may have been used to grow special plants brought from distant parts of the empire; a tropical forest located along the Amazon tributary near the present-day border between Peru and Bolivia; Sondor, a terraced knoll that may have been used for religious rituals; the Huascarán peak in the Cordillera Blanca, the highest in Peru and one of the highest in the Andes; Laguna de Los Condores, where in 1996 a local worker discovered a cache of some 200 mummy bundles tucked in a cliff side high above a lake; Andeans gathering a potato crop; and maps of the road network.

As one of the most important technological works of the pre-Hispanic Americas, the Great Inca Road continues to embrace its profound history as well as to welcome opportunities for trade and economic development. The ancient route runs through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, and these six nations are working together to nominate it for inclusion on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Sites.

The exhibition curator for "Highway of An Empire: The Great Inca Road" is R. Alan Covey, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University, and Research Associate in the Museum’s Division of Anthropology. Curatorial Advisor to the exhibition is Charles Spencer, Curator, Division of Anthropology.

Visitors interested in learning more about the subjects featured in "Highway of An Empire" can also visit the Museum’s Hall of South American Peoples. This hall explores the pre-Columbian cultures of South America, including those of the ancient Inca, Moche, Chavin, and Chancay, as well as those of the many peoples of modern Amazonia.

Museum researchers have worked with Andean colleagues on several of the most significant archaeological studies of the Inca Empire, including a large-scale research project at Huánuco Pampa, an important provincial center. The research project, which involved the mapping of nearly 4,000 buildings at the site and excavating in more than 300 structures, was led by the late Craig Morris, the Museum’s Dean of Science and Curator in the Department of Anthropology.

Huánuco Pampa is perhaps the best-preserved of the Inca provincial administrative centers established between southern Colombia and central Chile, and Morris’s research on the site significantly advanced the understanding of the Inca Empire. "The Huánuco Pampa Archaeological Project: Volume I: The Plaza and Palace Complex," authored by Morris and his colleagues R. Alan Covey and Pat Stein, has been submitted for publication through the series Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History. This volume is the first of a series of publications presenting project data from the Huánuco Pampa excavations and is focused on how the Incas used open spaces at their provincial administrative centers to choreograph a range of encounters with their subjects.

American Museum of Natural History | Highway of An Empire | R. Alan Covey |

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