After Peru’s Nazca Culture and the Mayans
South America until the Spanish
Central America until the Aztecs
There were two important societies in South America in the late part of the first millennium after Christ. They were the Wari and the Tiwanaku, probably the greatest of the forerunner’s of the Incas. These cultures were both the descendants of the Norte Chico culture. Please read the following news story;
Research News from National Public Radio
Ancient, Complex Peruvian Communities Explored
by Christopher Joyce
All Things Considered, December 22, 2004 • Along the coast of central Peru, a remarkable sight is emerging from underneath the desert sand. Archeologists have found the ruins of some 20 communities clustered along three rivers. Some date back 5,000 years. People there grew crops and built huge stone monuments that predate the Egyptian pyramids. As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, it's believed to be the oldest complex culture in the Americas.
The region where the ancient sites are located is bone dry, except for the land that lies along river valleys that run down to the Pacific Coast. There, archaeologists found mounds of earth; inside were terraced stone platforms, some 80 feet high.
Archeologist Jonathan Haas of Chicago's Field Museum says the region's climate dried up about 3,000 years ago. That drove hunters and gatherers to the coast, where they settled and began to fish. As Haas and his colleagues report in the current issue of the journal Nature, they also built villages inland along the rivers and grew vegetables and cotton. Trade followed, along with monumental buildings and other trappings of urban life.
There are other places in the Americas with signs of settlement and agriculture as old as those in the Norte Chico region of Peru. But none was as complex, says anthropologist and Peru expert Dan Sandweiss at the University of Maine.
Haas says it's not clear why these communities died out, and what influence they might have had on the Nazca and Inca cultures that followed.
"I've been doing archeology for more than 35 years, and I've been stunned by the archeology we're running into," Haas says. "It's like somebody has granted my very best wish."
An earlier news article from the Smithsonian Magazine, about the work of a Peruvian archaeologist who claims that the one mentioned above committed gross plagiarism in copying her work, is interesting. A Dr. Shady has claimed her work was copied by the above mentioned scholar. Leaving Dr. Shady’s claims of plagiarism aside, which you can read on the internet if you like, we move on;
The Wari and the Tiwanaku worshipped the same gods and lived in networks of trade and barter and had similar architecture. In other ways there were very different. Their geography was that of modern day Peru. Wari was the more centralized of the two, east of Lima and high in the Andes mountains it first rose to prominence during the 6th century. While other less sophisticated cultures for which we have less evidence were being decimated by the long drought and then El Nino type floods and were disintegrating, the Wari were beginning to thrive. One clue as to its success may have been its method of agriculture, with extensive terracing of steep mountains and irrigation to complement. Peru has more farmable, which is called arable, land above 9,000 feet than below for some odd reason, probably having to do with uplift of useful land after the Great Flood when the Andes were formed. By diverting snow melt from the ice caps high in the mountains to their high farm terraces, they were literally able to rise above the great drought and the subsequent flooding that crippled the lowlanders.
The main crop in the highlands was the potato which, unlike maize, a cereal grain we in the United States call corn, grows at altitudes of 14,000 feet. The potato, cultivated in hundreds of varieties, can be left in the ground for as long as a year if the weather remains cold to be dug up and cooked when needed. Maize, though, was the popular food and what people wanted as it was the preference of the elite and the base from which chicha, a potent alcoholic drink, was made. And because terraces soaked up more sunlight in high altitudes than the steep slopes maize was able to be grown at higher altitudes than usual, as well. This was the Wari genius. Using their advanced farming methods as a tool for cultural and political influence they brought vast amounts of their neighbors into their sphere controlling a thousand mile long swath of the Peruvian Andes.
One sign of their influence was the spread of their religion in which something called Staff God was most important. The staff was transformed in a stalk of maize and was worshipped. Wari farming techniques had reclaimed more than a million acres of cropland from mountainsides that anywhere else would have been considered too dry, steep, and cold for agriculture. Today, most of the terraces are abandoned but to the Spanish who conquered the region the mountains appeared to be covered by flights of stairs, in the words of one Jesuit priest.
Wari’s capital city, also named Wari, existed on an mountain plateau near the modern city of Ayacucho. Beginning in the first centuries AD the city ultimately spread across two square miles, with two story and three story buildings in compounds separated by massive walls. Peasant homes and palaces are built in a similar style. Everything was enclosed behind high, white walls with no standout public buildings or great open spaces;
just a thick mass of walls and narrow streets covered in garbage. It appears that the walls were intended for privacy, not protection, as Wari would have been a hard place to defend. Along the spine of the Andes the empire set up a string of 12 or so administrative centers that were miniature versions of the capital. There is little record of Wari warfare as its supremacy was most certainly commercial and intellectual.
Wari emissaries eventually moved into an area between Lake Titicaca and the coast of the Pacific Ocean called Cerro Baul. Today, this area is regarded as an apu or an ancient spirit transformed into a rock. This was a difficult place to live as it is a 500 yard long mesa with no water. To bring water in, the Wari carved a fifteen mile canal through the mountains and then had a long line of servants passing up full containers of water hand to hand to serve the priests and princes above. Once the empties were sent back down they were refilled and back up they went.
About 750AD, archaeologists tell us, after the Wari had been at Cerro Baul for a hundred years, Tiwanaku from the region of the lake moved into the area. Anthropologists, or those who study human cultures in history, report that Tiwanaku City, which was the capital of their culture, was located at the south end of Lake Titicaca. At 12,600 feet it was the highest city in the Americas and possibly the world. Tiwanaku dominated the many small cities around it, not by military conquest, but by its religious power. People in the region ascribed much supernatural power to its priests and its state religion served the function of a mighty army but at much less cost. The demonic power that the spirit world holds over many non-Christian cultures is extraordinary, with fear and wonder being the main expression of religious belief. Local rulers subordinated themselves to obtain supernatural favor. The city of Tiwanaku underscored the awe and power the culture invoked over its people.
Ruling over the skyline of the city was a seven tiered pyramid, Akapana, laid out in a pattern similar to what is known as The Andean Cross. This is a stepped shape that some claim is inspired by the Southern Cross constellation and represents the four quarters of the world. So massive were its stone pillars that the first European to see the city, Pedro Cieza de Leon, said that he could not even begin to understand the kind of tools that would have been used to create such a monument. Akapana rose from the center of a large moat and imitated the look of the surrounding mountains.
A precisely engineered and very sophisticated water system at the summit had water cascading down the sides of the monument like a mountain waterfall. Nearby was a smaller structure; a large, walled enclosure called Kalasasaya, or the Gateway of the Sun, cut from a single block of stone. Unlike other ancient cities this one, according to some archaeologists, was even at its height, partially in ruins and incomplete, left that way to impart some type of ancient authority and credibility to its splendor. One Spanish scholar noted in the 16th century that these people built their monuments as if it was never their intent to finish them but to always be in process. Scholars tell us that completion was not the object, but constant purposeful activity was the object.
Unlike western cities, Tiwanaku had no market. Andean societies were based on exchange of goods and services through the power of their family groups and government control, not market forces, which is why you don’t see many market places in these ancient cities. Citizens grew their own food and made their own clothes, had them handed down through their family or kinship association, or picked them up from government warehouses. The city’s purpose was for concentrating the political and religious authority of the elite. Tiwanaku carried this idea to an extreme. Archaeologists, who study the physical remains of the past, and Anthropologists, who study human cultures in the past and present, have called Tiwanaku a combination between the Vatican and Disneyland, a religious capital designed for show, with a small population, or as one source said, a staff, to work the pilgrims it attracted which must have numbered in the thousands.
The encounter between the Wari and the Tiwanaku at Cerro Baul must have went smoothly because excavation of nearly 1,000 graves has shown no evidence of large scale violence. They lived together peacefully but, paradoxically, in different neighborhoods, and they cooperated in the provision of the essential water supply. They kept themselves culturally distinct and seemed to have kept social contact to a minimum. The Wari finally abandoned Cerro Baul in about 800AD, symbolically burning their homes and smashing their pottery, soon to be followed by the Tiwanaku. The reason may have been another extended period of drought.
Another great empire, the Chimor, followed soon after, extending its hegemony over 700 miles of Peruvian coastline. Its strength was growing maize and cotton by irrigating almost 50,000 acres around the Moche River, an agricultural feat not imitated again until 1960. In about 1100AD another weather inspired catastrophe made irrigation impossible for a time so government forced gangs of captive labor built a 53 mile, masonry lined canal to channel water from the Chicama River, in the next valley north. The canal was a failure and some archaeologists suggest that it was meant to be a PR stunt to show people that the government was really making an effort to combat the drought.
When the drought was over Chimor decided to expand and left its capital, Chan Chan, a city reserved only for the elite. The three story palaces, one hundred feet on each side, were barred to commoners except for a few artisans and craftsmen. Chan Chan was short on usable buildings because dead rulers were viewed as divine figures and their mummified bodies continued to “live large” in their own homes and could not be displaced. They were even invited to important state occasions. Each new ruler had to build his own palace and provide his own riches as the dead rulers kept theirs. This kept the rulers ambitious with new building projects.
The largest Chan Chan palace is thought to have belonged to Minchacaman, the eleventh king of the Chimor dynasty, who according to one Spanish account, conquered a large swatch of coastline. He would have been even more successful probably if he hadn’t lived at the time of the emergence of another group’s newly acquired ruler, more powerful and more ambitious. I am speaking of the Inca’s Pachakuti.
Pachakuti’s brother, Qhapaq Yupanki, led the Inca army in 1450 to besiege the city-state of Cajamarca, in the foothills east of Chimor. Cajamarca’s leader was allied with Minchacaman, who then came to his aid. After an ambush set by Yupanki, Minchacaman was forced to retreat from Cajamarca. Yupanki was so successful that his brother, Pachakuti, was afraid he might want the throne so he had him executed on his return home at the head of his victorious army to Cuzco, their capital.
Ten years later, according to Spanish chronicles, Pachakuti sent out another army under his own son, the person he had designated as his successor, Thupa Inka Yupanki. The Incas were now taken very seriously. By threatening its water supply the Inka paralyzed Chimor’s defenses and took Minchacaman back to Cuzco along with his artisans, determined to make their capital greater than Chan Chan. When the Spanish conqueror, Pizarro, held his victory celebration in Cuzco 70 years later, it was a city more opulent and beautiful than anything he had ever seen in Europe. Pachakuti’s successful 25 year effort to build an empire was done often in a surprisingly peaceful manner with “foreign aid” and an ever growing influence in the soon to be conquered cities and regions until there was no question of Inca primacy. He spent a great deal of his time building his lavish capital, to reflect his own glory, as emperors often do.
At the heart of Cuzco was the plaza of Awkaypata, 625 feet by 550 feet, carpeted with white sand carried in from the Pacific and raked daily by the city’s army of workers. Large villas and temples surrounded the square on three sides, their walls made from immense blocks of stone cut so precisely and fit so tight that Pizarro’s younger cousin, Pedro, reported that a pin could not be inserted into the joints. Across the front of the buildings were enormous plates of polished gold.
When the sun filled the plaza with its white sand and its sheets of gold, it was filled with light and quite impressive. The plaza was the center of the empire and, to the Inca, the center of the universe. The network of spiritually powerful lines called zeq’e that linked holy sites such as tombs, shrines, and other landmarks called wak’a was so complex and difficult to understand that the Inca had, according to the Spanish, a thousand men whose job it was just to remember what went to what. One big stone outside of the city was believed to be the petrified body of one of the original Inca brothers who founded the culture and was often carried with the armies, dressed in fine clothes as a sort of talisman.
By 1491 the Inca ruled the largest empire on the earth. It was bigger than Ming Dynasty China, larger than Ivan the Great’s Russia, larger than the Songhai Empire in Africa, Zimbabwe, the Ottoman empire, or any European state at the time. The empire encompassed every conceivable type of terrain from the rain forest of the Amazon to the deserts of the Peruvian coast to the snow capped heights of the Andes Mountains. They attempted to unite a large group of different people with different languages and religion into one entity, speaking only Runa Sumi, the Inca language. They practiced an Assyrian
type of removal where entire populations were transported to foreign areas and forced to work on government projects, moving them around the largest system of roads on the
planet. To organize this vast empire they developed a unique system of writing based on a series of knots on string that formed a binary code similar to today’s computer languages. The Inca homeland is not only high but very steep with slopes of more than 65 degrees in many places. It is amazing that so many people lived in such vulnerable circumstances. By combining foods and products from many different environments through exchange between the many varied people in the empire the Inca’s managed to live a better life than any one ethnic group could have maintained on their own.
The empire grew fast and was short lived, lasting less than a hundred years. As early as 1350 they were a relatively unimportant people but legend has it, told by Spanish chroniclers, that a family of four brothers and four sisters left the region around Lake Titicaca for some unknown reasons and wandered until they arrived at the site of their future capital of Cuzco. Archaeologists claim that this migration began around 1200. They slowly became more powerful until a confrontation with another group, the Chanka, in 1438, led to a war that was won by a leader who refused to run, Inka Cusi Yupanki, who captured many Chanka leaders and skinned them alive in victory celebration. This Inka Yupanki, after winning a dispute against his father, declared himself Pachacuti, and stated that all Inca emperors were descended from the sun. He then went about conquering everything he saw.
The Inca homeland was called Tawantinsuyu or the Land of the Four Quarters. It was a socialist state where every citizen owed the government forced labor and where everything belonged to the government, especially to the Inca emperor personally. The state fed and clothed all work gangs as they built dams, terraces, and irrigation canals, grew crops on state lands, raised herds on state pastures, and made pottery in state factories. They paved highways and supplied the runners and Llamas carrying messages and goods that ran along them.
The Inca emperor was treated as a god. He was carried on a golden litter as he did not walk in public. People left the roads when he passed, climbing the hillsides, worshipping and adoring him. One of the expressions of adoration was to pull out their eyelashes and eyebrows, according to one Spanish chronicler named Gamboa. His servants collected and stored every item he touched, body waste included, to make sure that no lesser human being touched them and profaned their sacredness. The ground was not good enough to receive the Inca emperor’s saliva so he spat in the hand of a special servant who wiped it on a special cloth and stored it for safekeeping. Once a year everything touched by the Inca leader including his bedding, clothing, garbage, and saliva was burned in a ceremony.
Thupa Inca, the tenth Inca emperor, started the practice of the emperor marrying his sister in order to maintain the purity of the royal line. The Inca’s sister-wife would accompany him on military expeditions with up to a thousand concubines or subordinate
wives. This didn’t seem to slow him down as by 1493 Thupa Inca had sent armies deep into current day Ecuador and Chile, doubling the empire. With so many potential heirs around in the many offspring produced it was common for the person who would succeed the emperor to start killing his brothers and then picking a sister to marry. The eleventh Inca, Wayna Qhapaq, was an organizer rather than a conqueror and he focused on government works projects even making a work crew move a small mountain just to keep them busy. Spanish conquistadors reported several roads leading from the same small towns each one built by a different Inca emperor.
Much information we have about the Inca comes from Spanish sources who interviewed the vanquished in great detail to understand their history. In 1615, the writer, Felipe Guaman Poma De Ayala, presented a massive history of the Incas with over 400 drawings to the king of Spain. It is now a fundamental source of information on the empire.
Uncharacteristically, Wayna Qhapaq went on an expedition to southern Ecuador, where he was born on one of his father’s military expeditions, and he liked it so much he had a great palace built at a city now called Cuenca, and sent Atawallpa on to conquer a few more provinces with his generals. This expedition was beaten badly and even when Wayna himself returned to lead his armies he was humiliated in defeat by jungle people who refused to be subdued. He finally died in his Ecuadorian palace. A bloody succession battle followed and it seems that on his deathbed he passed over Atawallpa, who had not impressed him in battle, and chose another son, who died of the same illness even before the emperor. He then picked another son whom the priests said was not favored by the gods but when they tried to report this to Wayna, they found that he had already died. The court nobles settled on the nineteen year old boy he had chosen but whom the priests had rejected. Atawallpa stayed in Ecuador supposedly because he knew his life expectancy would be short if he went back to the capital.
Wayna Qhapaq’s mummified body was dressed in fine clothing and taken back to Cuzco on a gold litter covered with feathers. Noblemen plotted to kill the new boy emperor and install someone else on the throne. Realizing his danger, with Atawallpa having stayed behind in Ecuador with the majority of the Inca army, the 19 year old emperor, Washkar, had the nobles executed. Since Wayna Qhapaq had not married Washkar’s mother it was commanded that she marry the mummy in an elaborate ceremony in order to make his succession legitimate. He then married his sister over the objections of his mother who did not seem to have too much of a problem marrying her dead brother.
Civil war immediately followed that seesawed over the Andes mountains for three years. Initially the advantage went to Washkar, who even went to Ecuador and captured Atawallpa, who nearly lost one of his ears as it was almost torn off in his capture. In stockade, Atawallpa had one of his wives smuggle him in a weapon by which he dug his way out. It seems that his guards had gotten drunk and allowed a conjugal visit to take
place during which the wife/sister snuck in the tools necessary for escape. He reassembled his army and on a plateau near today’s Peru-Ecuadoran border the forces led by Atawallpa destroyed Washkar’s army. Ten years later the Spanish chronicler, Cieza de
Leon, personally saw the battlefield and estimated the number of the fallen by the remains of the unburied dead to be about 16,000. Washkar’s main general was captured and beheaded, a bowl was mounted to his skull with a spout between his teeth, and Atawallpa used it as a cup to drink intoxicating chicha.
Washkar and Atawallpa met in a huge battle at the head of their armies in a final battle that de Leon estimated cost the lives of 35,000 soldiers. Washkar was captured in an ambush and was taken captive to Cuzco where he was forced to watch his wives, children, and relatives loyal to him killed in front of his eyes.
In October or November of 1532, the victors learned that a pale, hairy people who sat on enormous animals had landed on the coast. Atawallpa, curious, was content to wait for the new visitors to come to him. Pizarro, leader of the expedition of only 168 Spanish soldiers managed to arrange the place of the meeting with the emperor. At Cajamarca on November 16, 1532 the Spanish, vastly outnumbered by thousands of Inca armed only with ceremonial weapons specifically for the meeting with the aliens, had hid their horses and cannon out of sight. The Spanish were so scared of this mighty emperor and his large army that Pizarro wrote that many men wet themselves in terror while waiting. A Spanish priest presented Atawallpa with a breviary, a book containing hymns and prayers which, as it meant nothing to him, was promptly and contemptuously thrown aside. This was, to the Spanish, a legitimate reason to attack. The attacking Spanish, mounted on horses, in metal armor, and firing cannons, none of which the Inca had ever seen or heard before, routed the thousands of Inca troops in a stampede that trampled hundreds to death.
Atawallpa was captured after Pizarro personally grabbed him and dragged him from his litter. His personal servants were so loyal that when the Spanish cut off their hands they still tried to hoist the emperor’s litter on their shoulders. Pizarro was not impressed with his victory as his writings reveal that he knew he had marched his men into the jaws of a great empire and his greed and lust for gold was more than matched by his fear. Atawallpa realized early on that gold and precious metals had power over the European mind in a way that they did not over the Inca because the Inca had no currency. He offered to fill a room 22 feet by 17 feet full of gold objects in return for his freedom. Pizarro agreed to his offer.
Atawallpa had his generals strip Cuzco of its silver and gold. Having not actually lived in the city since his youth he had no attachment to it. At the same time he had the captive Washkar killed and all of his own surviving brothers to ensure that no one would ally themselves with the invader against him. Between December of 1532 and May of 1533 caravans of gold and silver flooded into Cajamarca on the backs of Llamas. Without the emperor the entire land of Tawantinsuyu was frozen. No one was able to act against the Spaniards. It was the nature of their empire, absolute control from the top and no action
without the emperor’s will or word. The Spaniards were not able to handle the tension, the expectation of being massacred at any moment, and they did not keep their part of the bargain. They strangled Atawallpa. Then they marched on Cuzco. In one fell stroke, a
motley band of 168 soldiers and priests had destroyed the largest contiguous empire on earth at that time.
The Inca’s were defeated by superior technology, first, but in the long run it was their inability to act independently against a common threat that finished them.
The Inca’s absolute dependence on the protection and authority of the top level of government made them helpless when that top level was not capable of wielding power. The Spanish’ great challenge was the massive Inca road system designed not for horses, but for men and llamas. It often went straight up like giant stairways and was perfect for ambushing men forced to lead their horses. Spanish adventurer Alonso Enriquez de Guzman reported in his writings that Inca stone slingers, much like David in his confrontation with Goliath, could kill a horse or break a sword in two pieces with one stone slung at 30 paces. The Inca ambushers would also heat stones until they were red hot and then wrap them in pitch soaked cotton, slinging them at the invaders with deadly success, something which could be done faster than a primitive firearm could be fired accurately and reloaded. Added to the bows, javelins, maces, and clubs they were fearsome, nearly silent weapons of attack on the high mountain roads.
Smallpox always seemed to precede the arrival of the Spanish into the interior areas of South America because it traveled faster than the conquerors did. The disease that killed Wayna Qhapaq and his son was most definitely that scourge of mankind. It is said by Inca and Spanish chroniclers to have killed 200,000 people in the epidemic that swept through the empire before the Spanish arrived.
One of the most bizarre conditions of the Spanish conquest had to do with the dead emperors of the past. The royal lineages of the Inca, called panaqa, were extremely important. Each new emperor was born into a panaqa and created his own when he put the fringe on his head that symbolized his position. When the Inca died his lineage, his panaqa, mummified his body. Because he was believed now to be a deity (do we remember other emperors considered to be deity in other places), immortal, his body was treated as if it was still alive. Pizarro’s friend, Miguel de Este, saw a parade of dead emperors brought out on litters, seated on their thrones, surrounded by pages and women with flywhisks in their hands, who treated them with as much respect as they would had they been alive.
Because the royal mummies were not considered dead the new emperor could not inherit their wealth or palaces, clothing, or even their eating utensils. In Inca society the emperor literally could take it with him. They still retained tribute over the lands they had conquered in life. Pedro Pizarro wrote that the greater part of the Inca people were under the control of the dead. The mummies spoke through female mediums (see Deuteronomy
18:11 and 1 Samuel 28 in the Bible) who represented them. With almost a dozen immortal emperors fighting for position, upper levels of Inca society were constantly embroiled in a supernatural, sort of horror movie like, intrigue, with the dead
jockeying for positions of power and influence in a way that shocked the Spanish. It was as if they had landed on another planet, which is a sentiment we would feel today.
The Spanish, not being indoctrinated in our Star Trek/Star Wars entertainments merely looked at these people as demon possessed and as under Satan’s power. Although this was true, it was, of course, also true of the Spanish. Wayna Qhapaq had complained that he could not even build his own villa on Awkaypata because his undead ancestors had used up all of the available space. With the decimation caused by the smallpox epidemic the undead fought for power. Atawallpa had Tupa Inka’s mummy “burned alive”, so to speak, and then he ordered the gold for his ransom “stolen” from another long dead rival, Pachacuti.
Washkar, in death, kept the civil war going by dealing with the Spanish through his spokeswomen, his witch. I am not saying that I believe for a moment that Washkar was actually speaking from beyond the grave but merely that this was the way the culture perceived things. Washkar’s panaqa sent one of his younger brothers, Thupa Wallpa, to Cajamarca to meet with Pizarro, proclaiming that he was Washkar’s legitimate heir. Pizarro hid him in his own quarters for his safety. Pizarro was warned that Atawallpa’s army, tens of thousands strong, was on its way to annihilate him, He was told that its general planned on freeing the emperor but the Atawallpa denied the claim was true. Surprisingly, some of the Spaniards were sympathetic to Atawallpa’s plight and asked for an investigation. However, two Inca who had claimed they had fled the invading army came to Pizarro and also warned him of the disaster to come. Pizarro convened a military tribunal and Atawallpa was condemned and executed, the thinking being that the army would not invade if he were dead. Too late it was learned that no such army was on the way and Thupa Wallpa emerged from hiding to take on role of the new emperor.
Berkeley archaeologist, John Rowe, claims that the execution of Atawallpa was part of a conspiracy between Pizarro and Thupa Wallpa and the Lord of Cajamarca, who had been allied with Washkar. Thupa Wallpa openly claimed allegiance to Spain. They then left for the capital, Cuzco, but on the way ran into the first real resistance to Pizarro but local people, native Xauca and Wanka tribes, provided supplies to Pizarro and prevented Atawallpa’s army from burning the town of Hatun Xauxa. Right after the battle Thupa Wallpa died suddenly and the Spanish believed he had been poisoned. Challcochima, one of Atawallpa’s generals who had been captured by Pizzaro, was the prime suspect in Thupa Wallpa’s poisoning and he stepped forward to convince Pizzaro that the next Inca emperor should be one of Atawallpa’s sons. Meanwhile, Washkar’s panaqa sent out another son, Manqo Inka, who promised to swear allegiance to Spain as well. In return, he asked that Pizarro kill Challcochima. Pizarro agreed and the Spaniards publicly burned the general in one of the towns they came to on their journey.
The Spanish were amazed at the vast population of the Inca Empire which, even after the first smallpox epidemic that killed Wayna Qhapaq, was huge, estimated by some, but not all archaeologists and historians, as in the millions. Smallpox struck the empire again in1533, 1535, 1558, & 1565. Based on modern epidemiological studies (epidemiology, the study of disease outbreaks aka epidemics), some researchers believe that 90% of Tawantinsuyu citizens, the Inca empire, were killed.
Moving further north and further back in time, let’s return to the world of the Maya. A ruler named Animal Skull was the 22nd ruler of Tikal coming to power at some point after 562. The catastrophe that struck the entire world in the 6th century did not spare Central America, as we have already mentioned. Animal Skull’s burial chamber has been extensively excavated and many interesting things have been found including a small throne and a protective belt that would be worn during ball games.
The next important leader of the Maya was Nuun Ujol Chaak, reigning in Tikal sometime around 659. The Maya’s glory continued until shortly after 800, when a major wave of abandonment of the cities takes place and by 830 most of the major dynasties had fallen. A famous Mayan city, Chichen Itza, was the most complex city in the northern part of the Maya territory. Its power lasted beyond 900 and the exact date of its abandonment is unknown but it was still a site for religious pilgrimage even after the Spanish conquest.
Another city, Mayapan, rose to prominence to be overthrown in 1441 by a rival city, Xiw. After the Spanish conquest what was left of the Maya retreated further and further into the jungles and were independent into the late 17th century. The island of Noj Peten, better known as Tayasal, on Lake Peten-Itza, was the last strong holdout against Roman Catholicism and Spanish control. Finally, on March 13, 1697 a force of 108 Spanish troops crossed the lake and crushed the Mayan defense. The tiny Lacandon community is the last of the pagan Maya to survive. Impoverished and weakened since the Spanish conquest, the Maya have engaged in several revolts, the most successful being in 1847 in which almost the entire Yucatan peninsula was seized. There was, more recently, a Zapatista revolt in 1994 during which the Maya suffered horribly. It was concluded by a peace accord in 1996. The Maya once ruled great cities and had a population of over ten million by some accounts but today are a poor, backwards people. The most recent news story one hears about them is the loss of an entire Guatemalan village in a hurricane in 2005. Rescue and recovery efforts were abandoned and it became a mass grave.
It is interesting to note that the Olmec, the Maya, and other Mesoamerican (Central or Middle American) societies were world pioneers in mathematics and astronomy. They invented a dozen different systems of writing, established widespread trade networks, tracked the orbits of planets, created a 365 day calendar more accurate than its contemporaries in Europe, and recorded their histories in accordion folded “books” of fig tree bark paper. But, amazingly, they did not use the wheel. They had it but they only
used it for children’s toys. They came up with the concept of “zero” long before it was used in Europe but did not use the wheel.
The big question remains, “why did the Maya abandon their cities?” In the 1930’s, Sylvanus G. Morley of Harvard, came up with what has always been the most accepted and best known theory. He believed that the Maya grew too great to be supported by their environment and eventually faced starvation if they didn’t leave the cities for a more subsistence level life in the jungle. That is what you will be told in traditional textbooks, as I was told, in a way as to warn us against destruction of the ecosystem, a word used heavily in my youth along with its study, ecology. What has been shown by pollen studies in lake sediments, the Maya did cut down much of the forest and plant it in agriculture. The loss of tree cover created wide scale erosion and flooding. With disappearing fields the Mayan farmers would have been forced to seek out terrain less agreeable to agriculture to grow the needed food. Finally, it became impossible to support the civilization they had created and it collapsed. Cities were abandoned and the survivors returned to the jungles to eke out a marginal existence, the 1400 buried alive in mudslides in one village in Guatemala in September, 2005 during Hurricane Stan being the other end of the spectrum.
Strangely, on the other side, there are as many books written about how the Native American population was very in tune with nature and how they lived an eco-balanced life in harmony with nature’s bounty. Both of these beliefs exist side by side. They both can not be true. The fact is that Native American populations were like populations everywhere and used their environment to build civilization until that environment could no longer support it, then they collapsed. As one old time preacher put it, there is a thing called the “Law of Human Collapse” that insists that anything that man does on his own is doomed for failure whether it be a civilization, a culture, or even an institution. This has been proven by history.
We are saving the Aztecs for a different class, along with a few other notable peoples in the Americas. For now, let’s move further north to what is now the United States and Canada.
If you had traveled the Mississippi river around 1100AD you would have seen a four level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza. Around it were about 120 much smaller copies, some with tall wooden forts on top of them. These were all in turn ringed by irrigation and transportation canals, fields of maize, and hundreds of red and white plastered wood homes, with high peaked and thickly thatched roofs like those on traditional Japanese farms. There, at the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers was Cahokia, a busy port and the largest city above the Rio Grande River, pre-eminent in North America from about 950AD to 1250AD. It was, indeed, the only city north of the Rio Grande and with a population of about 15,000 it was about the size of London at its earliest but with a much bigger geographical size of Paris, Cordoba, or Rome. Cahokia was different than most cities we think of in that it consisted of a large
number of farmers living side by side with no middle class that archaeologists can discern and few craftsmen. Archaeologists did not truly begin investigating it until the 1960’s,
even though there was a great fascination with the many thousands of mounds found all over the United States in the 19th century. The area didn’t start to be settled extensively until about 600AD, which coincidentally, lines up with the great world wide catastrophe of the 6th century making you wonder what horror the people who settled there might have been escaping. Was there a disease outbreak in a previous civilization we have yet to discover, an earthquake, famine, droughts?
In any event, archaeologists believe that it was the massive clearing of land and the elimination of the forest that marked Cahokia’s inevitable demise. As the population kept growing it became impossible to permit the forest to return and even their water supply became threatened. It appears that they diverted the main tributary called now Canteen Creek to try to improve their situation. This is thought to have been done between 1100 and 1200AD. What it led to was massive flooding and mudslides. With no tree cover, torrential rains, and normal Mississippi River flooding would have eventually been devastating to the residents of Cahokia. Just remember the devastation wrought by the most recent large scale flooding of the Mississippi in the 1990’s to modern cities and towns.
As the cultivation of maize spread throughout North America large scale manipulation of the environment spread with it, particularly the deliberate burning and clearing of thousands of acres of land creating widespread erosion. A traveler in 1669 reported that six square miles of maize typically encircled Haudenosaunee villages along the Hudson River in New York. Twenty years later the Marquis de Denonville, governor of New France, reported that he had ordered burned the annual harvest of four villages to deter attack and estimated that it amounted to 1.2 million bushels or 42,000 tons of maize. Native Americans also replanted large belts of woodland in fruit and nut trees with the small, sweet American chestnut that has been now virtually extinguished by chestnut blight as being the most popular. In colonial times as many as one out of every four trees between southeastern Canada and Georgia was a chestnut, some archaeologists believe, due to Indian burning and planting.
Hickory was another favorite with it being reported in the 1770’s that families in the Creek Nation in the southeastern United States stored hundreds of bushels of hickory nuts at a time. The North American Indian had converted what originally would have been a giant game park into a mixture of forest and farmland.
On the coast of New England before European colonization was a host of competing Indian tribes that thrived in their environment until strange diseases for which they had no resistance decimated their populations leaving the dead unburied in many villages
empty of life. Around the first century the Hopewell culture had jumped from its beginnings in the Midwest to dominate a trade network that covered the entire North American continent, introducing monumental earthworks and, possibly, agriculture to the
hunting and gathering societies with which it came in contact. Archaeologists claim to have found no evidence of large scale warfare at this time so the Hopewell dominance probably came peaceably by trade. They track the spread of peculiarly Hopewell religious practices by watching the spread of their elaborate funeral rites from their original territory outward. Hopewell began declining about 400AD, we are told, but their trade network lived on with goods from Florida, the Rocky Mountains, and the southeast finding their way to the northeastern United States. By the end of the first millennium AD the New England cultures were transformed with many unique communities gathered around lakes, ponds, and swamps. The major river valleys consisted of large, permanent villages with extensive fields of beans, maize, and squash surrounding every home. Their remains are found along the Connecticut, the Charles, and other river valleys with one town bumping into the next much as we have today. Smaller villages, still permanent, were found along the coast. Most of these coastal Indians seemed to have moved between a summer place and a winter place, not roaming the land, as we are taught by popular movies and books. It was the hunting and gathering societies further north and inland that tended to move around the landscape in search of game.
Coastline families might make a short walk to avoid terrible ocean storms and devastating tides. The people on the coast were called, according to some early colonial sources, “the people of the first light”, and the area was called, “Dawnland”, due to the fact that the sun is first seen in the east. The earliest written description was by Verrazzano, an Italian explorer hired by the king of France in 1523 to discover if one could reach Asia by going around the Americas to the north. English fishermen had probably landed in Newfoundland as early as 1480, however, and there are legendary accounts of Irish and Viking settlers landing on the northeastern coast of North America as much as 500 years before that, something we will touch on later. Verrazzano reported, as he traveled from the coast of the Carolinas that coastline everywhere was “densely populated”. He described the Indians he met as strikingly healthy specimens. The pilgrim writer Thomas Morton was particularly impressed with the natives’ healthy physical appearance in contrast to the half starving and malnourished Europeans that faced them. Verrazzano learned that the further north he went the less friendly the Indians had become which was probably due to more contact with European sailors who routinely kidnapped natives to take back with them. Contact with the Europeans and the disease pool they represented resulted in a massive loss of life for these heavily populated areas and within a century of Verrazzano the landscape had changed drastically.
"Anasazi" is a Navajo word meaning "Ancient Ones." They are thought to be ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians, and inhabited the Four Corners country of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona from about 200AD to1300AD. By 500 they had become farmers living in small villages of normally three but sometimes as many as twelve homes. By 700 the atlatl or spearthrower was replaced by the bow and arrow, they began to add beans and squash to their diet, and they began living in larger communities, making and trading much more elaborate pottery. By 1400AD these people had literally walked away from most of their larger settlements and
congregated in the small areas where the Pueblo Indians now live. No one knows why their impressive stone homes were abandoned and it is a mystery that many archaeologists are studying but for a pre-literate people who leave behind no written records we are left to detective work whose conclusions may or may not be correct. Still, this culture was so widespread and successful for such a long time the investigation is worth the effort for the many mysteries that might be solved in the future. The Anasazi left behind a great deal of trash and ruins to mark their passing plus many oral traditions passed down to modern Indian populations, just no written records.
To summarize our survey of the Americas during the period of time known in Europe as the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, the Medieval period, let me say that it appears that they were more densely populated in comparison to how we have been taught to think of them in the past. Hunting and gathering groups lived relatively near to great cities or large villages and large populations of agriculturally bent farmers. The cultures were often sophisticated and highly advanced by historical standards. Estimates vary as to the exact size of the indigenous populations of the Americas before extensive conquest by the Europeans but many scholars claim that we have, in the past, underestimated by millions the numbers of people that lived here. Disease, plagues, and epidemics took an extremely heavy toll on the Native Americans, a much heavier toll than European conquest alone could have.
Next, we will move our discussion to Europe itself for the period of time from Pope Gregory I to the time of the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire.