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Urton, Gary 1946-

Urton, Gary 1946-

PERSONAL:

Born July 7, 1946. Education: University of New Mexico, B.A., 1969; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1979.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Anthropology, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Academic and archaeologist. Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, staff member, 1978-2002; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies, 2002—. Picker research fellow, 1987; research fellow in Latin American Studies, Cornell University, 1989; Social Science Research Council fellow, 1993; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1994, 2000; MacArthur fellow, 2001-05.

WRITINGS:

At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky: An Andean Cosmology, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1981.

(Editor, with Anthony F. Aveni) Ethnoastronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the American Tropics, New York Academy of Sciences (New York, NY), 1982.

(Editor) Animal Myths and Metaphors in South America, University of Utah Press (Salt Lake City, UT), 1985.

The History of a Myth: Pacariqtambo and the Origin of the Inkas, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1990.

(With Primitivo Nina Llanos) The Social Life of Numbers: A Quechua Ontology of Numbers and Philosophy of Arithmetic, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1997.

Inca Myths, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1999.

(Editor, with Jeffrey Quilter) Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2002.

Quipu: Knotting Account in the Inka Empire: Exposición, Julio 2003-Abril 2004, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2003.

(Compiler and author of introduction) Carlos Radicati di Primeglio, Estudios Sobre Los Quipus, Fondo Editorial Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Lima, Peru), 2006.

(Editor, with Clive Ruggles) Skywatching in the Ancient World: New Perspectives in Cultural Astronomy Studies in Honor of Anthony F. Aveni, University Press of Colorado (Boulder, CO), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals and academic journals, including American Anthropologist, Baessler-Archiv, Anthropos, Ethnology, Journal of Latin American Lore, Latin American Anthropology Reviews, Science, Latin American Antiquity, Archaeoastronomy, Current Anthropology, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Hispanic American Historical Review, Encyclopedia of Religion, Revista Andina, and Allpanchis Phuturinqa.

SIDELIGHTS:

Gary Urton is an academic and archaeologist. Born on July 7, 1946, he began his higher education studies at the University of New Mexico, completing a bachelor of arts degree in 1969. Urton then pursued graduate studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he completed a master of arts degree in 1971 and a Ph.D. in 1979.

Urton worked on staff at Colgate University from 1978 to 2002. While at Colgate, Urton was named as a Picker research fellow in 1987. Two years later he served as a research fellow in Latin American Studies at Cornell University. In 1993 he served as a Social Science Research Council fellow. Urton also was named as a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow twice, the first time in 1994, and the second in 2000. From 2001 to 2005 Urton was a MacArthur fellow. In 2002 he began working at Harvard University, being named the Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Studies.

Urton's research interests include South American and Andean cultural anthropology, archaeology and ethnohistory; history and myth; Inka record-keeping and mathematics; and cosmology, calendrics, astronomy, and art. Urton has worked in the Andes for decades, greatly enhancing his understanding of his research topics. He contributes widely to a number of periodicals and academic journals, including to American Anthropologist, Baessler-Archiv, Anthropos, Ethnology, Journal of Latin American Lore, Latin American Anthropology Reviews, Science, Latin American Antiquity, Archaeoastronomy, Current Anthropology, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Hispanic American Historical Review, Encyclopedia of Religion, Revista Andina, and Allpanchis Phuturinqa. Urton published his first book, At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky: An Andean Cosmology, in 1981.

Written with the assistance of Primitivo Nina Llanos, Urton published The Social Life of Numbers: A Quechua Ontology of Numbers and Philosophy of Arith-metic in 1997. The book looks to contribute an anthropological perspective to the epistemological status of numbers of Quechua mathematics. Urton compares the colonial Spanish concept of mathematics to that of Quechuan mathematics, which centers around the balancing of labor responsibilities of the community, population statistics, calendar systems, celestial bodies, the ordering between human life and cosmology, and credits and debts. Urton then explains the difficulties the Spanish mathematics system had when it was ultimately forced upon the colonized. Urton delineates in the book how the ancient mathematics system survived through the use of Andean khipus.

Tristan Platt, writing in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, recorded that "there is no necessary coherence between the structure of counting vocabulary and the numbers considered socially important. Round Sucre and Potosi, Quechua is spoken today by societies whose ancestors spoke other languages. To seek only ‘Inka-Quechua’ culture in an area of Inka colonization might invite criticism from an Aymara postcolonial theorist of Cusco's empire." Platt allowed that "Urton's well written and fascinating book should be read by all interested in Andean approaches to the anthropology of mathematics."

In 2003 Urton published Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records. The account expands on previous publications concerning the Inka system of using knotted cords to record information across a number of fields. Urton argues that information and meaning is imparted through the khipu not only through the number of knots and their colors, but also through the ways in which they are plied, spun together, the direction of the knot, and in the way secondary cords are attached to the main cord.

Marianna Appel Kunow, writing in the Historian, commented that "this book will be of interest to anyone who has ever wondered what exactly constitutes a writing system, to students of the past or present-day Andean world, and to khipu specialists. One wishes the author luck in finding a match between a colonial translation and an extant khipu." Maggie Bolton, reviewing the book in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, remarked that "Urton's work is scholarly and painstakingly thorough and is a valuable contribution to our understanding of Inca inscription that makes good use of ethnographic and ethnohistorical work on the Andean region. I particularly appreciated the sections that drew on the author's earlier ethnographic work on number and arithmetic." Bolton indicated, however, that the book "will appeal mainly to scholars of the Andean region who are already khipu enthusiasts rather than to a broader readership among anthropologists." R. Alan Covey, reviewing the book in Latin American Antiquity, mentioned that "rather than provide a handbook for decoding the khipu, Upton has identified the data recording capacity of the device, as well as how the Inka as an Andean culture might have structured and recorded data. Urton concludes that the data storage potential of the khipu is comparable to the information-recording capabilities of writing systems in other cultures, a significant statement that will have an impact on comparative studies of early empires." Covey suggested that "the next step for researchers is to determine to what degree the hundreds of known khipu … were actually used to code information beyond numeric values and a limited quantity of color-based categories."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Antiquity, January 1, 1992, Jerry Moore, review of The History of a Myth: Pacariqtambo and the Origin of the Inkas, p. 179.

American Ethnologist, August 1, 1994, Thomas A. Abercrombie, review of The History of a Myth, p. 658; May 1, 1999, Kendall A. King, review of The Social Life of Numbers: A Quechua Ontology of Numbers and Philosophy of Arithmetic, p. 484.

American Mathematical Monthly, March 1, 1999, John Meier, review of The Social Life of Numbers, p. 275.

Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, October 1, 1982, review of At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky: An Andean Cosmology, p. 259.

Astronomy, July 1, 1982, Alice B. Kehoe, review of At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky, p. 53.

Current Anthropology, February 1, 2000, Ubiratan D'Ambrosio, review of The Social Life of Numbers, p. 144; August 1, 2005, "Communicative Technologies in the Ancient Andes: Decoding the Inka Khipu."

Ethnohistory, summer, 1992, Geoffrey Conrad, review of The History of a Myth, p. 353.

Hispanic American Historical Review, May 1, 1987, Arlene M. Kelly, review of Animal Myths and Metaphors in South America, p. 331; November 1, 1991, Sabine MacCormack, review of The History of a Myth, p. 877; August 1, 2000, Enrique Mayer, review of The Social Life of Numbers, p. 578; February 1, 2005, Karen B. Graubart, review of Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records, p. 133.

Historian, January 1, 2004, Marianna Appel Kunow, review of Signs of the Inka Khipu, p. 854.

Isis, September 1, 2004, Matthew R. Goodrum, review of Signs of the Inka Khipu, p. 484.

Journal of Anthropological Research, spring, 1999, Reuben Hersh, review of The Social Life of Numbers, p. 150.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History, spring, 2005, "Toward Deciphering the Khipu," p. 571.

Journal of Religion, July 1, 1992, Ioan P. Culianu, review of The History of a Myth, p. 488.

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 1, 1999, Tristan Platt, review of The Social Life of Numbers, p. 117; March 1, 2006, Maggie Bolton, review of Signs of the Inka Khipu, p. 223.

Latin American Antiquity, September 1, 2006, R. Alan Covey, review of Signs of the Inka Khipu, p. 355.

Latin American Research Review, summer, 1993, Susan E. Ramirez, review of The History of a Myth, p. 174.

Natural History, June 1, 1987, review of At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky, p. 80.

Sky & Telescope, September 1, 1982, William E. Shawcross, review of At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky, p. 242.

ONLINE

Harvard University, Khipu Database Project Web site,http://khipukamayuq.fas.harvard.edu/ (August 6, 2008), author profile.

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