by Gary R. Ziegler

from AdventureSpecialists Website


Gary Ziegler is an archaeologist, mountaineer and explorer who has spent a lifetime studying the Incas in remote regions of Peru.


He is co-owner of Adventure Specialists, a Colorado ranch based adventure tour operation that runs educational treks, horse trips and research expeditions in Colorado, Peru and Mexico's Copper Canyon.


His expeditions have located the important Inca sites of Corihuayrachina, Cota Cota and Llactapata.


He is a Fellow of The Royal Geographical Society, The Explorers Club and a sometime lecturer at Colorado College. He can be contacted at:


This short non-academic summary of Inca history originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of Dig Magazine, a publication of Archaeology Magazine designed for kids. Simplified in description and language, I present it as a quick introduction to the Inca for those who have not yet taken or may not take the leap into detailed Inca studies.


The Inca represent an incredible human accomplishment, possibly the most organized advanced state of the ancient new world since Homo Erectus began walking upright. Sit vis nobiscum GZ

The construction of Machu Picchu was likely started by order of the Inca emperor Pachacuti, earth shaker, sometime during the mid-15th century. Inca legend relates that Pachacuti ordered the construction of Machu Picchu to celebrate the defeat of a powerful rival ethnic group called the Chancas.

The Inca Empire grew huge in amazingly short time, less than100 years, from a small area in south central Peru to a vast region encompassing all of modern day Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and parts of what is now Colombia, Argentina and Chile. The expansion and development of the Inca into one of the world's great civilizations during such a short time remains one of the mysteries modern science has yet to solve.

The Inca called their empire the Land of the Four Quarters, Tahuantinsuyu. They considered their capital, Cusco to be the geographical/spiritual center or navel of the Inca universe. Ancient people of the Andes mountains gave great importance to observation and reverence of the night sky along with other natural features, rivers and mountains they called apus. The edge of our galaxy, the Milky Way, known to the Inca as the Celestial River or Mayu , is very prominent in South America. The Inca may have adopted the four quarters from the division of the night sky into quarters suggested by positioning of the Milky Way.

The Inca, like Romans of the Old World, were inheritors of several thousand years of human cultural development, traditions and technological evolution. The Inca were masters of using and improving upon what they had learned from earlier peoples. They are best known for amazing feats of engineering, management, road building and astonishing architectural achievements like Machu Picchu, accomplished with only stone, wood and bronze tools.

Through very efficient organization, they effectively managed vast subject populations, agricultural seasons, food distribution, storage, building projects and moving large armies of workers and soldiers without the aid of a written language. Their greatest achievement was the expansion of a small highland state into what may have been the largest empire in the world at the time.

Work on the magnificent site continued until it was abandoned around the arrival of the European conquistadors in Peru in 1532. Machu Picchu, like many Inca projects, was never completed.

The empire came to a tragic end when small pox and other diseases killed the Emperor Huayna Capac and an estimated 2/3 of the population during the years 1526-27. In 1520, a Spanish fleet arrived at the Spanish colony at Panama carrying diseases from Europe previously unknown to the Americas.


Before the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1532, these diseases had spread, eventually arriving to destroy the carefully organized Inca state. When the Europeans arrived, the empire had fallen into a devastating civil war over who would wear the crown of the Inca ruler. Machu Picchu was probably abandoned at this time.

Above: A fragment of Kilke transitional pottery found in a burial tomb on a mountain side near Machu Picchu. The early Inca may have occupied the region long before construction of Machu Picchu began





Right: The Intihuatana stone at Machu Picchu seen during the June solstice sunrise. State Inca religion at the site focused upon sun and mountain worship. This important shrine, called a huaca, seems to replicate the peak of Huayna Pcchu when viewed from a different angle.