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The Tiwanaku empire was the first large state created on the shores of the lake Titicaca, a large deep lake on the borders between Bolivia and Peru, located some 3,800 meters above sea-level. The Tiwanaku empire flourished between 300 and 1150 CE. Although little is known about how it was organized, it may have been more like a federation of several kingdoms which had the city of Tiwanaku as its capital. Tiwanaku may have had 30,000 inhabitants; it was an important religious center and the rulers constructed impressive buildings in stone. They were fishing in lake Titicaca, used the water from the lake to irrigate their fields — often with impressive yields as a result — and they kept llamas.

Less a centralized state than a clutch of municipalities under the common religio-cultural sway of the center, Tiwanaku took advantage of the extreme ecological differences among the Pacific coast, the rugged mountains, and altiplano (the high planes) to create a dense web of exchange: fish from the sea, llamas from the altiplano, fruits, vegetables, and grains from the fields around the lake. Flush with wealth, Tiwanaku city swelled into a marvel of terraced pyramids and grand monuments. Stone breakwaters extended far out into Lake Titicaca, thronged with long-prowed boats made of reeds. With its running water, closed sewers, and gaudily painted walls, Tiwanaku was among the world’s most impressive cities. By 1000 CE the city had a population of as much as 115,000, with another quarter of million in the surrounding countryside.

The Chachapoya culture was located in the part of Peru where the highlands of the Andes meet the Amazonian jungles. There are jungles here 3,500 meters above sea level and many large navigable rivers. Chachapoya culture originally developed around 750 CE and there were major urban centers, like the great fortress of Kuelap, with remnants of hundreds of buildings and massive stone walls. Only some five percent of the archeological sites of the Chachapoya have been excavated. They were conquered by the Incas shortly before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1520s. Since they were treated harshly by the Incas, the Chachapoya sided with the European conquerors.

In the first 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 Chimor kingdom was established around 900 CE and it was the last Peruvian kingdom to resist the Incas, defeated by the Inca emperor Topa Inca Yupanqui in 1470.  The kingdom of Chimor was not located in the highlands of Peru but instead in the narrow strip of coastland, much of it desert, along the Pacific Ocean. Chimor society was sharply hierarchical and divided into four social classes. People survived thanks to fishing and thanks to the irrigation systems they built which made agriculture possible. They worshiped the moon, not the sun, like the Incas. The Chimor kingdom has left remnants in the form of black ceramics, are known for their exquisite metalwork and for the textiles spun from alpaca wool. The capital of Chan Chan was a great center for artisans and craftsmen.

Primary sources:

  • Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of Peru

    Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of Peru

    Garcilaso de la Vega, the first native of the New World to attain importance as a writer in the Old, was born in Cuzco in 1539, the illegitimate son of a Spanish cavalier and an Inca princess. Although he was educated as a gentleman of Spain and won an important place in Spanish letters, Garcilaso was fiercely proud of his Indian ancestry and wrote under the name EI Inca. Read More
  • Cracking the Mayan code

    Cracking the Mayan code

    The Mayan script, also known as Mayan glyphs or Mayan hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, currently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered. The earliest inscriptions found which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century BCE in San Bartolo, Guatemala. Maya writing was in continuous use throughout Mesoamerica until the Spanish conquest of the Maya in the 16th and 17th centuries. Read More
  • Aztec codices

    Aztec codices

    Aztec codices are books written by pre-Columbian and colonial-era Aztecs. These codices provide some of the best primary sources for Aztec culture. The pre-Columbian codices mostly do not in fact use the codex form (that of a modern paperback) and are, or originally were, long folded sheets. They also differ from European books in that they mostly consist of images and pictograms; they were not meant to symbolize spoken or written narratives. Read More
  • Maya codices

    Maya codices

    Maya codice sare folding books stemming from the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican bark cloth, made from the inner bark of certain trees, the main being the wild fig tree or amate. The codices have been named for the cities where they eventually settled. The Dresden codex is generally considered the most important of the few that survive. Read More
  • Guaman Poma

    Guaman Poma

    Felipe Huaman Poma de Ayala, 1535– 1616, was a Quechua nobleman known for chronicling and denouncing the ill treatment of the natives of the Andes by the Spanish after their conquest. Today, Guaman Poma is noted for his illustrated chronicle, Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno. Read More
  • Edward Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico, 1831

    Edward Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico, 1831

    Edward King, Viscount Kingsborough, was an Irish antiquarian who sought to prove that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were a Lost Tribe of Israel. His principal contribution was in making available facsimiles of ancient documents and some of the earliest explorers' reports on Pre-Columbian ruins and Maya civilisation. Several of these volumes are available at Internet Archive. Read More
  • American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Artifacts

    American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Artifacts

    Felipe Huaman Poma de Ayala, 1535– 1616, was a Quechua nobleman known for chronicling and denouncing the ill treatment of the natives of the Andes by the Spanish after their conquest. Today, Guaman Poma is noted for his illustrated chronicle, Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno. Read More
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Conquistadors:

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