(MAYA, AZTEC, INCA and INUIT before COLUMBUS – continued)

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MAYA, AZTEC, INCA and INUIT before COLUMBUS (4 of 7)

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South America, Pre-Inca

Wari and Tiwanaku empires map Mts

Between the years 500 and 750 in the far north of South America and south into what today is Brazil there were chiefdoms and farming. And there was still some hunting and gathering in what today is Argentina. In what are today Ecuador and northern Peru were small kingdoms. And to the south, also in the Andes Mountains, were the Wari and Tiwanaku empires. (Map to the right)

The city of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanacu in Spanish) was thriving in the year 600. It covered approximately 6.5 square kilometers and had between 15,000–30,000 inhabitants (in population density about the same as Los Angeles today at 3,124 persons per square kilometer but less than Manila, at 43,079). South America in general has been described as having something like ten persons per square mile or 2.6 square kilometers – sparse compared to Europe at that time. (Areas that support hunter-gatherers areas are estimated at around ten persons for every 500 square miles or 1,295 square kilometers.)

Tiwanaku was at the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca. People had been farming there since around 1000 BCE. In the Titicaca basin they had predictable and abundant rainfall. They had irrigated fields, pasture, terraced fields and artificial ponds. Their agriculture made their dense population possible and was the strength behind the city's expansion against other peoples along the Andes – an expansion that had begun around the year 400. Tiwanaku's expansion absorbed cultures rather than eradicated them. The city of Tiwanaku became what has been described as a moral and cosmological center to which people made reverential pilgrimages.

The Tiwanaku Empire had a cosmology but no elite that could read or write. Like other peoples they had stories. Tiwanaku was seen as the center of the earth, where the moist female lands met the dry pastoral male lands, where the sun god, Viracocha, had created a new world order. He was seen as a god of action and as a shaper and destroyer of worlds. It was he who created people out of rock, and he brought life to them through the earth.

Other gods were worshipped. There were shamans who performed in full regalia. There appears also to have been ancestor worship in the form of preservation, use and reconfiguration of mummy bundles and skeletal remains.

Satellite view of Andes Mts

Peruvian Andes mountains, with Ecuador at the top left and Lake Titicaca on the lower right, with specks of snow – summertime perhaps.

Common folks were buried, but there were special displays at the top of a building known as the Akipana. There, people were torn apart shortly after death and laid out for all to see – perhaps a dedication to the gods.

The social order from Tiwanaku was built on rank. An elite controlled the economy. It managed essentially all economic output and it was expected to distribute to farmers and llama herders whatever they needed.

At an elevation of 12,507 feet, and west of higher elevations, the Titikaka basin's normal climate shifted around the year 950, bringing a decline in rain and producing drought. Prayers and sacrifices didn't help, and around the year 1000, with inadequate food, the Tiwanaku Empire fell apart and Tiwanaku society disappeared.

Wari (Huari) Culture

The town of Wari was northwest of Tiwanaku and covered about 16 square kilometers, with a population of something like 15,000. This would be 936 persons per square kilometer – less dense than Tiwanaku. The Wari built roads and expanded militarily, spreading their kind of terrace agriculture and, as often happens with military conquest, bringing religious conversion. It is not known whether religious conversion motivated Wari expansion. They expanded their empire down to the Pacific coast of what is today Peru, where Moche culture had dominated but had faded around the year 700.

The Wari are said to have eaten dead people – described by anthropologists as "funerary cannibalism." This included eating the flesh of foreign enemies and one's relatives. It was a part of their spirituality as among other people who had cannibalistic rituals, with people believing that in eating flesh one ingested the spirit of the creature being eaten. It is claimed today that the Wari disliked seeing dead people being eaten avidly, as though the dead were game meat.

The supreme Wari god was Pachacamac, "Creator of the World." Pachacamac was the most important place for pilgrims in the coastal region at the time and attracted worshippers from all over what today is Peru.

Wari culture and empire declined around the year 1000, the same time as did Tiwanaku culture, and perhaps for the same reason: a dramatic change in climate which brought draught and starvation.

Chan Chan

The city of Chan Chan emerged from the collapse of the Wari Empire as the dominant power along the coastal and lowland region next to the Andes Mountains, where lowland towns had been fighting each other over access to rivers of fresh water. Chan Chan was a city of about 20 square kilometers, with adobe buildings and surrounded by thirty miles of irrigated corn fields and gardens. Chan Chan's culture is described as Chimú.

In the 1300s Chan Chan expanded about 200 miles northward along the coast and a hundred miles southward, where its expansion was stopped by another coastal power, Chincha.

By 1370, Chan Chan had walls ten feet thick at the bottom and thirty feet high, it had terraced hillsides and canals for irrigation. Metallurgy there had improved, copper from what is now northern Chile having been combined with tin. Bronze knives and plowing sticks were made, bringing to the Americas a short lived bronze age. Meanwhile, Chan Chan's weavers were making cloth that had 250 threads to the inch compared to the 85 threads per inch that was being produced in Europe.


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