Barra Postdoctoral Fellow
“The Pre-Columbian Exchange: The Circulation of the Ancient Peruvian Dead in the Americas and Atlantic World”
My project is a history of how pre-colonial Andean skulls and mummies were looted, circulated, studied, and displayed in Peru, the Americas, and Atlantic World, from the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth. Transferred from high-altitude Andean tombs to the bone rooms of museums, these dead experienced second lifetimes worthy of study, and their indigenous and Spanish interlocutors were central to the development of what became archaeology and physical anthropology in the Americas. Its first half shows how the sixteenth century looting and appropriation of the embalmed Inca dead shaped English expectations of indigenous civilization. Its second shows how early republican Peruvian indigenous and non-indigenous elites promoted Inca mummies and their skulls as emblems of ancient, scientific, and elite sovereignty, inspiring their study in the U.S. by scholars like Samuel George Morton, and their status as the single largest population in early museums. Finally, indigenous Peruvians’ contributions to skull-collecting complicated its Euro-centric assumptions, leaving a legacy for Americanist anthropology that my work tries to unpack.