Incas, Children of the Sun

By Rousseau, Robert | The World and I, June 2007 | Go to article overview
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Incas, Children of the Sun

Rousseau, Robert, The World and I

In the variety of its charms and the powers of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle.--Hiram Bingham III

What if you had been there with American archaeologist Hiram Bingham III and his party as they set out for Peru in June of 1911? Surely, you would've been excited in a way that only searching for the past can compel.

But then on July 23--after traveling from Cuzco on foot and by mule through the Urubamba Valley and to the Urubamba gorge--the real excitement would start at place called Mandor Pampa. There, a local farmer named Melchor Arteaga would speak of ancient ruins that an inquisitive Bingham would not be able to resist.

And as you followed Arteaga to the foot of the great mountain, where would eventually point to its apex, you would probably stay behind happily as Sergeant Carrasco, Arteaga and Bingham continued up the mountain. After all, with all the wonders you'd seen on the voyage, missing one in the name of some rest couldn't do any harm.

Of course, later you'd quickly realize what you were missing.

You see, on the day in question--July 24, 1911--Hiram Bingham would happen upon a literal lost world near the crown of that mountain. A place hidden in the clouds that perhaps even the last of the Incas (those that built it) didn't know about.

Arteaga called it Macchu Picchu, which means "Old Peak" in his native Quechua. Of course, as evidenced by the quote above, Bingham characterized it much more eloquently.

The Incas

The Inca Empire emerged sometime in the early thirteenth century from the highlands of Peru and eventually became the largest such empire in pre-Columbian America. The Quechua name for the Incas--Tawantin Suyu--translates to "The Four Regions" or "The Four United Regions." This is fitting considering that the Inca Empire was divided into four regions or provinces: Chinchay Suyu in the northwest, Anti Suyu in the northeast, Kunti Suyu in the southwest, and Aulla Suyu in the southeast. These regions met at the Incan capital, Cuzco.

Though the Incas were a society made up of organized dominions with governors presiding over each of the four aforementioned regions, everyone in their society was subservient to the true ruler, the Sapa Inca himself. In essence, the Sapa Inca ruled over a very ordered and regimented society.

The Inca people were highly adept at using their environment to the fullest. Thus, they made their clothing from the wool of llamas, alpacas, and vicunas. Further, they utilized the terraced fields of the Andes for farming as the ever- changing climate and rich mineral soil were ideal for growing potatoes, peppers, and maize. Interestingly, they also cultivated many Andean crops that were not adapted by later rulers of the land, including several different species of roots and tubers, grains, three unique varieties of legumes, and multiple Andean fruits. Some of their more unique crops--a grain called Quinoa, for instance--were highly important to their society as a whole.

Beyond crops, the Incas often feasted on fish, camelids (llama and alpaca), meat and cuyes (guinea pigs). So much for pets, huh?

In addition to their cultivating prowess, the Incas also developed an impressive road system for distribution of food and materials throughout their empire, and often utilized well-constructed storehouses for food. These storehouses tended to allow them to survive difficult weather patterns.

Technological advances were also made in Incan society. For example, the Inca actually performed skull surgery to release pressure from head injuries.

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