El enigma de los santuarios indígenas de alta montaña. Antonio Beorchia Nigris. Universidad Nacional de San Juan, San Juan, Argentina, 1987. 414 pages, 211 black & white photos, 74 maps, tables and diagrams.
Risking being accused of gross exaggeration, I will start by declaring that this is one of the most important mountaineering books of the century. For one reason: it will force chroniclers to move the standard “Chapter One” in the history of world alpinism to a second place and have it preceded by another, which will have to be drawn from this work. And the impact of this book may not even stop there. Hopefully it will also force historians of our sport to delve into whatever records can be found to identify other peoples in other mountain lands who, like Beor- chia’s Incas, went to the summits before Mont Blanc was won.
This work is indeed the fifth bulletin, now issued in book format, by the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueológicas de Alta (high) Montaña, based at San Juan, Argentina, of which Beorchia is the president. It is a record of the pre-Columbian ascents in the Andes, carried out by the Incas and their subjects from around 1400 to near 1800 and mostly for religious purposes. It is divided into two major parts. The first surveys in alphabetical order a total of 113 peaks from 4700 to 6739 meters. Full description and evaluation of findings, together with information about modern climbs, are given. The second part is a photographic collection that illustrates such findings and the mountains where they occurred. The last 25 pages are devoted to conclusions about the incredible mountaineering activity of the ancient Andeans. Incidentally, it will please many to learn that Beorchia regards American anthropologist-climber Johan Reinhard as one of the great collaborators he was fortunate to have in his enterprises and studies.
The old concept that mountaineering was born in 1786 will have to be set aside. World alpinism, as we have known it, is now more than 200 years old and deserves better researched chronicles. Beorchia, even if only dealing with
the Andes, with this remarkable work has pointed to the obligation that lies ahead: dig out records of ancient mountaineering wherever it may have occurred (Atlas? Central America? Rocky Mountains? Persia? Simyen?) and rewrite the history of climbing. It is a debt that we owe to the unknown highlanders that preceded us in the high places. It is available from CIADAM, República de Libano 2621, 5423 San Juan, Argentina.