Inca Sacred Space

Landscape, Site and Symbol in the Andes

Editors  Frank MeddensKatie WillisColin McEwanNicholas Branch

This book focuses on one of the most significant manifestations of Inca sacred space - the ‘ushnu’ - a place of sacrifice, ritual and celebration, where the sun god was worshipped and where astronomical observations were made to monitor the yearly seasonal cycle. Physically the ushnu is a (stone built) stepped platform linked to a drain or a basin into which liquids can flow. The ushnu is seen as a place for the circulation of sacred essences between the world of the gods, the ruler, his people and their ancestors.

The authors in this book examine the practical and symbolic principles underlying the construction of ushnus, the rationale for their placement, their function within the landscape and the activities that took place on them. The ingenious symbolic and practical architectural construction of the ushnu complex was deployed to appropriate and transform newly conquered subject territories. The best-known surviving ushnu platforms are conspicuous features at all the main settlements and administrative centres on the Inca royal roads, and at nodal points in the wider environment. This great arterial network and its associated ushnucomplexes were fashioned to enhance the productive capacity of the landscape and to regulate the flow of key agricultural commodities. When Pizarro took the Inca king, Atahuallpa, prisoner, he did this at a location of Atahuallpa’s choice which we now know to have been the ushnu platform at the centre of the Inca site of Cajamarca, in the Northern Highlands of Peru. The papers united in this volume review the nature, expression, role and function of the ushnu concept from its pre-Inca origins through its interpretation in Tawantinsuyu, the Inca empire into its current Andean cultural context.

These papers were presented at a two-day conference at the British Museum in November 2010 and the BM have recently released this video on their project:


ISBN 9781909492059
Binding Paperback
Dimensions 210 x 297mm
Pages 318
Illustrations 118 colour
Published May 2014
Price £65.00