Ancient Peru, Incas and acromegaly

As some of you may know, my first cousin Carol Mackie Passera, who lives in the Patagonia region of Argentina and who developed acromegaly about the same time I did (read more here), runs a very successful and unique eco-travel business with historical and ecological tours in southern Argentina. In her work and research she often discovers very interesting things.  A few weeks ago, during one of our skype chats, she mentioned she had come across some very interesting facts about the ancient Andes, ancient Peru, the Inca civilization, and acromegaly.  I found it fascinating and thought you might be interested in reading about it, so I asked her to share it with us. This is such a fascinating subject we hope she’ll will be doing more research on it.  Stay tuned!

Here’s it is:

ACROMEGALY IN ANCIENT PERU.  From Carol Mackie Passera –  While talking to my doctor she mentioned that there is some evidence that Incas suffered from acromegaly and that ceramics of blind people and other characteristic features were found. I wanted to learn more about, which lead to research on the subject.  Here’s what I learned:

The Incas and other ancient cultures that obviously did not have cameras, or photography, much less mobile phones with cameras, used gourds and ceramics to depict times and record history. They honored the dead by burying them with ceramics, metal objects, and offerings of food to wish them a better life.

One of the many ceramic styles found from those times is the Mochica from the North coast of Peru, which is very realistic, and covers a broad range and many aspects of Mochica life.  The pottery reveals far more about the civilization that produced it than does from of any other Peruvian culture.  It is as if we are in possession of the illustrations of ancient books, the texts of which are lost. We must be mindful, as we attempt to place the pictures in order and reconstruct their story, that we are incapable of deciphering their full meaning. We may see men playing flutes, but their melody has long since been carried away with time. The most unusual and perhaps best-known type of Mochica ceramic is the portrait-head vessel (see below) The early ones tended to be generalized and individuals were identified by face painting or some other distinctive feature.

Portraiture reached its full development around 0-200 years AD. The Mochica culture appears to have flourished for over 1 thousand years.

Pathologies have been present along the history of humanity, so much so that science has learned to recognize disease from early times. Could acromegaly actually been recognized or diagnosed? We will probably never know, but the ancient ceramics definitely painted a picture of the possibility that indeed some of the people in those portraits had acromegalic features. Pathologies have always been present in religion, in many cases those that suffered some illness were believed to have magical powers and the fact of having a deformity, paralysis, blindness, etc.; provoke fear in the social group they belonged to. This way, in some triggering point of our history, these characters transcended and passed from being slighted to become the voice of the “Gods”.

Pathologies have always been present in religion, in many cases those that suffered some illness were believed to have magical powers.  Often, having a deformity, paralysis, blindness, etc., provoke fear in the social group they belonged to. This way, in some triggering point of our history, these characters transcended and passed from being slighted to become the voice of the “Gods”.

It is evident that in many of the artifacts of history we share as humans, we have examples of “special gifts” that people possessed certain capabilities (see the future, see the souls of their ancestors, etc.) generally suffered some illness.

Bibliography (Bibliografia consultada):
The Nathan Cummings Collection by Alan R. Sawyer
ALLISON, M.J. (1979). Paleopathology in Peru. Natural History 88.
Contribución del arte, las crónicas y la tradición oral al estudio de la paleopatología andina 2 CONTRIBUCIÓN DEL ARTE, LAS CRÓNICAS Y LA TRADICIÓN ORAL AL ESTUDIO DE LA PALEOPATOLOGÍA ANDINA()Por Raúl Arias Sánchez**Ponencia presentada en el XVII Coloquio Internacional de Antropología Física “Juan Comas”, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y Asociación Nacional de Antropología Biológica. Colima, México. (Noviembre de 2013) **Estudiante de Antropología, Investigador delMuseoAntropológico de la Cultura Andina de la Universidad Nacional del Centro del Perú. / E-mail: raul.ariass@hotmail.com.  Este artículo deberá ser citado de la siguiente manera: ARIAS SÁNCHEZ, Raúl (2013). Contribución del arte, las crónicas y la tradición oral al estudio de la paleopatología andina, en Ensayos del Museo Antropológico de la Cultura Andina. Huancayo, Peru

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