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The Incan Empire came to an end in 1572 at the hands of Spanish conquistadores. But what were the people like in this civilization that had its beginnings in the 12th century before conquering the Andes mountains 200 years later?
Inca hated cremation
The Inca believed in reincarnation through a passage down a long, dark road to the next world. To help this, the Inca made sure not to die by burning or allow a body to be burned – they believed that, should the body be burned, the “vital force” of the deceased would disappear, endangering their passage to the next world.
Inca practiced cranial deformation
The Incan nobles made their class distinctions very physical. High-class families wrapped their babies’ foreheads with tight cloth straps to alter the shape of their skulls so they were more conical.
Inca performed human sacrifices
During and after important events, such as the death of the Sapa Inca (the emperor) or during a famine. At the death of Huayna Capac (the eleventh Sapa Inca), as many as 4,000 servants, officials, favorites, and concubines were sacrificed.
The Inca were religiously tolerant
While the Sapa Inca was seen as divine and the head of the state religion, local religious traditions were allowed to continue. In some cases, the local religion was officially venerated, such as the Oracle at Pachacamac.
The Inca had no codified set of laws
Governing was largely left to customs, expectations, and traditional local powers. However, the state held legal force through a system of inspectors, some of whom operated outside the authority of the Sapa Inca.
The Inca were fabulous stoneworkers
Architecture was very important to the Inca. The stone temples they constructed used no mortar and fit together so well that a knife couldn’t fit between separate stones.
The Inca had no hours, days of the week, or months
What calendars the Inca had were strongly tied to astronomy – they generally used two at the same time: one solar, one lunar. The lunar calendar had to be adjusted to fit the slightly longer solar one. Similarly, there were no names for hours, days of the week, or months – instead, time during a given day was decided based on how far the sun had traveled or on the time it took to complete a task.
Almost all gold and silver work was destroyed
It’s no surprise that the conquistadores did not have a positive effect on the Inca. Once the Inca had been conquered, the Spanish melted down almost all gold and silver artwork they could find.
The Inca chewed coca leaves
Remember cocaine? This drug is derived from the coca plant, and the Inca made heavy use of the leaves. They revered the plant as sacred or magical, and used it in moderate amounts to lessen hunger or pain, or for extra energy.
The Inca had compulsory military service
Part of the military might of the Inca had to do with their military service. Every male was required to participate in one war, so that, if needed, any male could be battle-ready in short time.
The Inca were physically different from other people
Over time, the people of Peru developed distinctive physical traits. First, they were short, with men averaging 5 feet 2 inches tall and women averaging 4 feet 9 inches tall. Their lungs also had an additional third greater capacity from other humans. Then there are the cardiovascular systems – the Inca has slower heart rates, double the hemoglobin and about four pints more blood than other people on Earth.