Knowing that the Incas did not have coins to make transactions, or they didn’t know the wheel or had well-affirmed paths like the Romans, or that most of them were vegetarian are some interesting facts about the Incas that only a few of us know, but no more. Although the Inca culture still has many secrets to discover and the studies on them are still insufficient and shallow, some research throws up more questions than answers these days. A civilization that only had a life period of three centuries approx. and didn’t leave a writer system in which scholars of today can find firsthand information, which requires more in-depth, detailed, and collated studies. And the chroniclers (friars and monks who accompanied the Spaniards conquerors to the entrance of Incas territory describing in detail all they saw of that new world in books and binnacles) are a good point of reference to know all the costumes and lifestyles of the Incas. Of course, all this information is collated with the oral traditions that the Incas left to their descendants, the current Cusco inhabitants. Therefore, the travel experts and Cusco locals of Machu Travel Peru prepared the following article to show the 15 most interesting facts about the Incas. Enjoy it.
Know these 15 most interesting facts about the greatest American civilization, the Incas
- Is it written Inca or Inka?
- The Incas didn’t leave a writing system
- Inca, appellative only for the king
- The Spanish called them Orejones (long-eared)
- Advanced cranial surgeries for the time
- No coins, better barter
- Ayni, the service as a payment method
- They didn’t know the wheel but did the llamas
- 30,000 miles of well-affirmed paths like the Romans
- Chasquis, the Inca messenger system
- Incas majority were vegetarian
- They never cared about famine
- Three world levels in their belief
- Their buildings were aligned with their worldview
- Today, some live Inca style
1. Is it written Inca or Inka?
Despite many English translations (from Spanish chronicles and studies) writing with k the appellative Inka, this is a mistake. The first descriptions of this fascinating civilization were in the Spanish language (due to the nationality of the conquerors) and they used the letter C instead of K, Incas. In this form, the word “Inca” is most accepted than “Inka” in the academic world. Among facts about the Incas, this is the most important fact to begin this list, taking into consideration that the largest pre-Columbus civilization of America didn’t have a writing system, it could be useful to know how the original spelling of the word “Inca” could be. Of course, we have exceptions, like the meaning of Machu Picchu, the word is clearly identifiable, old mountain. But, in the case of the word “Inca”, we could have some confusion.
2. The Incas didn’t leave a writing system
Despite their notable technological advances in agriculture, architecture, and administration, the Incas didn’t have time to achieve the same advances in other camps, like the writing. It is strange to know that they didn’t have a writing system, despite having an elaborated language as the “Quechua”. But, without the writing, how they could manage and register the number of food reserves, population, and offerings, or transmit legends, and tales to the next generations? Well, they had two forms to do it, the Khipus and the Tocapus. The Khipus were string gear where knots are made (Each knot meant a determined quantity), this was useful to keep accounting for food reserves, the army, and the population, among others. Instead, the Tocapus were signs and symbols woven in blankets that every Inca ruler wore. Currently, these symbols and facts about the Incas are still being studied, and the scientific community is still debating whether these Tocapus were a kind of writing or simply Inca heraldry. But, don’t worry, If you make any Machu Picchu tours, you will see these Tocapus in beautiful fabrics shown in the Handicraft markets of Aguas Calientes.
3. Inca, appellative only for the king
Not everyone in the Tawantinsuyo land (Territory of the four sides, was the name of the large Inca’s territory that ranged from the east of Colombia, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, to the middle of present-day Chile) were called Incas. The “Inca” appellative was used to identify only the high class and Inca sovereign relatives. The common inhabitants of the Tawantinsuyo capital, Cusco (Qosqo in the Quechua language), were called Qosqorunas and the rest of the people were called according to their place of provenance. We should remember that the Incas respected the religion and the name of the towns and lands that they conquered. They only imposed them on the cult of the Sun-god (Inti), some tributes, and required their best prospects to serve in Cusco.
4. The Spanish called them Orejones (long-eared)
It was usual among Incas sovereigns, relatives, priests, clergymen people, and high-class people to wear gold and silver earrings in the form of the Sun-god or Inti (Similar to little dishes) hanging from their ears. This kind of people had access to clothes of llama, vicuña, and even cotton fabrics. Therefore, not surprisingly, they sported gold and silver trim on their wardrobe. The greed of the Spanish conquerors caused them to notice the ears of the Native Americans in the first place. Precisely, the ear of the Incas was large, due to the gravity of the metal earrings hanging from them. Long-eared persons, the European people called them. Among the many facts about the Incas, maybe this is the most unknown.
5. Advanced cranial surgeries for the time
If we have to talk of interesting facts about the Incas, the Incas trepanations have to be on our list. The Inca civilization was the result of the rise and decadence of many pre-Inca cultures that preceded them. All of them were developed in the current Peru territory. We are talking about Caral, Chavin, Paracas, Nazca, and Wari, among others. Especially the Paracas culture (between 300 B.C and 200 A.C), they were the first to practice this kind of ancient craniotomy. They used instruments of gold and silver alloy, cotton, and bandages, including gauze, making small holes in the skull and keeping the area disinfected from contaminants, showing advances in high knowledge in cranial surgery for the time. Of course, the Incas, who conquered these cultures, acquired this knowledge, successfully implementing them. Not in vain, in archeological zones of Peru were discovered the largest number of trepanned skulls in the world. Further studies even claim that the owners of these skulls survived the trepanations and lived normal lives until old age, incredible!
6. No coins, better barter
It’s not a secret that the Inca’s civilization didn’t know the coin. Despite using the gold and silver minerals to make offerings (sculptures), instruments for rituals, and even cranial trepanations (knives, fasteners, needles), they never thought to use them in the production of coins or other elements to make transactions. This fact shows us the religious, even health, and importance that the Incas gave to the precious minerals, very far from earthly and everyday affairs like transactions or the buying and selling of something. Instead of coins, they preferred the barter, a form of interchange of products, corn for potatoes, kiwicha for legumes, llamas for alpacas, all equitable, without the intervention of precious minerals that only were destined to the god adoration, health topics, and the use in the jewelry of high-class people. For this reason, if you are wondering What is Machu Picchu? You can find an answer in this explanation, a town of High-class people who used gold and minerals jewelry, among other explanations.
7. Ayni, the service as a payment method
Besides the barter, the other form to acquire a product was providing a service, this method of service barter was called Ayni. You help me build my house, plow my land, cultivate my products, and after I will help you. The “word contract” was highly respected in Inca times. Even, the Ayni could be useful to achieve the social goals of a town, community, or even the same empire. In this form, the constructions of bridges, Tambos (Little houses where corn, potatoes, and dried meat, were stored for times of famine), and other forms of minor construction were carried out. Of course, the big constructions were exclusive to the Inca sovereign and its architecture. Reciprocity as a form of payment. Without a doubt, this is one of the most fascinating facts about the Incas. Even, nowadays, many Andean communities still practice the Ayni, creating solidarity, fraternity, and strong ties.
8. They didn’t know the wheel but did the llamas
Nowadays, the world’s academics still discuss How a civilization could move giant lithic blocks to build amazing stone structures, in the Andean highlands, without knowing the wheel? Of course, many theories appear, but the most accepted (in the case of construction) is the oiled log method. They put lubricated trunks under the giant lithic blocks, to be taken from their stone quarry to the same construction site. In this way, the stone block was tied and pulled, employing ropes, by thousands of men and slaves, slipping on the trunks. In daily life, things were easier, Incas used llamas as animals of burden to transport their products because these camelids proved to be stronger and more resistant than their cousins the alpacas or vicuñas. However, the non-use of the wheel will be one of the most strange facts about the Incas. For this reason, one of the most interesting things to do in Machu Picchu is to see the lamas take a walk in the same citadel. They arrived there bringing some types of burden, and finally, they stayed there.
9. 30,000 miles of well-affirmed paths like the Romans
The network of Inca roads was so fascinating that scholars compare them with the Roman road system. We have to take into consideration that the geography of Tawantinsuyo territory was and is one of the most rugged in the world, with mountains, snow-capped mountains, ravines, valleys, coasts, and jungle, to mention some natural environments. And, without mention, the Andean range of mountains that crosses it from north to south. In this form, the Inca road network had to be well signed, and built and should pass by safety zones of firm ground. Well, the Incas achieved it. With more than 30,000 miles of paths throughout 2,500,000 square kilometers, from the west of current Colombia and north of Ecuador to the middle of Chile. The Tawantinsuyo was well-connected with these paths, in which transited persons and lamas. Nowadays, this network of Inca roads has been revalued by the Peruvian government, putting them in value, the program is called “Qapac Ñam” and its most famous example is the Inca trail from 82 km to Machu Picchu. Definitely, the Qapac Ñam is one of the most interesting facts about the Incas that you have to know and visit, too!
10. Chasquis, the Inca messenger system
When the first Spanish chroniclers (people who described everything they saw in Cusco when they entered the Inca capital with the Spanish conquerors) saw the Inca sovereign eat fresh fish, staying more than 700 kilometers away from the beach, were surprised. How was this possible? Maybe, for the efficient messenger system that they implemented with an important agent, the Chasqui. The Chasquis were messengers situated at strategic points throughout all Qapac Ñam (Network of Inca paths). Once they received a message, they quickly covered great distances to give the message to another Chasqui who will do the same until give the message to the right person. If the night came before, they spent the night in Tambos (Storage where provisions of corn, dried meat, and potatoes were kept for times of famine) There, in a special area, the Chasquis could sleep. They could not always transmit messages, but objects and products too. Also, they always live in pairs, while one slept, the other traveled. For example, one of the most interesting Machu Picchu facts was that a message could travel from Cusco to the Citadel in less than one day! Definitely, this is one of the most amazing facts about the Incas that you know now!
11. Incas majority were vegetarian
If Cusco was the political and religious capital of Tawantinsuyo, the Sacred Valley was their resting and producing zone. This valley, located to the north of Cusco, had fertile lands, in addition to a good climate and beautiful landscapes. In this sense, the Incas could cultivate there a great variety of grains of corn, Quinua, tomatoes, Kiwicha, Potatoes, and even legumes. Therefore, no wonder that the main daily food that the Incas ate was vegetables and Andean cereals. Only on special occasions and a few times during the year, they could eat the meat of Cuy or Guinea pig, and the Cecina (dried meat) which was dehydrated and dried salted meat. The last one was consumed more during famine periods. Of course, we are talking about the diet of the middle class, working-class, and conquered people, because the upper class had a very different diet. The elite could eat meat not only of Cuy but also Cecina and Alpaca meat, for more periods during the year. We refer to the same Inca sovereign, his relatives, families, nobles, priests, and military generals. For this reason, among the facts about the Incas, this is one of the newest and most recently discovered.
12. They never cared about famine
This doesn’t mean that the Incas never faced famine period due to natural disasters or catastrophes events, quite the opposite. It is recorded that the Incas suffered from periodic natural disasters like the El Niño phenomenon (currents of warm waters from the north that mix in front of the Peruvian coast with the current of cold Humboldt waters that come from the south), every 6 years when the rivers overflowed, there were torrential rains, mudslides and consequently famines. For this reason, the Incas were cautious and built Tambos, storage where potatoes, corn, chuño or dehydrated potatoes, and dried meat, among others. The Tambos were situated in the highlands zones of hills, and mountains, to conserve a range of optimal temperatures (around 0ºC). Therefore, in the case of famines, they could be supplied for at least 4 months. For this reason, if you are wondering Where is Machu Picchu located? You will see that the citadel is situated on the top of a mountain of the same name, Machu Picchu. Close to the mountain summit, having into consideration that the Inca’s citadel had Tambos to reserve the food of its population.
13. Three world levels in their belief
The Inca’s worldview is another entire camp of study these days. The topic has many interesting facts about the Incas, like that they were polytheists, had the Sun as the main deity, to another one, more powerful, the creator of everything like Wiracocha, as a secondary god. Also, they worshiped deities of nature, such as lightning, the earth, the moon, and the stars, having the duality as the main characteristic of its religion (Everything had to be in pairs, fire, and water, earth and sky, among others). Concerning the “other life”, the Incas believed in three planes, the Uku Pacha or the underground world, where the dead, mummies, and the unborn resided, caves, and any fissure in the earth’s surface were considered its gateway. The Kay Pacha or “this world”, where the humans inhabit and developed their lives. And the Hanan Pacha, or the “The heavenly world or above”, where the gods, the Apus (mountain spirits), and the souls of Inca sovereigns resided. It is said that the condor (species of Andean vulture) was the messenger between Hanan Pacha and Kay Pacha.
14. Their buildings were aligned with their worldview
It is no coincidence that all Incas temples, buildings destined for the worship of the gods, and military fortress has been built close to mountain summits, Andean highlands, and the top of hills. They wanted to be close to their deities, close to the Hanan Pacha, close to the constellations. In this form, they built their edification in sync with the movements of their worldview deities. The sunrise movement in the case of Ollantaytambo or Machu Picchu (This is one of the great mysteries of Machu Picchu today), with the disposition of some constellations (displacement of Pisac architecture among others). Because, anyway, they wanted to feel a connection with the world above. Even these days, these facts about the Incas continue to intrigue archaeologists and researchers. The high knowledge of astronomy that the Incas had.
15. Today, some live Inca style
Nowadays, the ancient Tawantinsuyo territory is occupied by the Peru Republic. A modern state that reassesses, investigates and preserves the Inca legacy. In this context, in some zones of Peru Andean, especially in rural zones, the people still speak the ancient language of the Incas, the Quechua, and ancient Inca festivities are celebrated like the Andean new year (June 21), the Inti Raymi or the festival of the sun (June 24), among others. Before drinking any liquid (beer, juice, Chicha, soda), the locals spill some of that drink on the floor to give thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for that food. They still make land payments, these are kind of bundles with sweets and offerings that are buried for the Pachamama. They still eat potatoes cooked in a clay block oven, made on the same land, called “Huatia”. These are only some examples of customs and traditions that the current Andean Peruvian conserve and practice. If you want to see these practices directly, we recommend you book an experiential tourism package in Cusco, you can share a moment of lunch or breakfast with a local Andean family. A unique opportunity!
“YOU CAN’T CROSS THE SEA MERELY BY STANDING AND STARING AT THE WATER. LET’S TRAVEL”
In conclusion, the facts about the Incas are many and, most of them, are still being studied. But, in this article, we selected the most relevant, confirmed, and amazing facts for you. To give interesting information about this culture and prepare you for your next vacation in Peru. We don’t have any doubt that you will want to come to Peru once finish reading it. The experts of Machu Travel Peru are waiting for you to absolve any doubt or suggestion that you have during your planning a trip to Machu Picchu or Peru. Don’t hesitate to contact us at any moment, we are glad to answer you as soon as possible and answer all your doubts. See you soon in a new opportunity!