John Howland Rowe was a highly recognized scholar of Andean studies with significant contributions in the areas of history, ethnohistory, archaeology, linguistics, and ethnology. Born in Maine, he was educated at Brown University in classics and went on to receive his PhD from Harvard in 1947. He taught and worked to found anthropology programs at universities in Cuzco, Peru and Popayan, Colombia before accepting a position to teach linguistics and archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley. He was promoted to full professor in 1956 and served as an influential department chair from 1963-1967. Before he retired from Berkeley in 1988, he helped to found the departmental library, now one of the largest anthropology collections in the U.S. He was also instrumental in establishing the Kreober Anthropological Society and the Institute for Andean Studies, the oldest professional society dedicated to the study of Andean culture and archaeology in the U.S. Rowe was the recipient of many honors including several honorary degrees, prestigious fellowships, and Peru’s Order of the Sun, their highest civilian honor.
Rowe’s scholarly work is considered seminal in several areas. His training in classics prepared Rowe to deal with both material culture and written documents. His 1946 publication “Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest” is an early result of historical research. The piece has remained a standard description of precolonial life in the Andes. Throughout his work on the Inca, he emphasized their highly developed state at the time of European contact and the strong persistence of their cultural patterns into colonial times. This work opened the door for further work on Inca ethnohistory at a time when many scholars claimed that the Inca people had “disappeared.”
Rowe’s other major contribution was in the area of Andean archaeology. Rowe did not participate in the important Viru Valley Project led by Gordon Willey in 1950. Instead, Rowe turned his attention to the Ica Valley on Peru’s southern coast. Working there with students, Rowe developed a chronological sequence that is still used in much of the region today. Rowe’s scheme divided Andean prehistory into a series of “periods” of regional development punctuated by “horizons” characterized by the spread of recognizable art styles (“horizon styles”) promulgated by state-like or state-level societies (Chavin, Wari/Tiwanaku, and Inca). Rowe’s work on chronology emphasized the concept of “style” rather than the “type-variety” concept that took root in the American Southwest.
Rowe’s published works include many review articles as well as several publications on Andean culture and language, some of which were equally influential in their subfields. A full bibliography of his scholarly work is available through the George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library at University of California, Berkeley.
- Rowe, J. H. (1945, January). Absolute chronology in the Andean area. American Antiquity, X(3), 265-284.
- Rowe, J. H. (1946). Inca culture at the time of the Spanish conquest. In J. H. Steward (Ed.), Handbook of South American Indians (Vol. 2, pp. 183-330). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.