The Amateur Academic’s Introduction to the Inca Empire

The rich and mysterious culture of the Inca has long fascinated students of history. The largest of the pre-Columbian empires, the Inca ruled an empire that encompassed present-day Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. Students of pre-Columbian civilization, whether expert or novice, will enjoy immersing themselves in the resources provided in this guide.


Best Books on the Inca Empire

Hiram Bingham’s The Lost City of the Incas tells the story of the “discovery” by western culture of Machu Picchu in 1911.

The history of the rise of a small group of Peruvians into the Inca Empire is told in Burr Cartwright Brundage’s Empire of the Inca.

In The Incas, Terence N. D’Altroy explains the Inca ascendancy from a tiny mountain society to an empire of over 15 million people, as well as their sudden fall to Pizarro’s small force of only 200 men.

Considered by many to be the best book about the Spanish conquest of the Inca, John Hemming’s The Conquest of the Incas is the definitive history of the destruction of the Incan civilization.

Kim MacQuarrie’s The Last Days of the Incas chronicles the fall of Huascar and Atahualpa to the Spanish conquistador Pizarro, and the long guerilla war that followed.

Best Source Material

A digital version of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s famous coronica, with its history of the pre-conquest Andes, may be found at Det Kongelige Bibliotk, the National Library of Denmark.

At the Library of José Durand, scholars can view more than 70 historical and literary works that reconstruct the world of the noted historian, Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, the son of an Incan aristocrat and Spanish conquistador, born shortly after the fall of the Incan empire.

The Smithsonian Institution has over 800,000 video and audio files, images and journal articles in its online collection, and Inca scholars can find a wealth of resources by conducting simple searches.

Best Interactive Sites and Other Online Resources

The Carnegie Museum Online offers a survey of the history of Incan conquest, including the story of Hiram Bingham’s “discovery” of the ancient, high mountain city.

At Dumbarton Oaks, view an online exhibit that explains not only how the Incas used the sun to tell time, but how timekeeping for the Andeans was integrally connected with their religious beliefs.

The U.S. Library of Congress has a variety of exhibits, including an MIT professor’s lecture explaining the engineering behind Incan suspension bridges, as well as comparisons of pre-Colombian peoples.

For those interested in Incan and Peruvian art, the Museo de Arte Precolombino offers an online exhibition of vessels, figures and other art dating from 1250 B.C. to 1532 A.D. Peruse several galleries, including one dedicated to the Nasca and another devoted just to the Incan Imperial era (1300-1532 A.D.).

Museo Inka Peru, available in Spanish and English, has nine online galleries of the Inca’s beautiful metalwork in gold, silver and precious gems.

The Museo Larco in Lima, Peru maintains an excellent collection of Incan objects and art, and its website has a wonderful photo gallery of Incan gold, jewelry, cultural objects, metals and textiles.

PBS’ Nova offers an interesting online survey of the Incan empire and culture. Interactive exhibits are available on unique Inca culture, such as operating on skulls, the engineering of Machu Picchu and ice mummies.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a number of online resources to the Inca scholar, including its collection of colonial era Peruvian figurines, articles on Inka kinetics and water management, and audio lectures on Peru.

Whether you think they were made as landing strips and maps for extraterrestrials, offerings to the gods or simply big art, Peru’s Nazca geoglyphs are a fascinating piece of pre-Incan culture. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides a comprehensive website with maps, a gallery and other information.

Literature About the Inca and Their Legacy

Deep Rivers by José Marîa Arguedas explores Peru’s two cultures, Andean and European. Arguedas is known for his depiction of natural surroundings and social conditions, and in this work, he shares Incan culture with western readers.

John Harrison’s Cloud Road recounts his modern-day trek along the 600 mile long ancient Inca Royal Road, the Camino Real. Mixing Incan history with the best aspects of travel writing, Harrison’s book is a must-read.

At the height of its power, the Inca Empire extended down to Patagonia. With Inés of My Soul, Isabel Allende recounts the story of Spain’s conquest of the Incas and the indigenous people in Chile through the eyes of a Spanish woman.

Mario Vargas Llosa is considered one of the lions of South American literature. His Death in the Andes weaves a modern mystery with ancient culture to create a thrilling page-turner.

With so many online exhibits, images and galleries, as well as the best books on the subject, even the novice historian can quickly develop an understanding of Incan history and culture. Take advantage of the wealth of resources and learn a bit about South America’s greatest pre-Columbian empire.

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