4.2 The World of the Incas

The first cultures of South America developed in the Andean region along the western edge of the continent. This region includes a variety of climates and terrains. The narrow coastal plain is a dry, lifeless desert crossed by occasional rivers. Further inland, the snow-capped Andes Mountains rise steeply, leveling off into high plateaus that bake by day and freeze at night. East of the Andes, dense jungles stretch from Peru into Brazil.

Photo of a stone settlement in a tropical setting with connected stairs, dwellings and decorations built into an outcropping of land.

The interior of the temple complex at Chavín de Huántar included relief carvings of human, serpent, crocodile, feline, and bird images. Scholars believe that Chavín religious beliefs unified the surrounding region.


  • Examine the early cultures of the Andes.
  • Understand how Inca emperors extended and maintained their empire.
  • Describe the major developments of Inca civilization.

Key Terms

  • Chavín
  • Moche
  • adobe
  • Nazca
  • Huari
  • Tiahuanaco
  • Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui
  • Sapa Inca
  • Cuzco
  • quipu
  • ayllu
  • Inti

Cultures of the Andes

Thousands of years ago, people settled in fishing villages along the desert coast of Peru and Chile. Gradually they expanded inland, farming the river valleys that run up into the highland plateaus. Using careful irrigation, they grew maize, cotton, squash, and beans. On mountain slopes, they cultivated potatoes, eventually producing 700 varieties. On high plateaus, they domesticated the llama and the alpaca. Eventually, they built large ceremonial centers and developed skills in pottery and weaving.

The Chavín

Archaeologists have pieced together a chronology of various cultures that left their mark on the Andean region over the course of 2,000 years. The earliest of these was the Chavín (chah VEEN) culture, named for ruins at Chavín de Huantar (chah VEEN day WAHN tahr). There, in about 900 B.C., people built a huge temple complex. Archaeologists are not sure of the Chavín political structure, but they think the culture's religion unified people throughout northern and central Peru. Chavín arts and religion continued to influence later peoples of Peru as well.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments