The Incas (Peoples of America)

Terence D'Altroy is impressively described on the back cover of this book as 'Professor in Anthropology at Columbia University, Director of the Columbia Centre for Archaeology, and the world's leading Inca specialist.' and he does not disappoint in a comprehensive treatment of one of the New World's most fascinating cultures.

Whilst some books fall into the trap of focusing solely on the more eye-catching Inca topics such as evocative Machu Picchu, exquisite textiles and mountain mummies, D'Altroy presents an organized and systematic history of the Inca civilization. The book begins with an examination of geography and predecessors to give the proper background and moves on to consider the sources of information on the subject and their validity. Then nine chapters deal in turn with a major facet of Inca life from politics to religion, social classes to militarism, agriculture to art. Finally, the reasons for the demise and the legacy of this all too brief civilization are considered.

The text is well-written and so easy to read, and that despite being a fact-packed odyssey through a couple of centuries of volatile South American history. D'Altroy himself describes his ambition in this book as a straightforward presentation of the Inca Empire and society. He notes in his Introduction that 'the Incas have proved to be remarkably malleable in the hands of historians and archaeologists' but this book provides a rock-solid foundation and admirably achieves the author's objective. A successful blend of history and archaeology coupled with D'Altroy's expertise make this the very first book one should turn to on the subject. Time and again information is presented which is simply not obtainable in other general books on the topic and which make this volume unique and essential to anyone wanting a deeper understanding of the Incas.

The book includes an index, black and white photos, diagrams, maps, and many useful tables which comprehensively inform on ruling dynasties, shrines, tribute quotas and much more besides. There is also a forty page bibliography and a glossary of foreign terms. Highly recommended.

The Inca culture of western South America was one of the most culturally rich and complex societies encountered by the Spanish during the Age of Conquest (1500-1550). The Inca ruled a mighty empire that stretched from present-day Colombia to Chile. They had complicated society ruled by the emperor in the city of Cuzco. Their religion centered on a small pantheon of gods including Viracocha, the Creator, Inti, the Sun, and Chuqui Illa, the Thunder. The constellations in the night sky were revered as special celestial animals. They also worshiped huacas: places and things that were somehow extraordinary, like a cave, a waterfall, a river or even a rock that had an interesting shape.

It is important to note that although the Inca did not have writing, they had a sophisticated record-keeping system. They had a whole class of individuals whose duty it was to remember oral histories, passed down from generation to generation. They also had quipus, sets of knotted strings which were remarkably accurate, especially when dealing with numbers. It was by these means that the Inca creation myth was perpetuated. After the conquest, several Spanish chroniclers wrote down the creation myths they heard. Although they represent a valuable source, the Spanish were far from impartial: they thought they were hearing dangerous heresy and judged the information accordingly. Therefore, several different versions of the Inca creation myth exist: what follows is a compilation of sorts of the major points on which the chroniclers agree.


Genetic diversity and population structure in the American landmass is also measured using autosomal (atDNA) micro-satellite markers genotyped sampled from North, Central, and South America and analyzed against similar data available from other indigenous populations worldwide. [19] [20] The Amerindian populations show a lower genetic diversity than populations from other continental regions. [20] Observed is a decreasing genetic diversity as geographic distance from the Bering Strait occurs, as well as a decreasing genetic similarity to Siberian populations from Alaska (the genetic entry point). [19] [20] Also observed is evidence of a higher level of diversity and lower level of population structure in western South America compared to eastern South America. [19] [20] There is a relative lack of differentiation between Mesoamerican and Andean populations, a scenario that implies that coastal routes were easier for migrating peoples (more genetic contributors) to traverse in comparison with inland routes. [19]

The over-all pattern that is emerging suggests that the Americas were colonized by a small number of individuals (effective size of about 70), which grew by many orders of magnitude over 800 – 1000 years. [21] [22] The data also shows that there have been genetic exchanges between Asia, the Arctic, and Greenland since the initial peopling of the Americas. [22] [23]

Moreno-Mayar et al. (2018) have identified a basal Ancestral Native American (ANA) lineage. This lineage formed by admixture of early East Asian and Ancient North Eurasian lineages prior to the Last Glacial Maximum, ca. 36–25 kya. Basal ANA diverged into an "Ancient Beringian" (AB) lineage at ca. 20 kya. The non-AB lineage further diverged into "Northern Native American" (NNA) and "Southern Native American" (SNA) lineages between about 17.5 and 14.6 kya. Most pre-Columbian lineages are derived from NNA and SNA, except for the American Arctic, where there is evidence of later (after 10kya) admixture from Paleo-Siberian lineages. [24]

In 2014, the autosomal DNA of a 12,500+-year-old infant from Montana was sequenced. [25] The DNA was taken from a skeleton referred to as Anzick-1, found in close association with several Clovis artifacts. Comparisons showed strong affinities with DNA from Siberian sites, and virtually ruled out that particular individual had any close affinity with European sources (the "Solutrean hypothesis"). The DNA also showed strong affinities with all existing Amerindian populations, which indicated that all of them derive from an ancient population that lived in or near Siberia, the Upper Palaeolithic Mal'ta population. [26]

According to an autosomal genetic study from 2012, [27] Native Americans descend from at least three main migrant waves from East Asia. Most of it is traced back to a single ancestral population, called 'First Americans'. However, those who speak Inuit languages from the Arctic inherited almost half of their ancestry from a second East Asian migrant wave. And those who speak Na-dene, on the other hand, inherited a tenth of their ancestry from a third migrant wave. The initial settling of the Americas was followed by a rapid expansion southwards, by the coast, with little gene flow later, especially in South America. One exception to this are the Chibcha speakers, whose ancestry comes from both North and South America. [27]

Linguistic studies have backed up genetic studies, with ancient patterns having been found between the languages spoken in Siberia and those spoken in the Americas. [ clarification needed ] [28]

Two 2015 autosomal DNA genetic studies confirmed the Siberian origins of the Natives of the Americas. However an ancient signal of shared ancestry with Australasians (Natives of Australia, Melanesia and the Andaman Islands) was detected among the Natives of the Amazon region. The migration coming out of Siberia would have happened 23,000 years ago. [29] [30] [31]

A "Central Siberian" origin has been postulated for the paternal lineage of the source populations of the original migration into the Americas. [32]

Membership in haplogroups Q and C3b implies indigenous American patrilineal descent. [33]

The micro-satellite diversity and distribution of a Y lineage specific to South America suggest that certain Amerindian populations became isolated after the initial colonization of their regions. [34] The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q (Y-DNA) mutations, but are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians with various mtDNA and autosomal DNA (atDNA) mutations. [10] [35] [36] This suggests that the earliest migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland derived from later migrant populations. [37] [38]

Haplogroup Q Edit

Q-M242 (mutational name) is the defining (SNP) of Haplogroup Q (Y-DNA) (phylogenetic name). [40] [41] In Eurasia, haplogroup Q is found among indigenous Siberian populations, such as the modern Chukchi and Koryak peoples. In particular, two groups exhibit large concentrations of the Q-M242 mutation, the Ket (93.8%) and the Selkup (66.4%) peoples. [42] The Ket are thought to be the only survivors of ancient wanderers living in Siberia. [21] Their population size is very small there are fewer than 1,500 Ket in Russia. 2002 [21] The Selkup have a slightly larger population size than the Ket, with approximately 4,250 individuals. [43]

Starting the Paleo-Indians period, a migration to the Americas across the Bering Strait (Beringia) by a small population carrying the Q-M242 mutation took place. [11] A member of this initial population underwent a mutation, which defines its descendant population, known by the Q-M3 (SNP) mutation. [44] These descendants migrated all over the Americas. [40]

Haplogroup Q-M3 is defined by the presence of the rs3894 (M3) (SNP). [1] [21] [45] The Q-M3 mutation is roughly 15,000 years old as that is when the initial migration of Paleo-Indians into the Americas occurred. [46] [47] Q-M3 is the predominant haplotype in the Americas, at a rate of 83% in South American populations, [9] 50% in the Na-Dené populations, and in North American Eskimo-Aleut populations at about 46%. [42] With minimal back-migration of Q-M3 in Eurasia, the mutation likely evolved in east-Beringia, or more specifically the Seward Peninsula or western Alaskan interior. The Beringia land mass began submerging, cutting off land routes. [42] [48] [19]

Since the discovery of Q-M3, several subclades of M3-bearing populations have been discovered. An example is in South America, where some populations have a high prevalence of (SNP) M19, which defines subclade Q-M19. [9] M19 has been detected in (59%) of Amazonian Ticuna men and in (10%) of Wayuu men. [9] Subclade M19 appears to be unique to South American Indigenous peoples, arising 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. [9] This suggests that population isolation, and perhaps even the establishment of tribal groups, began soon after migration into the South American areas. [21] [49] Other American subclades include Q-L54, Q-Z780, Q-MEH2, Q-SA01, and Q-M346 lineages. In Canada, two other lineages have been found. These are Q-P89.1 and Q-NWT01.

Haplogroup R1 Edit

Haplogroup R1 (Y-DNA) is the second most predominant Y haplotype found among indigenous Amerindians after Q (Y-DNA). [50] The distribution of R1 is believed by some to be associated with the re-settlement of Eurasia following the last glacial maximum. One theory that was introduced during European colonization. [50] R1 is very common throughout all of Eurasia except East Asia and Southeast Asia. R1 (M173) is found predominantly in North American groups like the Ojibwe (50-79%), Seminole (50%), Sioux (50%), Cherokee (47%), Dogrib (40%) and Tohono O'odham (Papago) (38%). [50]

A study of Raghavan et al. 2013 found that autosomal evidence indicates that skeletal remain of a south-central Siberian child carrying R* y-dna (Mal'ta boy-1) "is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and genetically closely related to modern-day Amerindians, with no close affinity to east Asians. This suggests that populations related to contemporary western Eurasians had a more north-easterly distribution 24,000 years ago than commonly thought." Sequencing of another south-central Siberian (Afontova Gora-2) revealed that "western Eurasian genetic signatures in modern-day Amerindians derive not only from post-Columbian admixture, as commonly thought, but also from a mixed ancestry of the First Americans." [51] It is further theorized if "Mal'ta might be a missing link, a representative of the Asian population that admixed both into Europeans and Native Americans." [52]

On FTDNA public tree, out of 626 US indigenous Americans K-YSC0000186, all are Q, R1b-M269, R1a-M198, 1 R2-M479 and 2 most likely not tested further than R1b-M343 . [53]

Haplogroup C-P39 Edit

Haplogroup C-M217 is mainly found in indigenous Siberians, Mongolians, and Kazakhs. Haplogroup C-M217 is the most widespread and frequently occurring branch of the greater (Y-DNA) haplogroup C-M130. Haplogroup C-M217 descendant C-P39 is most commonly found in today's Na-Dené speakers, with the highest frequency found among the Athabaskans at 42%, and at lower frequencies in some other Native American groups. [11] This distinct and isolated branch C-P39 includes almost all the Haplogroup C-M217 Y-chromosomes found among all indigenous peoples of the Americas. [55]

Some researchers feel that this may indicate that the Na-Dené migration occurred from the Russian Far East after the initial Paleo-Indian colonization, but prior to modern Inuit, Inupiat and Yupik expansions. [11] [10] [56]

In addition to in Na-Dené peoples, haplogroup C-P39 (C2b1a1a) is also found among other Native Americans such as Algonquian- and Siouan-speaking populations. [57] [58] C-M217 is found among the Wayuu people of Colombia and Venezuela. [57] [58]

Data Edit

Listed here are notable indigenous peoples of the Americas by human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups based on relevant studies. The samples are taken from individuals identified with the ethnic and linguistic designations in the first two columns, the fourth column (n) is the sample size studied, and the other columns give the percentage of the particular haplogroup.

The common occurrence of the mtDNA Haplogroups A, B, C, and D among eastern Asian and Amerindian populations has long been recognized, along with the presence of Haplogroup X. [63] As a whole, the greatest frequency of the four Amerindian associated haplogroups occurs in the Altai-Baikal region of southern Siberia. [64] Some subclades of C and D closer to the Amerindian subclades occur among Mongolian, Amur, Japanese, Korean, and Ainu populations. [63] [65]

When studying human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups, the results indicated that Indigenous Amerindian haplogroups, including haplogroup X, are part of a single founding East Asian population. It also indicates that the distribution of mtDNA haplogroups and the levels of sequence divergence among linguistically similar groups were the result of multiple preceding migrations from Bering Straits populations. [66] [67] All indigenous Amerindian mtDNA can be traced back to five haplogroups, A, B, C, D and X. [68] [69] More specifically, indigenous Amerindian mtDNA belongs to sub-haplogroups A2, B2, C1b, C1c, C1d, D1, and X2a (with minor groups C4c, D2a, and D4h3a). [7] [67] This suggests that 95% of Indigenous Amerindian mtDNA is descended from a minimal genetic founding female population, comprising sub-haplogroups A2, B2, C1b, C1c, C1d, and D1. [68] The remaining 5% is composed of the X2a, D2a, C4c, and D4h3a sub-haplogroups. [67] [68]

X is one of the five mtDNA haplogroups found in Indigenous Amerindian peoples. Unlike the four main American mtDNA haplogroups (A, B, C and D), X is not at all strongly associated with east Asia. [21] Haplogroup X genetic sequences diverged about 20,000 to 30,000 years ago to give two sub-groups, X1 and X2. X2's subclade X2a occurs only at a frequency of about 3% for the total current indigenous population of the Americas. [21] However, X2a is a major mtDNA subclade in North America among the Algonquian peoples, it comprises up to 25% of mtDNA types. [1] [70] It is also present in lower percentages to the west and south of this area — among the Sioux (15%), the Nuu-chah-nulth (11%–13%), the Navajo (7%), and the Yakama (5%). [71] Haplogroup X is more strongly present in the Near East, the Caucasus, and Mediterranean Europe. [71] The predominant theory for sub-haplogroup X2a's appearance in North America is migration along with A, B, C, and D mtDNA groups, from a source in the Altai Mountains of central Asia. [72] [73] [74] [75] Haplotype X6 was present in the Tarahumara 1.8% (1/53) and Huichol 20% (3/15) [76]

Sequencing of the mitochondrial genome from Paleo-Eskimo remains (3,500 years old) are distinct from modern Amerindians, falling within sub-haplogroup D2a1, a group observed among today's Aleutian Islanders, the Aleut and Siberian Yupik populations. [77] This suggests that the colonizers of the far north, and subsequently Greenland, originated from later coastal populations. [77] Then a genetic exchange in the northern extremes introduced by the Thule people (proto-Inuit) approximately 800–1,000 years ago began. [36] [78] These final Pre-Columbian migrants introduced haplogroups A2a and A2b to the existing Paleo-Eskimo populations of Canada and Greenland, culminating in the modern Inuit. [36] [78]

A 2013 study in Nature reported that DNA found in the 24,000-year-old remains of a young boy from the archaeological Mal'ta-Buret' culture suggest that up to one-third of indigenous Americans' ancestry can be traced back to western Eurasians, who may have "had a more north-easterly distribution 24,000 years ago than commonly thought" [51] "We estimate that 14 to 38 percent of Amerindian ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population," the authors wrote. Professor Kelly Graf said,

"Our findings are significant at two levels. First, it shows that Upper Paleolithic Siberians came from a cosmopolitan population of early modern humans that spread out of Africa to Europe and Central and South Asia. Second, Paleoindian skeletons like Buhl Woman with phenotypic traits atypical of modern-day indigenous Americans can be explained as having a direct historical connection to Upper Paleolithic Siberia." [79]

A route through Beringia is seen as more likely than the Solutrean hypothesis. [80] An abstract in a 2012 issue of the "American Journal of Physical Anthropology" states that "The similarities in ages and geographical distributions for C4c and the previously analyzed X2a lineage provide support to the scenario of a dual origin for Paleo-Indians. Taking into account that C4c is deeply rooted in the Asian portion of the mtDNA phylogeny and is indubitably of Asian origin, the finding that C4c and X2a are characterized by parallel genetic histories definitively dismisses the controversial hypothesis of an Atlantic glacial entry route into North America." [81]

Another study, also focused on the mtDNA (that which is inherited through only the maternal line), [7] revealed that the indigenous people of the Americas have their maternal ancestry traced back to a few founding lineages from East Asia, which would have arrived via the Bering strait. According to this study, it is probable that the ancestors of the Native Americans would have remained for a time in the region of the Bering Strait, after which there would have been a rapid movement of settling of the Americas, taking the founding lineages to South America.

According to a 2016 study, focused on mtDNA lineages, "a small population entered the Americas via a coastal route around 16.0 ka, following previous isolation in eastern Beringia for

2.4 to 9 thousand years after separation from eastern Siberian populations. Following a rapid movement throughout the Americas, limited gene flow in South America resulted in a marked phylogeographic structure of populations, which persisted through time. All of the ancient mitochondrial lineages detected in this study were absent from modern data sets, suggesting a high extinction rate. To investigate this further, we applied a novel principal components multiple logistic regression test to Bayesian serial coalescent simulations. The analysis supported a scenario in which European colonization caused a substantial loss of pre-Columbian lineages". [82]

There is genetic evidence for an early wave of migration to the Americas. It is uncertain whether this "Paleoamerican" (also "Paleoamerind", not to be confused with the term Paleo-Indian used of the early phase of Amerinds proper) migration took place in the early Holocene, thus only shortly predating the main Amerind peopling of the Americas, or whether it may have reached the Americas substantially earlier, before the Last Glacial Maximum. [83] Genetic evidence for "Paleoamerinds" consists of the presence of apparent admixture of archaic Sundadont lineages to the remote populations in the South American rain forest, and in the genetics and cranial morphology of Patagonians-Fuegians. [84] Nomatto et al. (2009) proposed migration into Beringia occurred between 40k and 30k cal years BP, with a pre-LGM migration into the Americas followed by isolation of the northern population following closure of the ice-free corridor. [85]

A 2016 genetic study of native peoples of the Amazonian region of Brazil (by Skoglund and Reich) showed evidence of admixture from a separate lineage of an otherwise unknown ancient people. This ancient group appears to be related to modern day "Australasian" peoples (i.e. Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians). This "Ghost population" was found in speakers of Tupian languages. They provisionally named this ancient group "Population Y", after Ypykuéra, "which means ‘ancestor’ in the Tupi language family". [86]

Archaeological evidence for pre-LGM human presence in the Americas was first presented in the 1970s. [87] [88] notably the "Luzia Woman" skull found in Brazil and the Monte Verde site in Chile, both discovered in 1975. [89] Other notable sites of early human inhabitation found in North America include Paisley Caves, Oregon and Bluefish Caves, Canada. [90] [91]

Genetic analyses of HLA I and HLA II genes as well as HLA-A, -B, and -DRB1 gene frequencies links the Ainu people in northern Japan and southeastern Russia to some Indigenous peoples of the Americas, especially to populations on the Pacific Northwest Coast such as Tlingit. The scientists suggest that the main ancestor of the Ainu and of some Native American groups can be traced back to Paleolithic groups in Southern Siberia. The same lineages are also found among some Central Asians. [92]

Inca Population: How Many Incas Were There?

The geographical range of the Inca Empire has been quite reliably mapped using existing archeological evidence. However, the actual Inca population of the pre-conquest empire, the Tawantinsuyu, remains something of a mystery. No decipherable Inca records remain, while modern-day studies have resulted in a range of estimated totals.

Inca Population Census & Quipu Records

The Incas kept detailed records of their population, from birth to deaths to the exact nature of individuals in terms of the potential tasks and roles for which they were suited. In this way, the Inca Empire could be rigidly controlled and administered. These records, however, were kept on the Inca quipus, knotted-cord devices that were all but destroyed during the Spanish Conquest. The surviving quipus, meanwhile, guard their secrets closely each one can only be read by the original creator of the record, the Inca accountants known as the quipucamayocs.

Modern Inca Population Studies

A number of Inca population studies from the 1930s onwards have resulted in a range of estimated totals. The following historians have used various methodologies in an attempt to calculate the pre-conquest Inca population:

Philip Ainsworth Means (1931): Using the Incas decimal-based administrative system as a starting point, Means surmised that each province in the Inca Empire contained between 200,000 and 400,000 people. Each of the four quarters of the empire contained about 20 provinces adding these populations together, Means calculated the overall Inca population to be between 16 and 32 million.

John Rowe (1946): Rowe used figures taken from the Spanish census of 1571 (Viceroy Toledo) to calculate an approximate pre-conquest Inca population: “it is not unreasonable to apply the ratio of totals (4:1) to the population reported in 1571, and estimate the total population of the Andean area in 1525 at about 6 million” (John Rowe, Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest).

Henry Dobyns (1966): Dobyns also used a depopulation ratio (which he calculated as 25:1), but this time using data from the entire Western hemisphere. Rowe’s final population figure came to 37.5 million for the pre-conquest Andean region.

C.T. Smith (1970): Smith also compared Spanish census data with pre-conquest estimates, arriving at a population count of a little over 12 million people for the Andean region.

Nathan Wachtel (1977): In The Vision of the Vanquished, Wachtel followed a similar method to that used by Smith. Watchel’s population total came in at approximately 10 million.

Noble David Cook (1981): In Demographic Collapse: Indian Perú, 1520-1620, Cook used three different methods to calculate the pre-conquest Inca population, acknowledging the fact that all were limited. His ecological model (maximum population based on how much food the Incas could produce) gave a maximum supportable population of 13.3 million. A second model, based upon mortality rates caused by Columbian Exchange diseases, gave a pre-conquest population of between 3.25 and 8 million. Using the 1571 Spanish census data to calculate a figure for 1520, Cook arrived at an Inca population of between 4 and 14 million (Cook saw this method as the most reliable).

Pre-conquest Inca Population: General Consensus

According to historian Gordon Francis McEwan (The Incas: New Perspectives, 2006), the complexities of the Inca population problem and the limitations of the various methods of calculation make the determination of an accurate figure unlikely. However, the range of results gathered has helped to give a vague yet valuable estimation.

In conclusion, McEwan states that “Most modern Inca scholars seem to accept and work with figures ranging between 6 million and 14 million people.” This estimated pre-conquest population, even at the lower end, is a stark figure when compared with the 1571 post-conquest census, a greatly reduced population count of less than 1.5 million people.

One of the most important and famous sites of the Incas was the Machu Picchu. King Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui built the famed Inca citadel in the 15th century. Today, Machu Picchu is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is recognised as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Machu Picchu


First came the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in present-day Mexico, led by Hernán Cortés. Soon after Cortés first arrived in Mexico in 1519, a native woman named Malintzin (later baptized Marina) was one of 20 women given to Cortés and his men after they defeated the natives in Tobasco. Malintzin became Cortés&rsquos mistress, learned Spanish, and served as Cortés&rsquos interpreter and advisor. She played a key role in Cortés&rsquos victory over the Aztecs and also bore him a son, Martín, the first famous Mexican mestizo (although he couldn&rsquot have actually been the first mestizo born in the Americas). Today, Malintzin, commonly known as La Malinche, is a very important figure in Mexican history, though interpretations of her actions are a great source of controversy in Mexico.

Cortés and his army, accompanied by Malintzin, started their journey to Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital. Along the way, the Spaniards came across different indigenous groups willing to help them defeat the Aztecs, especially the Tlaxcala. These groups had previously been conquered by the Aztecs and forced to serve the Empire, and they resented having to make tributes and provide victims for religious sacrifices.

Shortly after reaching Tenochtitlán in late 1519, Cortés&rsquos forces and their allies occupied the city and took Aztec ruler Moctezuma II hostage. A few months later, in 1520, Cortés left Tenochtitlán to deal with a Spanish envoy that had been sent from Cuba to unseat him. When Cortés returned, Tenochtitlán was in the midst of a full-fledged rebellion. During this time, Moctezuma II was killed, though it is unclear if it was by the hand of the Aztecs or the Spanish, and was succeeded as emperor by his brother, Cuitláhuac. Under constant attack, the Spanish were forced to flee the city. But before too long, in 1521 the Spanish and their allies returned, and after three months of fighting, Cortés was able to regain control of Tenochtitlán. Cuahtámoc, Cuitláhuac&rsquos successor, was executed and Cortés became the ruler of the vast empire.

Inca Empire for Kids Quick History

The Inca empire started as a small tribe who lived in the village of Cuzco, high in the Andes Mountains of South America. One day, another tribe tried to conquer them. Thanks to Pachacuti , the king's son, the Incas won! That was the beginning of the Inca empire.

Over the next 100 years, the Inca conquered tribe after tribe until their empire stretched nearly the entire length of western South America. It was one of the largest empires in the world. At it's height, it was over 2,500 miles long and about 500 miles wide, tucked high in the Andes Mountains.

They had a strong central government. There was almost no crime as punishment was harsh. They had a strong army. They had roads and bridges and aqueducts. The government cared for the sick and old. They invented terrace farming to make farming easier on the sharp mountain slopes. They had stores of food they distributed to all people in times of drought. Most people were farmers, but the Inca also had specialized professions like weavers who made fabulous textiles, and musicians who created new instruments like the pan pipe. The Inca invented many things. They believed in many gods.

About 100 years after they had grown into an empire that stretched the length of South America, the Spanish conquered the Inca civilization.

Today, in South America, in the modern county of Peru, you can still find ancestors of the incredible Incas.

The Incas

The Inca empire spanned a large portion of South America by the late 1400s c.e. Although many different cultures prospered in the South American Andes Mountains before 3000 b.c.e., the Incas developed their distinctive culture beginning in 1200 c.e. and by 1471 became the largest empire in South America, reigning over a region that stretched from modern-day Ecuador to Chile. Incas built roads, developed trade, created stone architecture, made beautifully worked gold art and jewelry, became skillful potters, and wove lovely fabrics. Much like the Aztecs, the Incas suffered from the attacks of Spanish conquerors and the spread of smallpox. In 1532 Spaniard Francisco Pizarro (c. 1475 – 1541) conquered the Incas and the territory soon became a colony of Spain. The last Inca emperor remained in power until 1572, when Spaniards killed him.

While the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas each had distinct clothing traditions and costumes, many similarities exist. In the broadest terms these cultures wore the same types of clothing styles. But the different ways they decorated their skin, adorned their hair, and patterned their fabric, among other daily habits, made them quite distinct.


The Legend of Loch Ness

The Culture of Freshwater Pearls

The Sacrificial Ceremony

Money existed in the form of work—each subject of the empire paid "taxes" by laboring on the myriad roads, crop terraces, irrigation canals, temples, or fortresses. In return, rulers paid their laborers in clothing and food. Silver and gold were abundant, but only used for aesthetics. Inca kings and nobles amassed stupendous riches which accompanied them, in death, in their tombs. But it was their great wealth that ultimately undid the Inca, for the Spaniards, upon reaching the New World, learned of the abundance of gold in Inca society and soon set out to conquer it—at all costs. The plundering of Inca riches continues today with the pillaging of sacred sites and blasting of burial tombs by grave robbers in search of precious Inca gold.

While some remnants of the Inca's riches remain intact, many were destroyed as looters melted them down for their raw metal.

Growth of an Empire

The first known Incas, a noble family who ruled Cuzco and a small surrounding high Andean agricultural state, date back to A.D. 1200. The growth of the empire beyond Cuzco began in 1438 when emperor Pachacuti, which means "he who transforms the earth," strode forth from Cuzco to conquer the world around him and bring the surrounding cultures into the Inca fold.

Consolidation of a large empire was to become a continuing struggle for the ruling Inca as their influence reached across many advanced cultures of the Andes. Strictly speaking, the name "Inca" refers to the first royal family and the 40,000 descendants who ruled the empire. However, for centuries historians have used the term in reference to the nearly 100 nations conquered by the Inca. The Inca state's domain was unprecedented, its rule resulting in a universal language—a form of Quechua, a religion worshipping the sun, and a 14,000 mile-long road system criss-crossing high Andean mountain passes and linking the rulers with the ruled.

Referred to as an all-weather highway system, the over 14,000 miles of Inca roads were an astonishing and reliable precursor to the advent of the automobile. Communication and transport was efficient and speedy, linking the mountain peoples and lowland desert dwellers with Cuzco. Building materials and ceremonial processions traveled thousands of miles along the roads that still exist in remarkably good condition today. They were built to last and to withstand the extreme natural forces of wind, floods, ice, and drought.

This central nervous system of Inca transport and communication rivaled that of Rome. A high road crossed the higher regions of the Cordillera from north to south and another lower north-south road crossed the coastal plains. Shorter crossroads linked the two main highways together in several places. The terrain, according to Ciezo de Leon, an early chronicler of Inca culture, was formidable. By his account, the road system ran "through deep valleys and over mountains, through piles of snow, quagmires, living rock, along turbulent rivers in some places it ran smooth and paved, carefully laid out in others over sierras, cut through the rock, with walls skirting the rivers, and steps and rests through the snow everywhere it was clean swept and kept free of rubbish, with lodgings, storehouses, temples to the sun, and posts along the way."

The beginning of the end

With the arrival from Spain in 1532 of Francisco Pizarro and his entourage of mercenaries or "conquistadors," the Inca empire was seriously threatened for the first time. Duped into meeting with the conquistadors in a "peaceful" gathering, an Inca emperor, Atahualpa, was kidnapped and held for ransom. After paying over $50 million in gold by today's standards, Atahualpa, who was promised to be set free, was strangled to death by the Spaniards who then marched straight for Cuzco and its riches.

Ciezo de Leon, a conquistador himself, wrote of the astonishing surprise the Spaniards experienced upon reaching Cuzco. As eyewitnesses to the extravagant and meticulously constructed city of Cuzco, the conquistadors were dumbfounded to find such a testimony of superior metallurgy and finely tuned architecture.

Inca walls show remarkable craftsmanship. The blocks have no mortar to hold them together yet stay tight because of their precise carving and configuration.

Temples, edifices, paved roads, and elaborate gardens all shimmered with gold. By Ciezo de Leon's own observation the extreme riches and expert stone work of the Inca were beyond belief: "In one of (the) houses, which was the richest, there was the figure of the sun, very large and made of gold, very ingeniously worked, and enriched with many precious stones. They had also a garden, the clods of which were made of pieces of fine gold and it was artificially sown with golden maize, the stalks, as well as the leaves and cobs, being of that metal. Besides all this, they had more than twenty golden (llamas) with their lambs, and the shepherds with their slings and crooks to watch them, all made of the same metal. There was a great quantity of jars of gold and silver, set with emeralds vases, pots, and all sorts of utensils, all of fine gold. it seems to me that I have said enough to show what a grand place it was so I shall not treat further of the silver work of the chaquira (beads), of the plumes of gold and other things, which, if I wrote down, I should not be believed."

Machu Picchu and Living at Heights

What remains of the Inca legacy is limited, as the conquistadors plundered what they could of Inca treasures and in so doing, dismantled the many structures painstakingly built by Inca craftsmen to house the precious metals. Remarkably, a last bastion of the Inca empire remained unknown to the Spanish conquerors and was not found until explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911. He had found Machu Picchu, a citadel atop a mountainous jungle along the Urubamba River in Peru. Grand steps and terraces with fountains, lodgings, and shrines flank the jungle-clad pinnacle peaks surrounding the site. It was a place of worship to the sun god, the greatest deity in the Inca pantheon.

The survival of Machu Picchu over hundreds of years, on a mountaintop subject to erosion and mudslides, is a testament to Inca engineering.

Perhaps most unique about Inca civilization was its thriving existence at altitude. The Incas ruled the Andean Cordillera, second in height and harshness to the Himalayas. Daily life was spent at altitudes up to 15,000 feet and ritual life extended up to 22,057 feet to Llullaillaco in Chile, the highest Inca sacrificial site known today. Mountain roads and sacrificial platforms were built, which means a great amount of time was spent hauling loads of soil, rocks, and grass up to these inhospitable heights. Even with our advanced mountaineering clothing and equipment of today, it is hard for us to acclimatize and cope with the cold and dehydration experienced at the high altitudes frequented by the Inca. This ability of the sandal-clad Inca to thrive at extremely high elevations continues to perplex scientists today.

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The Conquest

How did Pizarro and his small army of mercenaries, totaling less than 400, conquer what was becoming the world's largest civilization? Much of the "conquest" was accomplished without battles or warfare as the initial contact Europeans made in the New World resulted in rampant disease. Old World infectious disease left its devastating mark on New World Indian cultures. In particular, smallpox spread quickly through Panama, eradicating entire populations. Once the disease crossed into the Andes its southward spread caused the single most devastating loss of life in the Americas. Lacking immunity, the New World peoples, including the Inca, were reduced by two-thirds.

With the aid of disease and the success of his initial deceit of Atahualpa, Pizarro acquired vast amounts of Inca gold which brought him great fortune in Spain. Reinforcements for his troops came quickly and his conquest of a people soon moved into consolidation of an empire and its wealth. Spanish culture, religion, and language rapidly replaced Inca life and only a few traces of Inca ways remain in the native culture as it exists today.

Indigenous people of Peru today retain some echoes of the Inca way of life, but most of the culture has vanished.

Inca – The Ancient Civilization

Inca was an ancient civilization that ruled a part of South America in the 1400’s, almost 600 years ago. Incans called themselves the “Children of the Sun”. Inca were fierce warriors. They ruled Peru and large parts of modern Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia when their civilization was the strongest. Incans lived in the mountain peaks of Andes with great ease.

Image Credit: Flickr User ShashiBellamkonda, via CC

Incans cut the mountains to build roads, huge terraces, canals and stone cities. The cities had homes, fountains, temples and shrines. These were constructed flawlessly for Incas to function efficiently on the rugged mountainous terrain. The steep slopes were turned into gigantic terraces that were used for farming. Farming was done to feed the Incas. Also, these terraces were used by the messengers who raced over the Andean peaks to spread the news of the empire from town to town. The most amazing part is that Incas did all of this without using wheels, iron, horses or even a written language!

It is one thing to just survive without access to all the equipment, but to rule millions of people just seems impossible, doesn’t it?

Image Credit: Flickr User sufw, via CC

Well, the reason behind that could be the fact that the Incans, without doubt were exceptionally skilled engineers. They had a system for making mathematical calculations using knotted strings. It was called ‘kipu‘. But historians around the world still fail to understand how Incans operated with just a basic calculating system!

Image Credit: Flickr User ShashiBellamkonda, via CC

These innovative farmers and champion builders have left behind the unbelievable stone city of Machu Picchu. The city is situated on top of a mountain in Urubamba valley, Peru. The Urubamba River flows through here.

Incans were also skilled craftsmen who made beautiful jewellery and textiles and were very tolerant of other cultures. They expanded their empire not only by warring but by diplomacy.

Incans ruled for a very short period of time, only for about 100 years. By mid 1500’s, they were devastated first by diseases, and then civil war. The final straw for them was the attack of Spanish people. They conquered the Incans and wiped out the whole empire.

Since Incans had no written language, sadly, there is no written account of their reign. Most of what we know about Incans for sure is on account of Spanish people who conquered them or some simple drawings by Incan artists born shortly after Spanish arrived in Peru.

Today, Machu Picchu is the only symbol left of Incan greatness. Millions of people from around the world visit the stone city every year to witness the stunning wonder created by this ancient civilisation.

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