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Into the wild: new ways of studying Inca civilization

UIC Researcher of the Year Award

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Brian Bauer

Anthropology professor Brian Bauer on an expedition setting out from Cuzco, Peru. Called “the leading expert in Inca archaeology,” he works in remote locations accessible only on horseback.

The UIC Researcher of the Year Award, now in its third year, is given in four categories: social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, clinical sciences and basic life sciences. Selected by the Campus Research Board and the vice chancellor for research, each winner receives a $3,500 cash prize.

While the Inca Empire collapsed some 500 years ago, archaeologist Brian Bauer continues to explore its former territories, going places no other scholars dare.

Bauer usually runs his expeditions out of Cuzco, Peru, the Inca capital city.

“I’m currently involved in understanding the final years of the Inca Empire,” says Bauer, professor of anthropology. “We’re working in extremely remote locations, only accessible by horse, where the Incas waged a 40-year-long war of resistance against the Spaniards.”

Bauer got hooked on archaeology as a teenager.

“I was 16 when I went on my first dig and have spent every summer since on a project somewhere in the world,” he says.

He became interested in Peru as a graduate student.

“The Incas are greatly understudied and important questions have yet to be answered, or even asked about their history.”

With the dozen or so books he’s authored or edited — many translated into Spanish — and a long list of scholarly articles, Bauer is widely considered today’s top scholar on the subject.

“Brian is the number-one Inca archaeologist in the world, based on his renowned innovative research, sheer quantity and quality of work, influence on his peers and students, and large number of publications in highly visible venues,” writes Joel Palka, associate professor of anthropology, in nominating Bauer for the researcher award.

He is “the leading expert in the field of Inca archaeology,” concurs UIUC anthropology professor Helaine Silverman. “He has systematically rewritten our understanding of the Inca Empire.”

Jonathan Haas, the Field Museum’s MacArthur Curator of the Americas, calls Bauer “the leading Inca scholar of his generation.”

Bauer credits his success in part to his work methods.

“I frequently work in regions, rather than at single archaeological sites,” he says. “I conduct surveys of river valleys or the areas of ethnic groups, rather than concentrating on a single site.

“While this regional approach is now more common, I was among the first to examine the Inca in a regional perspective.”

Bauer adds that his approach combines archaeological field work with historic research.

“Most of my projects have involved extensive archival research in Cuzco and Lima, Peru, and Seville, Spain, looking at documents which were written at the time of contact between the Incas and Spaniards.”

Bauer says the history-anthropology interdisciplinary approach he helped develop is being adopted by more and more scholars as the preferred way to conduct contact period research.


Other Researchers of the Year

Simon Alford: How does the brain work? The questions continue

Donald Morrison: Sharing results helps other scientists further their work

Ghanshyam Pandey: using basic science, clinical research to study depression, suicide

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