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Member of the Month, pt 2:2 – Monica continued

December 26, 2014

Last week Monica wrote how she always knew she’d be an archaeologist, despite having no idea how to bwcome one. We left her at the point when, with the help of various fellowships, she began to travel to various libraries and archives and publish her work on Latin American cultures and South American scholars.

Part 2: Meanwhile, back at Cornell, I had met Daniel H. Sandweiss, someone who quickly became a good friend and colleague. Dan once told me that he and I do some things because we don’t know that we are not supposed to do them. One of the things you are not supposed to do is found a peer-reviewed academic journal while still a graduate student, but Dan did. In 1982 Dan organized the first Northeast Conference on Andean Archaeology and Ethnohistory, modeling the meeting on successful conference series held at Berkeley, California and in the American Midwest. The Northeast Conference was a big success and, without any permanent sources of funding, it has continued to meet annually ever since. Dan published papers from the first conference in 1983. I contributed an analysis of the iconography of the façade of the Pampachiri Church, an outstanding building in the Soras Valley. In 1987, after publishing three volumes of collected papers, Dan converted the series to a peer-reviewed journal, Andean Past, published by the Cornell University Latin American Studies Program. David Fleming and I contributed another piece on architecture to Andean Past 2 (1989). It is a complete French-to-English translation of Charles Marie de La Condamine’s 1748 article on Ingapirca, a site near Quito, with our own commentary. La Condamine’s article is of interest because it contains, so far as we know, the first measured plan and elevation of any Inca building. Previously, this work was only available in the original, and in a partial French-to-Spanish translation. Furthermore, when La Condamine’s plan was later reproduced, details indicating niches and windows had been obscured, and the elevation was eliminated. Although the site of Ingapirca had already been partially dismantled by La Condamine’s time, enough of its walls remained for him to indicate important features. However, by the twentieth century, the walls had been razed to ground level, so that their stones could be used in other buildings. What one sees today is a reconstruction. With the details of La Condamine’s survey recovered, archaeologists Mariusz Ziółkowski and Robert Sadowski were able to demonstrate that Ingapirca functioned as an astronomical observatory near the equator.

I could not keep from meddling, and in 1992 Dan accepted the inevitable and invited me to become associate editor of Andean Past, promoting me to editor in 1994. In 2007, with Andean Past 8, Dan and I switched jobs and I became the principal editor, a position I hold at present. As an editor, I cannot publish in the peer-reviewed portion of our journal, but I continue to write prefaces, obituaries, and research reports. For example, I am co-author of an obituary by Lynch and Barnes of Craig Morris published in Andean Past 8. Craig was an Inca specialist who had been curator of South American archaeology and dean of science at the American Museum of Natural History, as well as an adjunct professor at Cornell University, and an editorial board member of Andean Past since its inception. Morris died in 2006.

Morris had worked at the vast provincial Inca site of Huánuco Pampa in Peru’s Huánuco region, from 1964 until the late 1970s, and he continued analysis of materials from that site until his death. When Morris first came to Huánuco Pampa it was as a University of Chicago Ph.D. student who joined an ambitious field project under the overall direction of John Victor Murra. Although a generation older than Morris, Murra also died in 2006. He was a professor emeritus at Cornell, one of the most important Andean scholars of the twentieth century, and had contributed to Andean Past in various ways. We simply had to publish Murra’s obituary, too. However, everyone qualified to write it either had already produced an tribute for another journal, or was too emotionally involved with Murra’s life to be able to do so with any measure of objectivity. Reluctantly, I realized that I would have to write the obituary myself and allocated three months to the research. The largest cache of Murra’s papers are in the Smithsonian Anthropological Archive. Aspects of Murra’s life are documented at Vassar College, where he taught in the 1950s and early 1960s and at New York University, which housed testimony from the Spanish Civil War. As a very young man, Murra had fought with the Republicans in the Soviet contingent. I expected also to find a few relevant items in the American Museum of Natural History. There, towards the end of one day, late in 2009, when I thought I was just about finished, Sumru Aricanli, who had served as Craig Morris’s assistant, said, “Monica, I think you ought to look in these boxes.” I lifted the top off one of the three archival boxes Sumru had placed on a table in front of me. Released from the compression of the lid, out jumped rolls of film, an illustration torn from an eighteenth century book, vintage prints, and mildewed field notes. Within a few minutes I realized that I had before me important photographs taken during Murra’s field-work in Huánuco, photos I knew must have been taken, but which were not in the Smithsonian or in private hands. I had thought them lost. For a sample, see the cover of Andean Past 9, the issue that contains my short obituary/biography of Murra, a near-complete bibliography of his works, and the recollections of several of his close associates.

It is now December 2014 and I am still working on Murra’s field-notes and images at the AMNH. I have published nine articles so far on aspects of Murra’s Huánuco research with two more in press and another under consideration. In case I ever finish, I could go on to study the unpublished papers of Gary Vescelius, another twentieth century archaeologist who worked at important Peruvian sites including Wari and many on both the south coast and in the Callejón de Huaylas. Then there is the excellent photographic record created by Victor Wolfgang von Hagen’s Inca roads project generously donated to the AMNH by Adriana von Hagen who has followed in her father’s footsteps in writing books on South American archaeology aimed at a general audience. These are all uncatalogued and document significant interventions at a number of important sites. I’ve come to realize that all big old museums have caches of under-studied materials. There is simply not enough money and (wo)manpower to tackle it all. I was alerted to this situation as long ago as the 1970s when my teachers at the Institute of Archaeology lamented the backlog of excavated but unpublished sites dating back at least to the 1930s. Since then we have only accumulated more finds and records. Although I once swore that I would never write a book about the twentieth century, I am more and more drawn into the archaeological work that was done then.

I think that the most direct path to becoming a respected scholar is to find an area of speciality early in life and develop it. That is not what I have done. Rather, I have followed my nose and let interesting projects find me, in contrast to following the textbook scientific method of developing a hypothesis through pure cognition and then looking for evidence to prove or disprove it. I’ve learned that knowledge is never entirely wasted. My broad background helps me enormously in my editing, and also in writing about the history of archaeology. From the beginning, the history of archaeology has been one of our foci in Andean Past, and I think we have been making steady contributions to the development of that history.

I am enormously grateful to Monica for sending such a fascinationg biography, and allowing me to publish it unedited. I’m also hugely grateful that she hasn’t followed the traditional scholar’s route! Like Sam, Monica may not have had the easiest career in archaeology, but it’s certainly been interesting. Thank you Monica for sharing this with us.

Have a great weekend


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