With her absorbing yet accessible accounts of the Peruvian world before the arrival of the conquistadors, María Rostworowski, who has died aged 100, brought the Incas to life for countless readers. Perhaps more than any intellectual in Peru, she reconfigured our understanding of the ancient Andean mind.
Her 1953 biography of the Inca emperor Pachacútec paved the way for the more extensive and groundbreaking Historia del Tahuantinsuyu (1988, translated in 1999 as History of the Inca Realm), which deconstructed the suppositions made by some Spanish colonial historians – including the very European idea that the Incas had an empire at all in the Roman, imperial sense. She argued it should be seen more as a trade confederation.
She also showed how Andean principles of kinship wove a complicated thread through Inca politics, which did not observe European principles of primogeniture but instead depended more on a matrilineal line of influence; nobody had written much previously about the mothers of Inca emperors.
María looked for documents that had never been studied before: the bureaucratic records of the courts, censuses and tax registers. Some of the most interesting material she found was in lawsuits brought by claimants just after the conquest. She uncovered a wealth of material, and about a dozen books and countless articles built up a picture of the pre-Columbian world in which the central element of reciprocity was stressed.