The Ancient Incas

by Sarah Platts

The Inca city of Machu Pichu - click here to see a movie!

INTRODUCTION: All that we know of the Ancient Incas has been told by legend. There are no documents that we can turn to to prove that the legends are accurate, however the Conquistadors and the priests that came with them did learn a lot about them when they first made contact. The Incas had no system of writing, they told their stories and passed on their traditions from generation to generation.

The founding of the Inca dynasty took place before the 12th century. Manco Capac was the founder of the Inca dynasty. In 1532 the Inca Empire was attacked by Francisco Pizarro. This started the downfall of the Inca Empire. The last Inca, Tupac Amaru, was captured in 1572 ending the Inca Empire for good.


HISTORY: The story of the Incas is shrouded in legend. There is a story that tells of the dawning of the Inca Empire. The story, or legend, tells of a great dynasty that lasted as long as the Empire itself. the story is of the founders of the Inca empire, which were married brother and sister, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo. Manco and Mama came to the valley of Cuzco, which is today a Peruvian city. They came from somewhere near the Lake Titicaca marking the beginning of civilized life for the Incas.

This legend would help explain how the small ethnic group settled in the region which one day soon became their Incan capitol. The small group soon extended its power over to neighboring people and started one vast empire. They named this the Tahuantinsuyu. Tahuantinsuyu means "the Kingdom of the Four Regions of the Universe" in the Incan Language called Quecha. This Incan Empire stretched from north to south starting at present day Columbia, through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, down to Chile and Argentina.

The Incas tradition states that twelve monarchs reigned from the beginning of the empire until the Spanish conquest. It is said that the true history of Tahuantinsuyu dates from the eighth sovereign only, which is the Inca Viracocha, who reigned early in the fifteenth century.

Before the reign of the Viracocha the Incas were involved in a series of conflicts with their neighboring tribes. The Incas and their neighbors were in wars which resulted in the Incas winning.

The Incas did not rely on just force to strengthen their empire. They would offer the neighboring tribe's chiefs gifts. The Inca's would make alliances through arranged marriages with other groups. Through this they created success throughout their empire.


FOOD/NATURAL RESOURCES: The Incas counted on agriculture to support their native society. The Incas lived in a high mountain range, Andean Cordillera, which produced hard climate. This harsh climate made it hard to produce food that could go year round.

The Incas had potatoes and other tuber crops which provided for large groups. The Incas left the potatoes outside in the night to freeze. After being frozen they were then sun-dried. This process produced what they called chuno. Chuno is a food that could be stored for a long period of time.

Corn was raised at lower altitudes. The corn provided the Incas with a lot of nutrition and was considered one of the Incas staple foods. Corn was used often in rituals and ceremonies.

The Incan people also raised animals that they used to transport food. These animals would carry things over the rocky terrain. These animals included vincunas, alpacas and the sacred llamas.

The llama was a huge provider to the Incan people, so they thought of them to be a sacred being. The Incas used the llama's wool to weave clothing. These llamas also provided meat for food; this meat also went through a drying process. The llamas droppings were also put to use. They were used to fertilize the crops and burned as fuel in areas where kindling was sparse.

The Incas relied on nature a great deal. Nature was the core of their world and without good use of what they had, the Inca people would not have lasted as long as they did. The Incas would trade goods with other local community people. They shared their wealth.

Agricultural Production: The Incas increased agricultural production through the construction of large-scale terracing and irrigation systems. Most Inca highland valleys were completely reshaped with terraces. By converting steep stones to flat fields, terraces increased the amount of tillable land. The Incas built irrigation systems into the terraces of warm, dry valleys. This brought these valuable lands into production.

The potato was a staple food for all Andean people, including the Incas. Maize grew well in warm areas. Maize and the beer made from it were luxury foods served by the state on ceremonial occasions. The increased production of these foods was important and gave the state access to an increasing labor surplus.

Irrigation systems were especially important in the coastal desert regions of the Incan Empire. Most of the systems there were built long before the Incas had conquered that region of land.


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