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The research of Susan A. Niles, professor of anthropology, is featured in a major story in the March 18 edition of The New York Times about the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu.

“Working with new evidence and a trove of re-examined relics, many of them recovered from the basement of a Yale museum here, archaeologists have revised their thinking about the significance of Machu Picchu, the most famous ‘lost city’ of the Incas,” begins the story, entitled “‘Lost City’ Yielding Its Secrets”, by Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer John Noble Wilford.

“The new interpretation comes more than 90 years after the explorer Hiram Bingham III bushwhacked his way to a high ridge in the Andes of Peru and beheld a dreamscape out of the pre-Columbian past. There, set against looming peaks cloaked in snow and wreathed in cloud, was Machu Picchu. Before his eyes, rising from the green undergrowth of neglect, were the imperial stones that have entranced and mystified visitors and scholars alike.”

The story goes on to spotlight Niles and her research.

Dr. Susan A. Niles, an archaeologist at Lafayette College who is the author of “The Shape of Inca History,” published in 1999, explained that it has long been known that the estates were peculiar to Inca royalty. Each ruler established his own and built a palace there as a monument to himself.

Each estate was the ruler’s own private property, which was left to his family after death. The succeeding son could use the estates, but not own them. So he immediately began building his own monuments.

The estates, Dr. Niles said, were important centers for the economic management of agricultural lands, forests and mines in the surrounding region. That was presumably true, as well, of Machu Picchu.

The Shape of Inca History: Narrative and Architecture in an Andean Empire was published by University of Iowa Press, as was a previous volume on Inca civilization, Callachaca: Style and Status in an Inca Community (1987).

Niles, who developed and directs Lafayette’s faculty-led study-abroad semester in Guatemala, has shared her enthusiasm and expertise with many students as a research mentor, including Marquis Scholars Rachel Korpanty ’03 of Summerville, S.C., and Adam Buchwalter ’04 of Bayside, N.Y.

After discovering an Inca throne in Ollantaytambo while sightseeing in Peru, Korpanty is now re-engineering the royal seat using only Inca technology as part of her senior honors thesis under Niles’ guidance.

Korpanty, whose passion lies in medieval British history, fell instantly in love with the Incas after taking one of Niles’ courses, she says.

“I immediately approached her to learn more,” she explains. “Susan urged me to visit Peru last summer, and for that, I will be eternally grateful. I learned so much, and it was certainly a life-changing experience.

“Susan has become not only a mentor, but a close friend. She loves what she does and is very enthusiastic. I could only find someone like her at a small, student-centered college like Lafayette.”

In the fall, Buchwalter researched Machu Picchu in an independent project with Niles as mentor.

Last year, Buchwalter enrolled in Niles’ class on Inca civilization, which immediately piqued an interest in Machu Picchu. “It was one of the most interesting classes I have taken at Lafayette,” he says. “I was awestruck.”

Niles is also author of South American Indian Narrative, Theoretical and Analytical Approaches: An Annotated Bibliography, published in 1982 by Garland in its Folklore Bibliographies series, and Dickeyville Grotto: The Vision of Father Mathias Wernerus, published in 1997 by the University Press of Mississippi in its Folk Art and Artists series.

Niles has received Lafayette’s Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Award for superior teaching and scholarly contribution to her discipline, the Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Faculty Lecture Award in recognition of excellence in teaching and scholarship, and Student Government Superior Teaching Awards. She is adviser to the Emile Durkheim Society for anthropology and society majors.

A member of the Lafayette faculty since 1981, she holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Categorized in: Academic News