Kingdoms of Peru

Everybody has heard of the Incas but next to no one has heard of the many diverse societies that preceded them. Yet there were many cultures, kingdoms and empires in the highlands of the Andes, on the narrow coastal plain of the Pacific Ocean and in the Amazonian jungle. These are a few examples, but there were many others.

The Nazca culture, 100 BCE – 800 CE, flourished in the river valleys of southern Peru. They produced complex textiles and ceramics and are famous for their geophyphs, line-drawing of animals and humans which are best viewed from the sky. [Read more:Huacas, ceque and nazca lines“]

The Tiwanaku empire, 300-1150 CE, was located on the shores of the lake Titicaca. Tiwanaku was a city which at the height of its power may have had some 100,000 inhabitants. The Tiwanakus kept llamas, caught fish in lake Titicaca and used its water to irrigate their fields. They traded widely across their empire which gave them access to a varied diet.

The Muisca Confederation, 1450-1550 CE, was a loose alliance of rulers in the mountains of today’s Colombia. Unusually, they did not build large temples or pyramids, but they developed an elaborate calendar, created artifacts in gold and drank chicha, an alcoholic beverage, in large quantities. Their most prominent members were mummified after their deaths and placed in temples or carried by advancing armies in order to impress their enemies.

Chachapoya society, 750-1500 CE, was located in the Peruvian part of the Amazon. The Chachapoya are most famous for their vertical burial sites. They placed their dead in tiny houses worked into the walls at the highest point of a precipice. In the opening scenes of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones searches the booby-trapped ruins of a Chachapoyan temple for a golden idol.

The Chimú, 900-1470 CE, were located in the Moche Valley of today’s Peru. Their ceramics are all black and their work in precious metals is very intricate. When the Spaniards arrived in the 1520s there were still people who could tell them about Chimú society as it had existed before the Inca invasion.

The empire that the Incas eventually assembled was a patchwork of peoples such as these. By some of them the arrival of the Europeans was greeted as a liberation.

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