A visit to Peru can’t be had without encountering at least some form of the Incan Empire. As one of the great civilizations of the New World, the colonial era of conquering still leaves a bad taste in local mouths. There are some important facts about this expansive culture that are important to remember, considering at its height, there were more than 9 million people in this civilization.
1. Talk About a Big Head
The Incas thought that big was beautiful, especially from a head-size perspective. If you can picture the expanded head of a cartoon-style mad scientist, then you’ll get the idea of what the Incas tried to accomplish with their looks. They would create deformed skulls through tight bandages that were wrapped around the heads of infants. This would limit bone formation to one direction and elongate the skull over time.
2. That’s Some Tasty Pork
Every civilization has a specialty dish that they could call their own. For the Incas, there was nothing more treasured than a tasty guinea pig. That’s right – the animals that are kept as pets were also served regularly at the dinner table. If you visit Peru today, you can still pick up a grilled guinea pig at some restaurant. Just beware: it’s a dish that will make you squeal.
3. An Important Medical Advancement
The Incas weren’t known for their ability to forge iron. When the Europeans were using swords and arrow tips to inflict mass casualties, the Incas were still using slingshots and really big clubs. When Incas had a dispute with each other, it wasn’t uncommon to smash your opponent over the head with a blunt object. This led to the invention of head surgery where parts of the skull would be removed to relieve pressure on the brain. This surgery was so common that 1 in every 6 skulls from the Incas that has been found has had at least one hole in it.
4. An Interesting Coffee Mug
The Incas really didn’t like their enemies. When someone who fought against the empire would be defeated, they would lose their head – literally. It was common for the skulls of defeated leaders to be turned into drinking containers. Cups, jars, and scoops have been found in archaeological finds over time.
5. A Most Efficient Communication System
Much of the written communication that the Incas had was in the form of hieroglyphics and through the use of a Quipi. These were usually reserved for spiritual sites and decorative purposes and was rarely written down as a means of actually talking to someone. When messages had to be passed along from one site to another, they had a system of communication that involved giving a message to someone and then having them run to the location where the message needed to be relayed.
6. A Wife For You, But Not For You
Inca nobles were considered the top of the social class, which meant they had certain perks that others in society were not allowed. In particular, nobles were allowed to have multiple wives if they wished. In comparison, farmers were only allowed one wife and the law required them to be monogamous at all times.
7. A Remnant Worth Remembering
The world’s oldest suspension bridge is located in the old Inca Empire and it is called Qeswachaka. The local communities rebuild the bridge every year and have been doing so for over 1,500 years. It is continually built using traditional methods as well, which means weaving grass ropes. Just don’t get near the bridge if you’re a woman since the locals consider it bad luck… even though women basically built the bridge with their own two hands.
8. Now That’s a Freeway
Even though much of their territory was mountainous and difficult to navigate, the Inca Empire had one of the largest pre-industrial road and highway systems in the world. With over 18,000 miles of known roads built, travel was remarkably easy throughout the entire Empire. This helped them accomplish a great many firsts in that part of the world, including conquering the potato so that it could grow in the region.
9. Incredible Builders
Although the Incas are very much remembered for their mason work, they actually used no mortar to construct their buildings. They would instead use stones that fit so perfectly together that nothing could slip between the cracks in the wall. These buildings are so strong, in fact, that they are even able to resist strong earthquakes. Instead of rattling apart, the buildings are said to “bounce” in place and then return to their set position.
10. Change Your Stars
Unlike other cultures that focused on social classes, family wasn’t the only consideration in whether or not someone could be considered nobility. Their education was also an important consideration. Children were tested on their knowledge and skills. Based on the results of those tests, children would be sent to purse a life of nobility or a life of digging canals and growing potatoes. If you fell in the middle and were an average student, then you got to work in middle management, which sounds a lot like today.
11. Some God-Like Abilities
Their hieroglyphics aren’t the only reason why the Incas are often compared to the Egyptians. The Inca Empire also believed in multiple gods that were similar to the Egyptian gods. The sun god, named Inti, was considered the greatest of all the gods. So great was Inti, in fact, that he was able to sire humans that were natural leaders. The Incan emperor was always considered to be a direct descendant of the sun god.
12. Is That Really a Necklace?
One of the most important pieces of jewelry that was worn during the Inca Empire days was a necklace that completely covered the front of the neck. This necklace help to serve a second function as well: it could be used as armor. Although a neck isn’t going to survive a club to the neck very well, a slingshot projectile could be stopped by these necklaces. It could also stop a slowly swung copper ax in an emergency.
13. A Hidden Treasure
The oral tradition that has been passed down through the generations is that the last survivors of the Spanish conquests hid in the forests. They took all of the remaining gold that was left, their historical items, and moved them into the jungle. It is very possible that there is a great hidden treasure that is lost in the Amazon that is just waiting to be found. If you go searching, make sure to bring lots of insect repellent.
The Inca Empire was one of the most important civilizations of South America. Many of their accomplishments were forerunners of technology that we still use today. For that reason alone, these interesting facts are worth knowing and understanding.