Contributions of the Incan Civilization

The Pucara of Sacsayhuaman Ruins

The most awe-inspiring contribution of Inca contribution to society today is in architecture. Incan architecture did not have the subtlety of the Mayan, with its profuse ornamentation; nor had it the emotional impact of the Aztec; but Incan engineering and structural daring--the grandiose concept of its cities and the handling of rock masses-- finds no rival in either the New World of the Old. The number and size of Incan architecture, even in ruins, is overwhelming. Sites such as Macchu Picchu, perched in a saddle 10,000 ft high between two Andean peaks, gives us an idea of what Incan urban planning must have been like. The pucara, or fortress, of Sacsahuaman that guarded Cusco is a case in point. It is without doubt one of the greatest structures of its kind anywhere. Fifteen hundred feet in length, compsed of three massive tiers of stone walls, which have a combined height of 60 feet. The walls are broken into 46 salients, retiring angles, and butresses. The cyclopean foundations contain stones which weigh more than 30 tons; these stones had beveled edges. The 300,000 or more stones that form the fortress are irregularly polygonal and locked so well structurally that they have defied innumerable earthquakes as well as the attempts of man himself to dislodge them. The fortress, replete with fighting towers, underground passages, habitations and an intricate system of water distribution, was begun in 1438 and finished in 1508; took 30,000 workmen over 70 years to complete.

Stone Paved Trail Segment, Inca Trail

Roads, Bridges, and the courier system were several contributions the Inca made to current society. The Incas took over the roads of earlier civilizations and developed more than 10,000 miles (16,000 km) of new all-weather highways. Since Pre-Colombian Peruvians did not have the wheel, the roads were developed for foot and llama caravans. The Andean road, since it crossed mountainous terrain, was narrower; it varied between 15 and 24 ft. Its length was 2,350 miles and it had no less than 100 bridges, either of wood or stone, or fiber-cable suspension; four bridges alone crossed the chasms of the Apurimac River. Distance markers were used avery 42/2 miles and rest stations were placed alongside the road every 12-18 miles.

Examples of Freeze-dried foods

The Inca developed the concept of freeze-dried foods. They put them on mountain terraces, and the solar radiation and extrememly cold temperatures combined with the harvester's trampling on them created a freeze-dried product that lasted indefinetly. The Incas stored their potatoes and other food crops on the mountain heights above Machu Picchu. The cold mountain temperatures froze the food and the water inside slowly vaporized under the low air pressure of the high altitudes.
During World War II, the freeze-dried process was developed commercially when it was used to preserve blood plasma and penicillin. Freeze-drying requires the use of a special machine called a freeze-dryer, which has a large chamber for freezing and a vacuum pump for removing moisture. Over 400 different types of freeze-dried foods have been commercially produced since the 1960s. Two bad candidates for freeze-drying are lettuce and watermelon because they have too high a water content and freeze-dry poorly. Freeze-dried coffee is the best-known freeze-dried product.

Inca agricultural terraces in Pisac

The Incas further developed the use of terraces for agricultural farming. These terraces provided flat ground for food production, while at the same time protecting the city centers from erosions or landscapes which are common in the Andes. In Spanish these raised agricultual "systems" are called Andinas, which come from the word Andes. Benefits of this agricultural system include defense against potential floods, and landslides. A very unusual terrace cultivation site is the one near Moray (called the Moray Terraces). It consists of "sunken" circular terraces. They were dug into the ground and resemble meteorite craters. It is believed that the Incas were experimenting by planting under different conditions: it was colder deeper in the craters, warmer on the higher levels and again, different types of soil were used according to plant species and the sunlight intensity was also variating from higher to lower ground.

Terraces at Moray