John V. Murra, 90, Professor Who Recast Image of Incas, Dies
By DENNIS HEVESI
The New York Times, October 24, 2006.
John V. Murra, a professor of anthropology who culled voluminous Spanish colonial archives for research that reshaped the image of the Incas and their vast South American empire, died on Oct. 16 at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 90.
The death was confirmed by Blaine Friedlander, a spokesman for Cornell University, where Professor Murra taught from 1968 until his retirement in 1982.
“Before he came along, the image of the Incas was one of barbaric splendor,” said Frank Salomon, the John V. Murra professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But Professor Murra’s work “forged a radically new image” of that empire, Professor Salomon said — one based on an intricate and often ceremonial exchange of produce as gifts among tribal kinfolk. They hiked from the edges of the rain forest to meet those living at the heights of the Andes, ensuring each other’s survival by trading key lowland crops like maize and potatoes for scarce mountain goods like llama and alpaca wool. That economic system was named “the vertical archipelago” by Professor Murra.
“His ‘vertical archipelago’ model has been verified through research that archaeologists have since done in the Andean zone,” said Heather Lechtman, a professor of archaeology and ancient technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While some experts debate aspects of the theory, Professor Lechtman said, “This is certainly the accepted model for the central Andes.”
The Inca empire existed from about 1400 to 1535 in an area that now includes Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and parts of Colombia, Argentina and Chile. What largely held it together, until the Spanish invasion in 1532, was its unusual economic system. The social system was documented by Professor Murra with his search through colonial archives and court documents in which the words of Incas were recorded.
Born Isak Lipschitz on Aug. 24, 1916, in Odessa, Ukraine, John Victor Murra changed his name after emigrating to the United States in 1934. Two years later, he joined the republican forces fighting in the Spanish Civil War against Gen. Francisco Franco. By then, he had completed undergraduate studies begun in Europe, earning a degree in sociology at the University of Chicago. He later turned to anthropology, receiving a master’s in 1942 and a Ph.D. in 1956, both also at the University of Chicago.
Professor Murra taught at the University of Puerto Rico from 1947 to 1950; at Vassar from 1950 to 1961; at Yale from 1962 to 1963; at Universidad de San Marcos in Lima, Peru, from 1964 to 1966, and then at Cornell. Twice married and divorced, he left no immediate surviving family members.
It was Professor Murra’s participation in the Spanish Civil War that forced him into his archival research. “The U.S. State Department in the McCarthy years denied him a passport,” Professor Salomon said. “So, frustrated in the first thing an anthropologist does — field work — he dived into the chronicles of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru to examine the Inca past.” Professor Murra was finally granted a passport in 1956.
Correction: Nov. 2, 2006
An obituary on Oct. 23 about John V. Murra, an anthropologist who was an expert in the economy of the Incas, incorrectly described the position of the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, which Mr. Murra joined in 1936. At the time, they were supporting the legitimate government of Spain against Gen. Francisco Franco. They were not rebelling against his dictatorship, which was not established until after the republicans were defeated.
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Original en: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/24/obituaries/24murra.html?scp=1&sq=John+V.+Murra&st=nyt
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