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Inca Civilizations

Between 1200 and 1535 AD, the Inca population lived in the part of South America extending from the Equator to the Pacific coast of Chile. The beginning of the Inca rule started with the conquest of the Moche Culture in Peru. The Inca were warriors with a strong and a powerful army. Because of their fierceness and their hierarchical organization, they became the largest Native American society. The height of their reign in the 15th century came to a brutal end in 1535 when the Spanish conquistadors took over their territory.

Their cities and fortresses were mostly built on the highlands and on the steep slopes of the Andes Mountains.

The architecture of the Inca cities still amazes and puzzles most scientists. Some steps lead up to the top of the cities which consist of stone houses and religious buildings. The blocks of some of the stones weigh several tons and are fit together so tightly that not even a razor blade can fit through them.

The Inca society was arranged by a strict hierarchical structure. There were many different levels with the Sapa, high priest, and the army commander at the top. Family members were councilors to the Sapa and even women had authority in the Inca hierarchy. The Temple Priests, architects and army commanders were next. The two lowest classes consisted of artisans, army captians, farmers and herders. Farmers provided most of the subsistence for the rest of the population, they had to pay tax in the form of gold, which were distributed to the higher classes.

The comprehension of how irrigation can benefit agriculture is evident by the expansion into the highland areas. They developed drainage systems and canals to expand their crops; potatoes, tomatoes, cotton, and coca were among the many crops grown by the Inca. Llamas were used for meat and transportation and there was enough resources available for everyone... this lead to a rapid growth in population.

Since population was increasing and the organization of the Inca became stronger, they needed protection. They built enormous fortresses on tops of steep mountains that enabled them to see their enemies and to defend themselves.

One of the most famous Inca fortresses is located in Cuzco, Sacasahuman (right), the Inca Empire capital. Even though the Inca never had access to the wheel, they built a very sophisticated road system to connect the villages, they were paved with flat stones and barriers to protect the chasqui (messengers) from falling off the cliffs.

The highest point in an Inca village was reserved for religious purposes. This point was the closest to the sun which represented their major god, Inti, the Sun God. The six major gods of the Inca represent the moon, sun, earth, thunder/lighting, and the sea.

Pachamama is the earth god, who is the mother of all humans. The Inca had shamans who believed in animal spirits living on earth. Heaven was depicted by the condor, the underworld by the anacomda, and the brother who resided on earth was the puma. The Sun Temple, located in Machu Picchu, Peru, was a religious calendar that marked the winter and summer solstices.

The Inca were not only fierce conquerors but they also had a violent punishment system. If someone stole, murdered, or had sex with a Sapa wife or a Sun Virgin, they were thrown off a cliff, hands cut off or eyes cut out, or hung up to starve to death. Prisons were of no use because punishment usually consisted of death. Recent excavations of the Inca siteshas re-vealed mummified bodies of the Inca royalty. They have been preserved by ice on the peaks of the Andes.

The Incas had an army which consisted of 40,000 people. The Spanish army in the Americas, which was commanded by Francisco Pizarro, only had about 180 men. How could an Army of only 180 defeat an army of 40,000 men? There are three main reasons for this:
1. Much of the Incan army died as a result of smallpox, which was carried to them by the Spanish.
2. The Spanish Conquistadors were able to convince other tribes, already under Incan rule, to side with them and over through the Incan Empire.
3. The weapons used by Incan warriors, though effective in tribal warfare, were no match for the Spanish arms.

By 1535, the Inca society was compltely overthrown and Pizarro moved the capital from Cuzco to Lima.

Inca Sites:

Chilca Valley: The Chilca Valley lies on the western coast of Peru, surroumded by the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, called the puna zone. The puna zone is a barren, wind-swept area of open fields and rolling grasslands and has an altitude of 4000 m. The Chilca Valley was an im-portant traveling route for coastal inhabitants to the highlands. Two major sites have been discovered with-in this area, Tres Ventanas and Kiqche. These two sites are located on the rim of the puna zone .

The people of the Andean culture who inhabited this region were hunters and gatherers. They lived in this region from the Early Archaic Period through the Formative Period. 
(8000-4500 BP.) Animals such as deer and camelid, which were natives of the Andean Mountians, were the prime sources of protien and fat for these Middle Archaic peoples. It wasn't until about 10,000 years ago that this culture began to change into a gardening community. This process of evolving took place primarily because of the domestication of the camelid and the lessend population of the hunted animals. Other artifacts found at such sites include clam shells and various sea shell structures. These artifacts mean that the Chilca Valley was a vital means of travel from the Pacific Coast to the Andes Mountains infering trade between surrounding communities.
Ref: Jennings, Jesse D. Ancient South Prehistoric Hunters of the High Andes, Academic Press Inc 1990.

Chavin de Huantar: was located in Peru and developed around 900 BC late in the Initial Period. 
At an elevation of 3,150 m., Chavin de Huantar was situated at the bottom of Cordillera Blanca's 
eastern slopes, halfway bet-ween tropical forests and the coastal plains. At the inter-section of major routes, it was in the position to control the routes, increase their ex-change with others, and rec-eive goods that were not in their area. Chavin de Huantar was an agriculture society, home to a very large population.
The Old Temple was built during the late Initial Period and it was the "center of super-natural power and authority." It was a U-shaped platform opening to the east with a circular courtyard in the center. The Old Temple also had numerous passageways and chambers underground called galleries. These were used for storage chambers, religious rites, and possibly temporary or permanent living for small groups working with temple activities.
The Lanzon Gallery is located at the very center of the Old Temple. It was where this sculpture (left) of the Lanzon was found. The Lanzon, the supreme deity of Chavin de Huantar, is anthropomorphic. With its feline head and human body, it has intertwined the frline deity of Chavin de Huantar and the shaman of the pre-Chavin period.

For the pre-Chavin period, the object of worship was the feline, but this was gradually changed. By the time of Chavin de Huantar, it was anthropomorphic. During this time, it was believed that priests could become jaguars and interact with the supernatural forces. This was achieved by taking hallucinogenic drugs as part of rituals at the Old Temple. There are many sculptures that decorate the Old Temple depicting the transformation of the priests. There have been mortars, pestles, conch-shell trumpets and many other items with the anthropomorphic design found and thought to be associated with Chavin rituals.

The Chavin culture existed in what is known today as Peru and is comprised of three types of landforms; the Pacific Coast, the Andes Mountains, and the Amazon lowlands. These are highly contrasting environmental areas that are condensed into a small area. Despite these conditions, it is thought that the Chavin civilization arose because of the coexistence of the peoples of these areas.

Early Peruvian civilization can be traced back to the first peoples crossing the Bering Sea Land Bridge by Asiatic hunters long before 15,000 years ago. It is bel-ieved that between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago, some of these people began occupying the Peruvian Andes. About 10,000 years of development took place before any civilization was organized. The best known of these early Peruvian prehistory civilizations is the Chavin. Chavin is one of Peru's oldest civilizations and laid the cultural foundations of all later Peruvian cultures. They flourished from 900 BCE to 200 BCE, although many elements of the culture can be traced back to about 1,000 years before its start.

It's evident that the people of Chavin held religious beliefs due to the many artifacts relating to religious ceremonies that have been excavated. Several objects are believed to have been used in the ceremonial ingestion of hallucinogens such as small mortars that were used to grind vilca, a sort of hallucinogenic snuff. Other objects used for these purposes are bone tubes and spoons. Those items were decorated with impressions of wild animals that are associated whith shamanistic transformation.

The Chavin culture is known for its beautiful art and design but Chavin was also innovative with metallurgy and textile production. Cloth production was revolutionized during the time of the Chavin. New techniques and materials are popular through the use of camel hair, textile painting, the dying of camel hair and the "resist" painting style similar to modern day tie-dye. Advances in metallurgy also occured during the Chacin's reign in Peru such as joining pieces of preshaped metal sheets to form both objects of art and objects for practical use. Soldering and temperature control were also advanced during this time. 


The Moche lived along the Northern Peruvian coastline, where they were relegated to life within the lower river valley. This environment was rich with clay and metals and gave the cultures of Northern Peru the tools to create extensive artistic traditions.

Unfortunately, Moche artistic expression is the only main way archeologists have been able to interpret and under-stand Moche culture. No written records were kept by the people nor were there a predominant written language.

The Moche occupation of Northern Peru occured after the gradual demise of Chavin culture. The demise of Chavin culture ended several centuries of political unification in northern Peru. As the small states began to break away from the unified government, and its citizens turned toward a more structured lifestyle, each state that branched off began to develop its own artistic style. Soon, each had created its own Huanca or temple center, which all city life flourished around. These city states were run through a centralized theocratic government system. As the style of the Moche spread and evolved throughout northern Peru, it became a predominant media of all the states, which lasted for seven centuries, from 100 AD to 800 AD and underwent five phases of development.

The main historical and cultural record of the Moche lay within its expressive artistic styling. It represents ceremony, mythology and daily life of the Moche people. It depicts everything from sexual acts to ill humans, and even anthropomorphized warriors, dieties and humans. The ceramic work of the Moche took on a highly standardized form. The emphasis on hierarchy, the ceremonial themes of the Moche pottery indicate that the people partook of human sacrifice and sexually explicit acts.

Moche artisans were also renowned for their use of silver, copper and gold. Like modern metallurgical styles, they used turquoise inlay techniques as well as simple wax castings. These techniques aided the Moche in making chisels, spear points, fish hooks, digging tools, tweezers and many other metallurgical goods.

Decline of Moche Culture came abruptly with the rise of Chimu culture. However, Moche culture remains a meaningful premeager to many of the other ceramic and artistic forms found throughout South America, and eventually led to the rise of the great Incan civilizations and their artistic endeavors.


Nazca is one of the most famous archaeological sites in South America. It is located on the coastal plain of southern Peru, from Chincha to the Acari valleys.

At first, the Nazca people lived in "oases" terraced hill-sides suitable for the construction of irrigation systems. People also used the source of the Nazca River. Then agriculture flourished in this former dry lands. The capital of Nazca, Cahuachi, was 31 miles inland of the south bank of the Nazca River. This place was also farmland, but it became the sacred place and the cere-monial center because of the natural springs. In this sacred place, people got together to honor their ancestors at a certain time of the year. Some mounds, shrines and at least six pyramids and courts were con-structed. Several buildings had walls made of small conical and loaf-shaped adobes and were built by canes bound together and covered with mud.

Nazca art impresses the masked ritual performances and the rituals are associated with rain, water, and fert-ility. Human heads were also regarded as valuable trophies. The burial tradition was practiced at Cahuachi. Huddled bodies, some wrapped in cloth, were burried in circular pits or in great deep adobe-lined tombs, both generally covered with logs. Cahuachi was the big cemetery and the place for votive offerings.

The Nazca lines are the most attractive feature in this culture. These large "geoglyphs" (drawings on the eart's surface) make no sense on the ground, one can only recog-nize the features from the air. There are several kinds of figures; birds, fish, monkeys, a whale, spiders and plants. These lines spread on the ground more than 800 miles, some of which extend 12 miles long. Since these lines are on a flat surface and its climate is extremly dry, nearly all the geoglyphs remain completely intact. These geoglyphs are not only featured at Nazca, but also in other coastal areas; Zana, Santa, Sechin Valleys, Pampa Canto Grande, the Sihuas Valleys and northern Chile.

The purpose of the drawings is uncertain, but its believed to be connected to their beliefs and economical systems. According to anthropologist Johan Reinhard, the Nazca people believed that mountian gods protected humans and controlled the weather. These gods also affected water sources and land fertility since they are associated with lakes, rivers and the sea. Each figure might have a different meaning for the Nazca people.

The straight lines, as sacred paths, from Nazca to the Andean highlands are still used to bring water. Today, these lines are main-tained for the religious merit of the people. The triangles and trapezoids are made for the flow of water and are placed near the river. People often have ceremonies beside the water flow. The figure of spirals depicts sea-shells and the ocean, and the figures of zig-zags illustrates lighting and the river. The bird figures, representing a heron, pelican or condor, are believed to be signs of faithfulness to the mountain gods.

Other sea birds are associated with the ocean. Monkeys and Lizards represent the hope for water. Shark or Killer Whale motifs show the success of fishing. Spiders, Millipedes and plants are associated with the rain. Even though the Nazca River was located near this cultural area, river water was not enough to support their agriculture needs.

Some questions are still being debated among specialists. Why were so many lines necessary? How and why did the people draw such large figures on the ground without any aerial vision or aerial equipment? It may never be under-stood what is the true meaning of the Nazca lines however, it can be deciphered, pieces of the traditional Andean people's belief system from these great Geoglyphs.
Richard F. Townsend, ed the Ancient Americas: the Art Institute of Chicago, 1992
Christopher Scarre, Ancient Civilizations: New York. Longman, 1997
G.H.S.Bushnell, Ancient Peoples and Places Peru: New York. Frederick A. Praeger, 1957
Luis G. Lumbreras, The Peoples and Cultures of Ancient Peru: Smithonian Press 1974

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a city located high in the Andes Mountains in Peru. It lies 43 miles northwest of Cuzco at the top of a ridge, hiding it from the Urabamba Gorge below. The ridge is between a block of highland and the massive Huaynac Picchu, around which the Urubamba River takes a sharp bend. The surrounding area is covered in dense bush, some of it covering Pre-Colombian cultivation terraces.

Machu Picchu, which means "Old Peak", was most likely a royal estate and religious retreat. It was built between 1460 and 1470 AD by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, an Incan ruler. The city has an altitude of 8,000 feet and is high above the Urubamba River can-yon cloud forest, so it likely did not have any administrative, military or commercial use. After Pachacuti's death, Machu Picchu became the property of his allus, or kinship group, which was responsible for its main-tenance, administration, and any new building. Machu Picchu is comprised of approximately 200 buildings, most being residences, although there are temples, storage and other public buildings. They have polygonal masonry, typical of the late Inca period.
About 1,200 people lived in and around Machu Picchu, most of them women, children and priests. The buildings are thought to have been planned abd built under the supervision of professional Inca architects. Most of the structures are built of granite blocks cut with bronze or stone tools and smoothed with sand. The blocks fit together perfectly without mortar, although none of the blocks are the same size and have many faces; some have as many as 30 corners. Another unique thing about Machu Picchu is the intergration of the architecure into the landscape. Existing stone formations were used in the construction of structures, sculptures are carved into the rock, water flows through cisterns and stone channels and temples hang on steep precipices.

The houses had steep thatched roofs and trapezoid-shaped doors; windows were unusual. Some of the houses were two stories tall, the second story was probably reached by ladders, which was likely was made from rope since there weren't many trees at this altitude. The houses were gathered around a communal courtyard or aligned on narrow terraces connected by narrow alleys. At the center were large open squares; livestock encloaures and terraces for growing maize stretched around the edge of the city.
One of the most important things found at Machu Picchu is the Intihuatana, which is a column of stone rising from a block of stone the size of a grand piano. Intihuatana literally means "For Tying the Sun" although it is usually translated as "hitching post of the sun". As the winter solstice approached, when the sun seemed to disappear more each day, a priest would hold a ceremony to tie the sun to the stone to prevent the sun from disappearing altogether. The other intihuatanas were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, but because the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, it remained intact. Mummies have also been found there; most of the mummies were women.

Machu Picchu was rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a professor from Yale. Bingham was searching for Vilcabamba, which was the undiscovered last strong-hold of the Incan Empire. When he stumbled upon Machu Picchu he thought he had found it, although now most scholars believe that Machu Picchu is not Vilcabamba.

Hiram Bingham was an American historian from Yale University searching for one of the last Inca cities that resisted the Spanish invasion. The hist-orian was driven by the desire to find the last city of the Incas, he also heard rumours from Cuzco's University's North American  rector about the existence of uncovered ruins in the Urubamba Jungle.

Bingham conducted extensive research in the regions of the Uruamba and Vilcabamba, when he made the astonishing discovery on July 24th, 1911, when he met a group of Quechuans who were actually living in Machu Picchu, also using the agriculture terraces there. He was lead to the site of the ruins of a six centuries-old Inca city by a group of locals who he met in the area.

Bingham conducted a survey of the area and completed archeological studies. Photographs are taken of the ruins still covered with dense vegetat-ion. It covered all of the buildings, many buildings were collapsed however, most of them were intact. The roofs of course, were gone because they were made of easily perishable materials, like wood and grass. Even a while after he discovered Machu Picchu, Bingham thought that it was Vitcos.

The excavations started in the second half of 1911 and went on for years until the city we see today in pictures was uncovered. Specialists believe that there are still parts of the city hiding in the ground and vegetation. An ancient Incan cemetery is believed to be hiding in the ground and vegetation not far from the entrance to the site.

After discovering all 3 cities, Vitcos, Vilcabamba, and Machu Picchu, Bingham understood that it was about three different sites and that Machu Picchu had the higest value to archaeology. He was so passionate about the "Old Peak" (meaning Machu Picchu in Quechuan) that he almost completely forgot about any other archaeological site that he had come across. 

Artifacts: precious objects found on the site

Hiram Bingham removed many precious artifacts from Machu Picchu, reason for which Peru still makes legal efforts to get back many thousands of objects removed from its most important archaeological site and tourist attraction. Most of the types of objects taken by Bingham still remain unknown. It is not known exactly what econ-omic value they could have or if they are pure artistic and historic values.

After Bingham had discovered Machu Picchu, he had over 5,000 archaeological pieces removed from the site and transported many of them to the Yale University. In late 2005, Peru said it would sue Yale in order to retrieve as many archaeological pieces as possible.

For hundreds of years, many have conducted searches in the Andes to discover the "Lost City of the Incas", other-wise known as Paititi. Some thought, as Bingham did at the beginning, that Machu Picchu was it. But no gold, no silver was ever found there. The artifacts removed by Bingham were only copper, stone and other objects which didn't have important material value. However, it is important that Machu Picchu was isolated for centuries and such objects could have been found.
Archaeologically, culturally, artistically, these are priceless treasures. Perhaps the most important "Treasure" was the intact Intihuatana Stone. Proof that the Conquistadores didn't find the city (all such stones were destroyed after the Spanish came across them).

Expeditions: False Stories of Hidden Treasure in Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham conducted excavations through 1915, his team cleared most of the ruins. Many articles were were written in the 1910s & 1920s about this important discovery, among them was "The Lost City of the Incas"
and the 1913 issue of the National Geographic magazine, which was entirely dedicated to Bingham's discovery of Machu Picchu. Many experts say that there are still things yet to be discovered at the site and the tourists are hindering their efforts.

For many years, people have been speculating that Machu Picchu could have been some sort of secret city of the Incas where they hid their treasures from the Spaniards. It's a false belief, a confusion with the Paititi myth and the El Dorado myth, both of which also differ significantly between each other. Machu Picchu must have been a religious sanctuary or imperial residence.

What if Hiram Bingham wasn't first? Some disagree with Bingham's priority claim. Simone Waisbard claims Enrique Palma, Gabino Sanchez, and Agustin Lizarraga were those  who discovered the ancient city, leaving their names on one of the rocks there on July 14, 1901. The words "Machu Picchu" actually refer to the peak, not the city, who knows what its real name is? Machu Picchu appears in documents several centuries before, but it refers to the mountain, not what its called today. It's also important to remember that Machu Picchu wasn't as remote as we think, it was the locals that lead Bingham to the site. It is very likely that there were other visitors in the past, but either did not recognize or give importance to the site or had looted it and got away with precious objects.

Hiram Bingham certainly wasn't the first, but was the only specialist of the day able to recognize the importance of Machu Picchu and let the world know about it. Vitcos, (one of the last cities held by the Incas), city's ruins are located close to Vilcabamba, which was the last strong-hold held by the Incas. In fact, they are both found in the Vilcabamba Valley. Some may confuse the two.

The Last Stronghold of the Incas: There are several Vilcabambas in South America that must not be confused. One of them is the Vilcabamba Valley in Southwestern Ecuador, where a city with the same name was founded by Lius Fernando de la Vega 
on September 1st, 1756; this place is 42km from the city of Loja. The other two are in Peru. One of them is the Vilcabamba Valley and the other one is a ruined city in it.

The Vilcabamba Inca city is the subject of many tales and myths about hidden treasures. Constructed in 1539, the city was crushed by the Spanish army only in 1572, signalling the end of the Inca resistance to Spanish rule.

At that time, the Inca ruler was Tupac Amaru. He was caught and killed by the Conquistadores by raising over 100,000 troops, but the Incas soon found themselves on the run through the valleys towards the deep Amazonian jungle where they could not fight the invaders. The Spaniards reached the stronghold of Vilcabamba and dest-royed it with ease. The city was burned and soon the location was forgotten for centuries. The ruins of the city were discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 when he was searching for another lost city called Vitcos. Bingham had failed to notice the importance of Vilcabamba thinking that Machu Picchu was the "Lost City of the Incas". The location was explored later by Antonio Santander and Gene Savoy in 1960 and later by Vincent Lee and John Hemming. Today, not much can be seen where Vilcabamba once stood except for a few rocks.

The Possibility of Hidden Inca Treasures

They're based on good facts. When the Spaniards invaded Preu, the Incas were literally "Ripped Off", their temples looted and buildings demolished. Pizarro's greedy solders were only looking for Gold, Silver and other precious objects. And when they laid their hands on them, they melted them into single pieces, easier to transport and sell, the artistical value lost forever.

The Incas had all the reason to hide their treasures from the Conquistadores and so they did. When Atahualpa was a prisoner, he offered Pizarro enough Gold and Silver to fill a large room. Pizarro lied to him about letting him go after the treasures arrived. He didn't let him go, he asked him where the treasures came from. Atahualpa was smart enough not to reveal the location, but rather pointed out places where smaller amounts are found, but never the larger ones were. Even worse, the Spaniards mixed the gold with less precious metals such as iron, the alloys didn't have as much value as pure gold, it was difficult for them to sell it.
Atahualpa was not released but murdered by Pizarro's men. The Spaniards didn't get the large quantities of gold, no matter how much they searched. Today, many adventur-ers, explorers and specialists believe that the treasures are still out there somewhere in the Andes, hidden by the Incas in some remote secret city.

The "El Dorado" Legend: Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro was thrilled to find the "El Dorado"... the "Land of Gold", a place with unimaginable riches, hidden in the Andes. The legend of the El Dorado was spread by the Spanish, which ref-erred to the lands within Colombia and Venezuela. Some mix the myth of El Dorado with the stories about the Preuvian Inca treasures.

The El Dorado legend was spread by the Muisca People, who lived in what today is Colombia and Venezuela. These people have a legend about a golden person ("El Dorado"), who had golden skin and took large amounts of gold with him to a lake. That lake is the Lago Guatavita located in Colombia, a crater lake in the Andes. Pizarro and his men took the Muisca legend literally and tried to drain the lake and collect the gold in it.

They chopped out part of the crater's wall in a V-shape which can still be seen today. So, the El Dorado is not an Inca legend about treasures, nor does it have any connection with the conquest of Peru. The El Dorado legend is a story started by Conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who heard about the Muisca legend and the story spread and had captured Pizarro's imagination.

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