They learned to work and alloy, or blend, copper, tin, bronze, silver, and gold. While they employed copper and bronze for useful objects, they reserved precious metals for statues of gods and goddesses, eating utensils for the nobles, and decoration.

The Inca also mastered the art of weaving, a practice passed down to them from earlier Andean peoples. They raised cotton and sheared the wool from llamas and alpacas to create colorful textiles to be worn as clothing or as adornments, such as belts and bags.

Medical Practices

The Inca developed important medical practices, including surgery on the human skull. In such operations, they cleaned the area to be operated on and then gave the patient a drug to make him or her unconscious—procedures similar to the modern use of antiseptics and anesthesia.

This is not dissimilar from the Aztec, whose doctors set bones and prepared prescriptions to cure illnesses. The Inca also used medical procedures to mummify the dead.

Religion and Ritual

The Inca worshipped many gods linked to the forces of nature. People offered food, clothing, and drink to the guardian spirits of the home and the village. Each month had its own festival, from the great ripening and the dance of the young maize to the festival of the water. Festivals were celebrated with ceremonies, sports, and games.

A powerful class of priests served the gods. Chief among the gods was Inti, the sun god. His special attendants, the “Chosen Women,” were selected from each region of the empire. During years of training, they studied the mysteries of the religion, learned to prepare ritual food and drink, and made the elaborate wool garments worn by the Sapa Inca and the Coya. After their training, most Chosen Women continued to serve Inti. Others joined the Inca's court or married nobles.

Comparing Three Civilizations

The three major civilizations of the Americas differed in location, origins, and early history. Their customs, languages, and traditions differed, too. Still, like civilizations elsewhere, the Maya, Aztecs, and Inca shared key features: well-organized governments, complex religions, job specialization, social classes, architecture and arts, and public works. Of the three, only the Inca did not have a system of writing, although their quipu are thought to have preserved records. All built on the achievements of earlier peoples in their regions, but each created its own style in the arts, legends, and view of the world.

Characteristics of Inca Life
  • Built terraced fields
  • Grew corn, potatoes, beans, squash, peanuts, avocados, cotton, coca (fought hunger, thirst, pain), rare orchids (for medicine)
Domesticated Animals
  • Alpaca (for wool)
  • Llamas (carried goods)
  • Metal work (gold, silver, bronze): eating utensils for nobles, decoration
  • Weaving: colorful wool, cotton textiles with gold and feathers woven in
  • Goldwork: ornaments such as jewelry and objects for religious ceremonies
  • Pottery: coiled technique and used for everyday use and decoration
  • Quipu: a system of strings and tied knots
Medical practices
  • Surgery
  • Early antiseptics/anesthesia
  • Mummification
  • Worshipped many gods, most importantly sun god;
  • Females were attendants to gods
Made Clothing
  • Two-piece loose tunics without sleeves slipped over the head
  • Cloaks as outer garments fastened at neck with pin
  • Cloaks as outer garments fastened at neck with pin

Analyze Information

Inca society was sophisticated, and much of daily life was structured and strictly regulated by government officials. How was their religion similar to many other cultures?

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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