Achievements of the Incas
The Incas were magnificent engineers. They built a system of roads and bridges across the roughest terrains of the Andes. Through their system of collective labor and the most advanced centralized economy, the Incas were able to secure unlimited manual labor. They built more than 14,000 miles of paved road that connected Cusco, the capital, to all corners of the empire.
Bridges were built everywhere in the empire. Their suspension bridges were built using natural fibers. Indigenous people still use the same technique in remote areas in the Andes.
Communication was very important to maintain Inca policy. Considering that the Incas did not know the use of the wheel and that their only transportation was llamas or alpacas, it is astonishing that they were able to control such large territory and maintain peace until they were invaded by the Spanish conquistadors. Read more =>
The success of empire’s centralized economy led to social harmony and to its fast expansion. The Inca’s central planning economy was, perhaps, the most efficient and successful ever seen. Collective labor from the ayllu was at the center of the economic productivity. Every member was obliged to contribute with his labor as tribute and in exchange they received food, clothing, housing, education and health care security.
The Inca economy did not use money as an exchange unit or markets to trade. However they did trade with other tribes outside their boundaries. Every unit of production was carefully planned and distributed where it was needed.
As an agricultural economy, the Incas made sure that they stored enough food in case of bad weather or war so they grew more food than they needed. They built storage buildings called tambos along roads for food to be distributed to nearby villages. The surplus would be kept in storage as a safety net. Production was planned by the central government, each village would produce a specific product and be distributed to other villages the same way food was distributed. Read more =>
The medicine practiced by the Incas was related to religion and rituals. They believed that illnesses were brought by bad spirits or were related to witchcraft. Medicine men were shamans who used plant extracts, fresh or dried plants, life or dead animals and minerals accompanied by chants, prayers and dance. Shamans were thought to have special curative powers. Their most important discovery and one that is widely used in current Andean society is the use of plant extracts such as digitalis purpurea, maticaliz camomilla and plantago paralias, among others.
The Incas also performed cranial surgery called trepanation in order to cure mental illnesses or injuries. They drilled a hole in the patient’s skull, let them bleed and then performed a ritual in order to let the bad spirits out.
Fortifications and buildings
The Incas developed superb architecture and engineering techniques without the use of the wheel and modern tools. Their buildings have proved earthquake resistant for 500 years and today they serve as foundations for many buildings. The Incas were skilled stonemasons; they used granite and limestone to build their cities and forts to protect them.
One great example of a fort is Ollantaytambo. Inca Pachacuti built it and Manco Inca refortified it after the conquistadors had invaded Cusco, Ollantaytambo served as a temporary capital of the Inca Empire.
The most magnificent community the Incas built is the citadel of Machu Picchu built between the mountains of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.
The Incas did not have a written language but had an accounting system. The quipu was a collection of colored strings of alpaca, llama or cotton threads used to record accounting information in the form of knots. The knots signified numeric values using the decimal system. They used the quipu as a record keeping device to track debts, production or any numerical information.
The earliest quipu was found in the City of Caral, it dates approximately to 2600 BC. It confirms the hypothesis that the Incas inherited many aspects of their culture from earlier civilizations they conquered.
Aqueducts and agricultural terraces
Early on the Incas found out that they could not rely on rainfall for their water supply so they learned to divert water from nearby rivers. They built water canals that required the most advanced hydraulic engineering capabilities. Most canals were carved from rocks and the joints were filled with clay. Aqueducts were angled up and down the slopes of mountains in order to reach agricultural terraces and cities.
Because of the rugged and inconsistent terrain of the Andes the Incas created agricultural terraces to maximize their use of fertile land. They cut terraces resembling steep stairs into the hills to create flat land. They used their advanced irrigation system to carry water to the terraces. Terraces also reduced land erosion. They were highly successful and allowed its agricultural production to be maximized. Andean staples such as corn, potatoes and quinoa fed most of the Inca population. The government knew that as long it kept feeding its population social uprising would be kept to a minimum.