The Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Sit...

The Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Cusco in Peru, at twilight Français : Le Machu Picchu, site du Patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO près de Cuzco au Pérou, au coucher du soleil Türkçe: Dünya Mirasları Listesi’nde bulunan Peru’daki Macchu Picchu’nun alaca karanlıktaki görüntüsü. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s possible that some of you will be aware that my undergraduate dissertation was about the Aztecs and rooted in a course that I took on ‘The First Hundred Years of the Spanish in America‘.  I’ve never quite managed to shake my interest in all things Aztec, Inca and Conquistador, so this article in the Observer newspaper yesterday rather caught my eye:

“The Incas were an ethnic group of superlatives: although never numbering more than 100,000 individuals, they nevertheless created the largest native empire in the New World, 2,500 miles long, from what is now southern Colombia to central Chile and across some of the world’s most mountainous and difficult terrain.

The Incas’ breathtaking mastery of their natural environment was acutely brought home to me this weekend as I climbed 2,000ft up a cloud forest trail in south-eastern Peru to Machu Picchu, a royal retreat built for an Inca emperor that clings to a mountain spur 8,000ft up in the Andes. As I wandered about the cloud-wreathed city of gurgling fountains, sacrificial altars, celestial observatories and exquisitely fashioned buildings of white granite blocks – some of which weigh more than 50 tons – I couldn’t help but reflect on the sheer genius the Incas obviously possessed.

Although their empire existed for a scant 100 years before being cut short in 1533 by the arrival of the Spaniards, the Incas managed to create 26,000 miles of roads, ruled an empire of 10 million people and imposed their language and culture from one end of the Andes to the other. In a very real sense, the Incas were the “Romans” of the New World and, like the Romans, they were excellent administrators and empire builders. Like the Romans, however, they borrowed many aspects of their culture – from metallurgy and warfare and architecture to agriculture and animal husbandry and astronomy – from other, previous cultures.

They also appropriated, transformed and incorporated elements of many other South American religions, including animal and human sacrifices. Last week the photograph of a 15-year-old Inca girl appeared in the press, a beautiful and unblemished teenager who was sacrificed more than 500 years ago on top of a 22,000ft volcano in northern Argentina. Her mummified body was found by archaeologists in 1999 and is now on display for the first time in a museum in Argentina. Drugged with coca leaves and plied with alcohol, the girl was left to freeze to death high in the Andes, a seemingly senseless death to modern readers. The revelation of the girl’s untimely death raises an obvious question: why did the Incas, despite being one of the most powerful, sophisticated and accomplished cultures in the New World, feel the need to sacrifice their children on mountain tops?”

continued here:   Why the Incas offered up child sacrifices | Science | The Observer.