Report of General Monthly Meeting - May 2018

The Rise and Fall of the Inca Empire by Richard Costard

Richard provided a fascinating summary of the Incas, their achievements and their decline. The Inca Empire lasted for only a hundred years, from its creation in 1438 to its conquest by the Spanish in 1533, led by Pizarro of Trujillo in Extremada. A major source for Richard’s talk were the chronicles of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (1583 -1613) written not contemparaneously but not long after the demise of the Incas.

The achievements of the Incas in creating an empire stretching for 3000 miles from north to south along the western coast of South America were the more remarkable since they had no wheels, written language, iron, oxen or other large animals and no plains to farm. The terrain was mountainous and the problems of farming included low rainfall, El Nino climatic currents, earthquakes and little timber. They established a system of growing crops by altitude; below 2000 m cocoa and cotton were grown, with maize being the main crop between 3-4000 m and potatoes being grown above 4000m. There were no domestic animals apart from alpaca/llamas which were used for wool and guinea pigs which were a source of food.

The extensive network of Inca trails - there were two main trails, one by the coast and one further inland - included rope bridges which are used today. They built collca which were used for storing surplus food, and coriana or temples which could be covered with gold leaf.

The death of Atuahuapha followed the defeat at the battle of Cajamara by the Spanish. This was the beginning of the end for the Inca empire which was only rediscovered in 1911 by Hiron Binyan who after searching for years found the remains of an Inca village. Many of us left this talk inspired to visit Peru and Macchu Picchu to learn more about this remarkable people.

Julia Whitburn