Mapping the Tawantinsuyo in OpenHistoricalMap

Free map technology allows us to visualize the Inca Empire in another way, opening a range of possibilities for the study of our history.

The Tawantinsuyo (Inca Empire) map.

Puedes leer este post en castellano aquí.

A few days ago I found about the existence of a platform called OpenHistoricalMap and that someone there had made a Tawantinsuyo map. Given my interest in historical issues, especially if they are related to the Inca Empire, I decided to contact whoever had this interesting idea.

That was how I virtually met Rubén López, a young systems engineer, graduated from the University of Huamanga, who works -like other local people- in Development Seed, a global company that provides geospatial solutions and has an office in Ayacucho, Peru, and where this Peruvian team develops map applications.

One of the projects they support is precisely OpenHistoricalMap, and Rubén sees the part of server architecture through docker and kubernetes technologies in AWS. The project is similar to OpenStreetMap, with the difference that OpenHistoricalMap stores historical data. This data is accessible with a free license for its use, that is, any person or organization can use this data for jobs, websites or others.

When I asked Rubén about the reason for making this map of the Tawantinsuyo, he told me that “currently you cannot find historical data in the form of interactive maps, especially about Peru. When we looked for these data on the MinCul portal we did not find much about the Tawantinsuyo. Since our main objective was to locate data and take it to interactive sources, I took one of the few usable images and processed and re-projected it with the correct coordinates, to draw the limits of the Tawantinsuyo as precisely as possible based on it. We also add part of the Inca trails or Cápac Ñan, which can be viewed on the same map, but at a larger zoom. The second objective was -obviously- to test the OpenHistoricalMap platform.”

Rubén told me that the test carried out had good results and the map garnered favorable comments from the international cartographic community. He further added that “the data is aggregated by volunteers, there is more data from Europe and the US, where there are users adding historical data. At the moment we will not add more data to the map, but I have a friend who has been adding data from the Mochica culture. In any case, if someone is interested, we could send them the guides on how to add this type of data.”

Mochica culture map

I could not ignore asking Rubén about his interest in Peruvian history: “Yes, of course I like history, especially if this history can be captured on maps, or in any format that can help education in Peru. That was also one of my reasons, that at some point someone can take these historical maps and educate future generations in Peru with them.”

To finish, I asked him if he was open to collaborations, to which he replied that “if at any time there were historians, geographers or others interested in adding more historical data, I would be happy to help them, giving them -for example — a workshop on how to add these data, or by providing information on how to make these editions on the map, so we expand the effort to more people, the point is that knowledge could be massify and we together could create a complete map of the history of Peru and the world.”

Peruvian Development Seed team that participated in the Tawantinsuyo map.

After chatting with Rubén, I was left with the impression that there is great potential in this type of map, especially for education and research, so it was clear the need to see this issue of historical maps also from the perspective of historians, archaeologists, etc.

So I talked about all this with my friend the archaeologist Harry Pizarro, and among other things he told me: “I don’t think there is an easy task in terms of historical cartography, but it would be very interesting to start with the republican maps (the Antonio Raimondi collection, the Mariano Paz Soldán maps or the national charts from the 1950s) and then move on to colonial maps. If emphasis is placed on the road system, we will be able to see the birth, apogee, decline and survival of towns, villages and cities through time as a palimpsest, enriching the territorial knowledge of Peru. Archaeological maps are the most complicated to make, because despite having cadastres, few of these are temporary or have a lot of detail, although now, with the use of the GIS system, considerable progress has been made.”

Conchucos Altos archaeological map

I asked him if he knew about the adoption of this type of technology in the corresponding state institutions. “In the Ministry of Culture there is a georeferencing system called SIGDA, but I see that it is focused on legal purposes or at the cadastral level. There is a cadastre area, in addition to a Cultural Landscape area and the Qhapaq Ñan Program itself, all of them have a large cartographic base using differential GPS, but there is a lack of a more friendly and educational platform for the large amount of data they have. Likewise, the FAP with the air flights of the 1940s and the National Charts from the ministerial side, are fundamental tools that happily in both cases are digitized.”

Harry, like me, also believes that historians specialized in cartography can join forces with IT connoisseurs, to achieve better results in mapping our history, seeking that there is a minimum rigor, and with measures against digital vandalism, Wikipedia-style.

As a curiosity, I asked him about his preferred historical period to work on a map of this type, to which he replied: “A post Toledano map of colonial reductions and Indian towns (referring to Viceroy Toledo who ruled between 1568 and 1580) that in to a great extent they founded what we know today as Peru.” I’m still thinking about mine.

I hope soon there will be more news about interactive historical maps in our country.