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History of Peru

Early History

Some of the oldest civilisations appeared c. 6000 BC in the coastal provinces of Chilca and Paracas, and in the highland province of Callejón de Huaylas. Over the following three thousand years, inhabitants switched from nomadic lifestyles to cultivating land, as evidence from sites such as Jiskairumoko, Kotosh, and Huaca Prieta demonstrates. Cultivation of plants such as corn and cotton (Gossypium Barbadense) began, as well as the domestication of animals such as the wild ancestors of the llama, the alpaca, and the guinea pig. Inhabitants practised spinning and knitting of cotton and wool, basketry and pottery.

The first more familiar cultures are the Norte Chico civilisation, from c. 3000 BC, and the Chavin culture, which emerged c. 900 BC. Though the Chavin were among the first since the builders of Norte Chico to construct monumental temples, they do not seem to have developed a significant middle class.

The Paracas culture emerged on the southern coast around 300 BC. They are known for their use of vicuña fibers instead of just cotton to produce fine textiles – innovations that did not reach the northern coast of Peru until centuries later. Coastal cultures such as the Moche and Nazca flourished from about 100 BC to about 700 AD. The Moche produced impressive metalwork, as well as some of the finest pottery seen in the ancient world, while the Nazca are known for their textiles and the enigmatic Nazca lines.

These coastal cultures eventually began to decline as a result of recurring El Niño floods and droughts. In consequence, the Huari and Tiwanaku, who dwelt inland in the Andes became the predominant cultures of the region encompassing much of modern-day Peru and Bolivia. They were succeeded by powerful city-states, such as Chancay, Sipan, and Cajamarca, and two empires: Chimor and Chachapoyas culture These cultures developed relatively advanced techniques of cultivation, gold and silver craft, pottery, metallurgy, and knitting. Around 700 BC, they appear to have developed systems of social organisation that were the precursors of the Inca civilisation.

Not all Andean cultures were willing to offer their loyalty to the Incas as the Incas expanded their empire, and many were openly hostile. The people of the Chachapoyas culture were an example of this, but they were eventually conquered and integrated into the Inca Empire.

Inca Empire (1438-1532)

The Incas created the vastest dynasty of pre-Columbian America. The Tahuantinsuyo (which is derived from Quechua for "The Four United Regions") reached its greatest extension at the beginning of the 16th century. It dominated a territory that included from north to south Ecuador, part of Colombia, the northern half of Chile, and the north-west part of Argentina; and from west to east, from Bolivia to the Amazonian forests and Peru.

The empire originated from a tribe based in Cuzco, which became the capital. Pachacutec was the first ruler to considerably expand the boundaries of the Cuzco state. His offspring later ruled an empire by both violent and peaceful conquest.

In Cuzco, the royal city was created to resemble a Cougar; the head, the main royal structure, formed what is now known as Sacsayhuaman. The Empire’s administrative, political, and military centre was located in Cuzco. The empire was divided into four quarters: Chinchasuyo, Antisuyo, Contisuyo, and Collasuyo.

Quechua was the official language, imposed on the citizens. It was the language of a neighbouring tribe of the original tribe of the empire. Conquered populations were allowed to practice their own religions and lifestyles, but had to recognise Inca cultural practices as superior to their own. Inti, the sun god, was to be worshipped as one of the most important gods of the empire. His representation on earth was the Inca ("Emperor").

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