A Culture of Stone

Inka Perspectives on Rock

A Culture of Stone

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 53 b&w illustrations, 15 color plates Published: October 2010

Author: Carolyn J Dean

Anthropology, Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Latin American Studies > Andes

A major contribution to both art history and Latin American studies, A Culture of Stone offers sophisticated new insights into Inka culture and the interpretation of non-Western art. Carolyn Dean focuses on rock outcrops masterfully integrated into Inka architecture, exquisitely worked masonry, and freestanding sacred rocks, explaining how certain stones took on lives of their own and played a vital role in the unfolding of Inka history. Examining the multiple uses of stone, she argues that the Inka understood building in stone as a way of ordering the chaos of unordered nature, converting untamed spaces into domesticated places, and laying claim to new territories. Dean contends that understanding what the rocks signified requires seeing them as the Inka saw them: as potentially animate, sentient, and sacred. Through careful analysis of Inka stonework, colonial-period accounts of the Inka, and contemporary ethnographic and folkloric studies of indigenous Andean culture, Dean reconstructs the relationships between stonework and other aspects of Inka life, including imperial expansion, worship, and agriculture. She also scrutinizes meanings imposed on Inka stone by the colonial Spanish and, later, by tourism and the tourist industry. A Culture of Stone is a compelling multidisciplinary argument for rethinking how we see and comprehend the Inka past.


“[T]he strength of this book lies in the combination of the four chapters. Their finely detailed explanations and descriptions fit each other to form a coherent whole – much like Inka masonry itself. This book will appeal to archaeologists, anthropologists and art historians, as well as to those interested in South American indigenous cultures.” — Mariana Françozo, The Latin Americanist

“Carolyn Dean's A Culture of Stone is a creative interpretation of pre-conquest Inca understandings and uses of rock. . . . [T]hose willing to keep an open mind—as Dean asks her readers to do—will find a fascinating set of possibilities about what rocks meant to the Inca.” — Jaymie Patricia Heilman, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Dean elucidates visual strategies employed by Inka stonemasons and tackles the thorny issues raised by modern definitions of art, aesthetics, and, in a final chapter, touristic demands for figurative imagery in places where none previously existed. Although it is not a book about Art, perhaps it should be. Inca stone monuments, although never intended to speak the language of Kant, nonetheless offer insights into an aspect of visual culture long passed over by Art History.” — Margaret A. Jackson, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Dean has written a multidisciplinary book that spans the ages and places the rocks within their natural, historical, architectural, and ritual context…. [I]t has wide appeal beyond the community of Inka aficionados and scholars.” — Carol Damian, Hispanic American Historical Review

“Importantly, Dean makes the Inka case relevant to the broader art historical and anthropological community... Dean’s book intelligently sets aside the epistemological restrictions carried by the opposites of “art” and “not art” to consider the particular objects of her project in the original terms of their creators.” — Elizabeth Hill Boone, Art Bulletin

“[Dean’s] book has implications far beyond its locus in Latin America. ... [I]t represents an intervention into current debates about world art history. Dean suggests a way in which the interpretation of human interactions with nature that in the European tradition are called art and architecture may be imaginatively reconstructed with terms and concepts that are not Eurocentric.” — Thomas DeCosta Kaufmann, CAA Reviews

“Art historian Dean has provided perhaps the best interpretation of how the
Inkas saw their environment, particularly their lithic one, and how this motivated their actions. . . . Her judicious use of historical documents, combined with thoughtful and critical analysis of contemporary Andean concepts that appear rooted in their pre-Hispanic ancestry, provides a new and refreshing perspective for understanding the Inkas’ culture of stone.” — Michael Malpass, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“As a study of the rocks themselves, their material texture, location and relationship to other features in the landscape, as well as their social agency, A Culture of Stone is a welcome intervention in art history, and will also be of interest to anthropologists, archaeologists, and scholars of Peru and Latin America.” — Sandra Rozental, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“In her exquisitely researched, articulate, and annotated book, Carolyn Dean explores the Inka love affair with stone and demonstrates the near-universal role played by the material in Inka cultural and spiritual life. . . . Dean has made a strong contribution to the field of Andean studies, one well presented and worth reading.” — Vincent R. Lee, American Historical Review

“A Culture of Stone is beautifully written. . . . As a study of ancient rocks, their material texture, location and relationship to other features in the landscape, as well as their social agency during Inka times, A Culture of Stone is a welcome intervention and will be of interest to students of material worlds, anthropologists, archaeologists, as well as scholars of Peru and Latin America.” — Haidy L Geismar, Material Worlds blog

“By addressing both well-known and understudied objects, Carolyn Dean offers sophisticated new insights into Inka practices. Moreover, while advancing scholarship on the colonial Andes, she tackles issues relating to the interpretation of non-Western art and its reception, contributing to debates on material objects and the built environment in a wide range of fields.” — Dana Leibsohn, Smith College

“Gold, silver, and weaving are the riches most often associated with the Inka, but as Carolyn Dean’s scholarly study demonstrates, their greatest investment of thought and time was in stone. Moving between descriptions of the magnificent walls of Inka imperial buildings and worked stones in situ, Dean links them as related parts of Inka visual expression, which is hard to comprehend and not easily recognized. But, as Dean stresses, there is an intimate relationship between Andeans and stone that is at the heart of the greatest empire of Ancient America.” — Thomas B. F. Cummins, Harvard University

“The sixteenth-century Spanish priest Cristóbal de Albornoz noted that over half of the sacred things in the Inka capital of Cuzco were rocks. In her stimulating new book, Carolyn Dean explores this ‘culture of stone,’ examining ways in which rock outcrops and other rock forms were the focus of ritual practice and spiritual belief. Illuminating key aspects of pre-Hispanic understandings of landscape and the built environment, this insightful and thought-provoking study reframes the way we consider the Inka visual world.” — Joanne Pillsbury, Director of Pre-Columbian Studies, Dumbarton Oaks


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carolyn Dean is Professor in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, Peru, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Note on Orthography xv

Introduction: Coming to Terms with Inka Rocks 1

1. Rock and Remembrance 25

2. Rock and Reciprocity 65

3. Rock and Rule 103

4. Rock in Ruins 143

Notes 179

Glossary of Quechua Terms 255

Bibliography 257

Index 289
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2011 Arvey Book Award, presented by the Association for Latin American Art

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4807-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4791-0
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