Peru Before Pizarro

C.A. Burland describes the highly developed, sprawling and ancient Incan civilisation in the years preceding its conquest by the Spanish seaborne empire.

Archaeologists tell of many civilizations in ancient Peru, and the word Inca with which we are all familiar takes a minor place in the story. The effect is apt to be confusing until one understands that the Inca dictatorship in its last days imposed a superficial unity on a vast assemblage of tribes and nations of different degrees of civilization, from befeathered hunters of the Amazonian jungle, to hardy mountaineers of the high Andean plateaus, and the luxurious people of the arid tropical coastlands. These coastlands covered a length of the South Pacific equivalent to the distance from Trondjem to Lisbon in Europe. When one reads the tragic tale of the Inca Empire’s end, and the murders and strife which followed among the barbarous followers of Pizarro, the whole narrative forms a unity. There is one country, one native language, one road system. The successive tragedies are acted out on a unified stage. But before 1460 this could not have been so. At that date the Incas consolidated their power over the great Chimu kingdom of the northern coast, and brought to an end the diversity and wonderful complexity of life which make early Peruvian archaeology so fascinating to the few specialists who have taken up its study.

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