Philip Ainsworth Means

Birth: 1892


Philip Ainsworth Means (1892-1944) was an American born anthropologist and historian. He was most well known for his study of South America, specifically Peru. Means made a total of 5 extended trips to Peru where he studied the Inca's of the Cuzco area, published multiple books, supervised excavations, and held the position of Director of Peru's national museum of Archeology.[1] His book "Ancient Civilization of the Andes" was one of the first to explain Incan history and culture. His works include History of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas (1917), Fall of the Inca Empire and the Spanish Rule in Peru, 1530-1780 (1932), The Spanish Main: Focus of Envy, 1492-1700 (1935) as well as a publication regarding the Newport Tower in Rhode Island (1942).

Philip Ainsworth Means was born in 1892 in Boston, to parents James and Helen Goodell. He graduated from Harvard in 1915 and received a Master of Arts degree from that institution the following year. His studies were directed toward Hispanic America, specifically Peru, and combined archeology, history, and literature. His formal university studies were supplemented by wide travel and study in museums and archives. In 1934 he married Miss Louise Munroe who accompanied him on his later travels and assisted him in his scholastic publications.

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Peruvian Expeditions

Means' first trip to Peru was from 1914 to 1915 as a member of Yale Peruvian Expedition under the direction of Dr. Hiram Bingham. This first trip sparked his interest of the Inca empire in the Cuzco region. He returned from 1917 to 1918 where he visited many sites from Bolivia in the south to Piura on the far north coast of Peru. From 1918 to 1919 he supervised expeditions in Piura and served as Director of the National Museum of Archeology in Lima from 1920 to 1921.

He then traveled throughout all of Latin America for 11 years before returning to Peru for his final time in 1932; it was during this time that Means served as an associate in anthropology at the Peabody Museum at Harvard several times, and also wrote one of his most renowned books Ancient Civilizations of the Andes, a historical account of the Andes during the reign of the Inca people.

Archaeological Technique

Means took a historical approach to his studies by combining documentary and archaeological findings. His interest tended to focus on the chronological advancement of artwork and textiles of a given culture. For example, the Mochica or Early Chimu was considered slightly earlier than Nazca because its art was more fresh and youthful. He categorized textiles by technique and cultural period.

Means was convinced that this precolumbian style of artwork belonged in the category of world art and was adamant in calling it to the attention of art exhibits and magazines. He also contributed to the field of history by translating many of the basic documentary writings of early chroniclers including those of Pedro Sancho, Fernando Montesinos, Pedro Pizarro, and Francisco de Elorza y Rada.


Ancient Civilizations of the Andes (1931) was originally intended as part of a trilogy, however Means died before the third book was complete. This publication gave a unique account of the history of the Andes within the Inca empire. The second book of the intended trilogy was entitled Fall of the Inca Empire and Spanish Rule in Peru (1932) which focused on the territories of the modern republics of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and portions of Colombia, Argentina, and Chile. It covers the time period from 1530 to 1780 AD Much of the writing for these two books was done while Means was back in the United States and able to conduct research in the libraries of Harvard and Yale.

Another popular publication of Means' was The Spanish Main (1935). This book focused on the Spanish colonial rule during the 1700s in Northern South America and focused on the geographic locations from Panama to Trinidad and the waters along the coast. Means published a number of other books and articles including.. A History, of the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan and of the Itzas (1917) A Survey of Ancient Peruvian Art (1917) Racial Factors in Democracy (1918) La Civilizacion precolombina de los Andes (1919) Aspectos, cronologicos de las civilizaciones andinas (1921) Editor Relacion of Pedro Sancho (Cortes Soc.) (1918) Relacion of Pedro Pizarro (Cortes, Soc.) (1921) Memorias Antiguas of F. Montesinos (Hakluyt Soc.) (1921) A Study of Ancient Andean Social Institutions (1925) Biblioteca Andina, Part I (1928) A Study of Peruvian Textiles (1932) The Incas: Empire Builders of the Andes (1938) Tupak of the Incas (a book for children) (1942) Newport Tower (1942) as well as articles on pre-Columbian Andean art in mags. and museum bulletins in this country and in Peru, 1940-41.


Williams, Stephen.Fantastic Archaeology, The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. University of Pennsylvania Press (1991)

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