Victoria de la Jara Collection (1962-1993)

Victoria de la Jara (1917-2000), a Peruvian archaeologist and epigrapher, was a pioneer in the study of alternate writing systems in ancient Perú.
Victoria de la Jara, stands in front of a graphic featuring rows of illustrated Inka tokapu, discrete geometrical motifs in squares.

After studying archaeological evidence and references in the chronicles, she believed that Inka tokapu signs were a form of written communication. She constructed an extensive typology of almost 400 keros, the wooden or ceramic drinking vessels used in Inka ceremonies. Although only 10-15% of the keros depicted scenes, she used these images as a starting point to associate them with the tokapu designs that accompanied them. Applying the principles of linguistic research, she studied the frequency of certain tokapus to develop a catalogue of what these signs represented.

De la Jara dedicated more than 30 years to cataloguing, analyzing, and attempting to decipher the tokapu signs, and in 1972 announced that she could read a funeral oration to Pachacutec on a kero. Realizing that this project was much more extensive than what she would be able to complete in her own lifetime, de la Jara donated her collection to AMNH. She devoted much of her later years to organizing and indexing this body of work so that future scholars might continue her research.

Included in the collection are six boxes consisting of her publications, reports, and notes, as well as her personal and professional correspondence from 1966-1993. Correspondence includes exchanges with AMNH curators Junius Bird and Craig Morris as well as experts on ancient writing systems, especially Marcel Cohen, Thomas Barthel, and the Mayan scholars with whom she worked in Mexico. The collection contains almost 5,000 slides plus colored renderings that illustrate tokapus found in museums and private collections in North America, South America, and Europe. In addition, there are numerous clippings about her work and references to complementary materials stored in the Museo de la Universidad Nacional de San Augustín, in Arequipa, Perú.

Two smaller boxes contain index cards and slides that document the patterns of pallar bean symbols seen on Paracas funeral bundle textiles and pottery from Nasca and Moche cultures, which she speculated were another form of alternative writing. Another box contains translations of much of her work into English.

Acknowledgement: Thank you to Penny Berliner for organizing, rehousing, describing, and scanning slides from this collection.

Additional Resources: History of South American Archaeological Collection