Cusco

The Hidden Ancestors of Peru

Lindsay Robbins is a student at Towson University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Cusco, Peru.

If you’ve ever learned about Peru, you’ve probably heard A LOT about the Incan Empire. The culture and the language of the Incas is still very prominent here in Cusco, and rightfully so. I’ll be the first to tell you that everything the Incas did was incredible. However, the Incas were not the first population to live here Peru. In fact, there were plenty of civilizations that lived here before the Incas, including some that date back to even before the Ancient Greeks! All of these civilizations influenced the Incas and helped shape them into the amazing empire that they eventually became.

The first civilization in Peru was Caral-Supe, which was located in the desert just north of Lima. Caral-Supe existed over 4,000 years ago. It is not only the oldest civilization in both Peru and the American continents, but it is also the third oldest civilization in the world. In Caral-Supe, archaeologists found musical instruments, evidence of trade and astronomy, and even the very first Quipu, which we now know as the accounting system of the Incan Empire. The discovery of Caral-Supe was huge for Peru, because it proved that civilizations developed separately outside of Mesopotamia, which was believed to be the origin of all human civilization (a ‘civilization’ being a social development in an advanced state, including some sort of governmental, religious or economic organization).

There were several other civilizations that sprouted up throughout Peru in between Caral-Supe and the Incas, including Sechin, Chavín, Moche, Paracas, Nazca, and Chimú. All of these civilizations had their own complex forms of art, customs and beliefs (you’re probably familiar with the famous Nazca Lines, located in northern Peru). Perhaps the most important of the pre-Inca civilizations were the Wari and Tiwanaku, who were like the great-grandparents of the Inca. Wari was a powerful military-based empire (the first Empire in Peru, actually) and the first civilization to have multiple urban centers, including Pikillaqta. I had the chance to visit Pikillaqta with my History of the Inca class, and it’s easy to see how architecture later influenced the Incas.

Part of the ruins at Pikillaqta. This would have been a home for some of the Wari elite

Tiwanaku was a civilization located in the south of Peru, along the border of Peru and Bolivia. The civilization coexisted at the same time as Wari, and it is believed that Tiwanaku was the closest relative to the Inca. Tiwanaku was small, and was actually protected by the military of the Wari Empire because the two civilizations shared the same religion, which eventually became the religion of the Incas.

What’s so interesting about all of these civilizations is that each one led into the next, which eventually resulted in the final product of the Inca. I knew that Peru was unique, but it turns out the history is even more interesting than I had originally thought. If you decide to come to Cusco, I definitely recommend taking History of the Inca Civilization to learn all about Peru’s complex and fascinating history.

The Wari city of Pikillaqta was the power center of the Empire!

The world awaits…discover it.

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