Andean Civilizations


In its basic elements, ancient Andean civilizations exists geographically much as it is today in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and parts of Chile,

Though we call these civilizations "Andean" it should be pointed out that some of the most important civilizations occurred on the coasts of Peru.

The ecological and climatic range of andean civilization is even greater than its geographical dispersal and it extends to cultures found at sea level to cities located at well over 14,000 feet in the Bolivian altiplano.

On the coast the Peruvian coastal deserts are extremely arid, fish and seafoods are important staples, as the humbolt current hits the coastline around Paracas and then deflects towards Hawaii.

The highlands are characterized by the domestication of the llama, cuy and the growth of tubers and millet grains such as quinoa. Coca is also an important part of the andean diet.

Like all other civilizations andean culture was founded on agriculture which permitted fo for the formation of a large and sedentary population with leisure time to devote to cultural development between harvest and sowing.

The social and economic base of ancient andean civilization was the ayllu, which was a rural social unit or village based on kinship organization.

Typically ayllus, in the sierra or altiplano functioned on the idea of andean verticality and reciprocity. The ayllu also had a vertical form of organization.

Because of the difficult topography of the andes, the ayllu or community was vertical in the sense that different ecological and climatic zones were important in order to maximize the types of crops that could be grown.

The lower part of the ayllu would produce more broad leaf, tropical crops, while the upper sections of the ayllu would produce tubers, millets, and cuys.

There existed before the conquest and well into the modern period a system of reciprocal exchange between the lower and upper sections of the ayllu where each section would specialize in growing what they grew best.

From the very inception of the conquest the economic and social organization of the ayllu would be under assault by the Spanish as they sought to reorganize this social and ecological system into the traditional village model of old Europe.

Each ayllu would also contribute tribute to the Incan state and would also benefit from the redistribution of land, water and resources that the Incas would administer every year.

The Inca were preceded by 4000 years of agricultural peoples who gradually developed high cultures. The earliest known andean people were a small group at Huaca Prieta at the mouth of Chicama river.

They lived in subterranean houses, were ignorant of corn and pottery, but did cultivate squash, gourds, chili, cotton, fished and made coarse clothes that are radiocarbon dated at 2500 BC.

For 2000 years culture developed, corn was introduced and the arts of pottery making, architecture and others were brought into a high state of development.

The earliest known culture of any sophistication was the Chavin which developed around 1250 BC in the northern highlands of Peru.

Around 700 BC the Chavin had a highly organized society and were a religious cult whose influence was felt much over the Peruvian coast in which the Jaguar predominated.

The main building at Chavin is an immense three story structure. Corn was the main food now and all the arts including pottery, weaving and metallurgy had reached a high state of development.

Around 1000 BC a mysterious civilization developed around the shores of Lake Titicaca and in the altiplano some 40 minutes from La Paz. This was known as the Tiahuanaco civilization and was the first known instance where large courts and palaces were built, such as the palace of the sun out of huge blocks of stone.

Experimental Period.

The cultures of the next period sometimes called the experimental period occurred between 500-300 BC are not so well known. Cultures developed in the areas near Cuzco and around the shores of Lake Titicaca. These societies built great irrigation and terrace works, some of which are still in use today. It appears that at this point highland civilization began to surpass coastal civilization in terms of masonry.

However, much more is known of the coastal civilization as the arid desert climate preserves almost every remnant, even textiles and tapestries are perfectly preserved to this day.

This was a dynamic period in which many new techniques appeared and agriculture became much more intensive and productive.

Florescent period

In the first few centuries of the common era high civilization then developed on the coast of Peru. This period lasted some 600 to 800 years. In pottery making, weaving, metallurgy and other arts and engineering this was the apogee of Peruvian culture.

The river valleys were densely populated, with intensive agriculture. The best known civilization of this period was the Moche or Mochica which was located near Trujillo in Peru where are found enormous adobe pyramids of the sun and the moon. One of the structures measures 450 by 750 feet and is estimated to contain 130,000,000 mud bricks. One of their irrigation canals was said to be over 75 miles long.

Especially famous are the pottery vessels modeled in naturalistic forms that reveal much of the native life, including erotic life. Apparently there were social classes and warriors which was the first evidence that militarism had developed in the andean civilizations.

On the southern coasts of Peru there developed the Paracas and Nazca cultures which are known for their incredible textiles and pottery. The lines of Nazca are one of the great mysteries of the world and researchers have yet to explain what the lines represent or even how they were etched into hard desert rock by a stone age culture.

The mummies of the Paracas and Nazca culture are the oldest and most exquisitely preserved mummies in the ancient world. Apparently the corpses due to the extreme dryness were freeze dried so that today one can re-hydrate the mummies, study their DNA, cellular structure and disease pathology. The mummies still have all their hair and it is possible to see the color of their eyes the freeze-drying process was so efficient.

Some anthropologists suggest that the Paracas culture may have had contact with Polynesian cultures, since the design of their pottery and textiles are similar to Polynesian styles. Especially since the mysteries of Easter Island off the coast of Chile not only has Polynesian style statues, but also on one has yet been able to figure out how a stone-age culture was able to move let alone cut blocks of stone that average 5 to 7 tons.

The Nazca culture also apparently practiced many different types of surgery. They seemed to have been very successful at brain surgery and used gold and silver implements to drill, cut and suture brain tissue. From the examination and autopsies of mummies it appears that the Nazca culture had a success rate of brain surgery similar to what we have now. The Nazca culture also practiced C-sections, set bones and performed internal medicine and surgery.

By 500 AD Tiahuanaco civilization arose near Lake Titicaca again and the art style and religious cult spread all over Peru. This period is marked by increasing urbanization, social stratification and militarism.

Also by 500 to 700 AD there arose in the Southern Peruvian sierra the Huari culture that was the first to use intensive and intricate stone irrigation works and aqueducts. Things resembling wheels have been found at the ruin sites, but its unsure what they were used for since there were no beasts of burdens in the Andes. The Huari civilization would later be forcibly federated into the Incan federation, but the Huaris had a tremendous impact on Incan mythology, religion, astronomy and possibly social organization.

In the last few centuries before the rise of Inca power one civilization is outstanding, that of the Chimu o of the northern coast of Peru. It resembled the Inca on a smaller scale with one great capital city at Chan Chan. The Chimu had a large empire that was acquired probably through conquest. They had a highly developed governmental system and definite social stratification from the humble farmer to the divine king.

The population was probably dense and largely urbanized, agriculture was carried to its ultimate limit, and craftsmanship was perfected.

Handicrafts were standardized which implies that production was mass-production for a mass market. The capital of Chan Chan is one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world with close to 30 square miles of ruins, some 200-300 stone structures, temples, reservoirs, aqueducts and great walls.

For most persons the term andean civilization implies the civilization of the Incas. Practically our entire knowledge of andean civilization is that of the Inca.

In this sense it is not necessary to depend on archaeological reconstruction as we have for the other andean civilizations for the writings of many Spanish observers are recorded. Unfortunately there is considerable disagreement among them especially regarding Inca history.

There is no record of Inca writing, and white men never understood how the quipu was used, whatever history the Spanish recorded was oral history.

Like the Aztecs the Incas came late upon the historical scene and even their legends do not predate 1200 AD. Like European civilization the Incas recounted their history in terms of the reign of Kings. The first king being that of Manco Capac 1200 AD, the Sinchi Roca, Lloque Yupanqui, Mayta Capac, Capac Yupanqui, Inca Roca, Yahuar Huacac, Viracocha Inca (the white god). Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438-1471), Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1471-1493), Huayna Capac (1493-1525), Huascar (1525-1532) and Atahualpa (1532-33).

The first seven emperors were legendary. In this period the Inca were a small tribe, one of many whose domain did not extend many mile around their capital of Cuzco. They were almost constantly at war with neighboring tribes of equal power.

The incredibly rapid expansion of the Inca empire began with Viracocha’s son Pachacutec one of the great conquerors and one of the great in men in history.

He was also a great civic planner as well, and tradition gives him credit for the city plan of Cuzco and the erection of the many massive fortresses and buildings of stone that still awe visitors to Cuzco.

The sudden great expansion of the Inca empire was one of the most extraordinary events in history. It covered little less than a century from the accession of Pachacutec in 1438 to the conquest by Francisco Pizarro in 1532 and most of it was accomplished by Pachacutec and Tupac Inca in the 30 years between 1463 and 1493 and it encompassed over 380,000 miles, equal to the size of France, Luxumbourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium combined.

The conquered peoples were incorporated into the expanding Incan empire. They were allowed to worship their own gods and speak their own dialect, but often the Incan state would move ethnicities to new areas where they would conflict with other ethnic groups and allow the Incan state to mediate the conflict.

The entire Incan empire was designed along what has been described as the aquatic axis that ran from Cuzco down to Lake Titicaca and from Cuzco up to Trujillo. The entire empire and control of the empire depended on the control of the ceques or regional and inter-regional irrigation canals where Cuzco was the central controlling point.

The entire empire was also divided into 4 parts Hanansya, Urinsyaya, Collasuyo and Omasuyo. The city of Cuzco also followed this quadrapartite division and you would live and interact in that quarter of the city as reflected by what part of your family originated from in the empire.

The Incas were never successful in incorporating the Amazonian peoples who fought a guerrilla war for decades.

The Incas also practiced a form of state socialism, where the Inca state would redistribute surplus, land and access to water to the people, when needed.

The empire was a welfare state with complete regimentation. No one starved but there was little initiative as well.

The land was public and apportioned annually to families in relation to their size. The land was divided into three classes with product for the state, for the church or for the people.

The harvest of state lands went into storehouses fo the use of the nobility, for the army and for men engaged in other public services. In lieu of direct taxes or tribute every man was periodically called to serve the state for the construction of public works and roads. This labor/tax institution was called the mita, which means taking ones turn.

The upper classes such as the nobility, priests and craftsmen were exempt from the mita as were the yanacuna who were boys selected to be permanent aids and servants to the emperor and the nobility.

Beautiful girls were chosen at an early age and taken to Cuzco to nunneries were they were trained to be concubines for the emperor.

The emperor or Inca was divine and a direct descendant of the sun and most emperors married their sisters and most Incan nobility married their cousins.

Religion was highly organized and centralized, with many temples built to honor the sun. The Incas also had a highly efficient postal system and the greatest road system in the world until the advent of the US road system in the 20th century.