Beyond Machu Picchu: Culture and Identity in the Andes

Beyong Machu Picchu Logo


What does it mean when we say the past is in the present? Our memories of the past are always present and influence how we think about ourselves, our families, our nationality, our identity. In the Andes, especially Peru, numerous well-preserved archaeological sites keep a memory of the past before people’s eyes. The national government uses symbols from the Inca as a reference to a glorious and heroic ancient past, though the actual connection between past and present may be vague. Politics is definitely part of Andean culture, as was shown by the national celebration when artifacts from Machu Picchu were returned to Peru by Yale University, which had held them for many years. The returned objects were put on display open to the public with no admission charge for a month after their arrival, and tens of thousands of Peruvians visited. The president of Peru elected in 2001, Alejandro Toledo, campaigned on his Indian ancestry, and his inauguration ceremony took place at Machu Picchu, suggesting a connection between the glorious Inca past and the living president.

Beyond Machu Picchu explores the material record of cultural identity in the Andes by contrasting objects from ancient, pre-European times with objects from today and the recent past. Andean culture is not static and has been evolving for centuries, as different political organizations rose and fell, each leaving a distinct material record behind.  This exhibition explores commonalities in that material record to demonstrate the shared cultural identity that has persevered in the Andes.  Objects represent a range of highland and coastal regions as well as different materials and styles, reminding us of the blend of continuity and change visible in the contemporary world.

By studying how the past is present in the Andes, this exhibition challenges visitors to consider their own cultural identity and how it is represented in the material record.  What is your cultural heritage and what objects would you select to represent that history?  Are there objects and symbols from the past in the present?  Please visit the activity stations and contribute to this dialogue. 


The Anthropology Museum wishes to thank the following individuals and organizations, without whom, this exhibition would not have been possible:  guest curator Dr. Winifred Creamer, guest artist Ashlee Craig, Nicolette Meister and the Logan Museum of Anthropology at Beloit College, Elsa Anaya, the Freeport Art Museum, the Michigan State University Museum, Mr. Richard Behr, NIU undergraduate Michael Janas, Dr. Michael Gonzales and the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies.