Peru with its vastness of archeological wealth is incomparable. For some reason when people hear about Peruvian history, they immediately think about the story of Inca civilization. It is probably what Peru is most known for. But the truth is Peruvian history has intricate weavings. Its history is much more complex, it goes deeper than the Inca. It goes as far back as millennia. So, let’s explore Peruvian history starting from the pre-ceramic period.
The Early Inhabitants
Around 20,000 years ago when humans migrated across the Bering Strait, some nomadic hunters and gatherers landed in Peru. They came to the country roaming in loose-knit bands. The early inhabitants lived in caves. They hunted mastodons, saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths and other fearsome animals. The existence and lifestyle of the early inhabitants were found in cave paintings that depict hunting scenes discovered in Toquepala and Lauricocha.
In 4000 BC, the inhabitants began to domesticate guinea pigs, alpaca, and llama. Others suggest that it may have started way back in 7000 BC. Around this time too, people have begun planting seeds. They no longer relied solely on hunting for food. The people learned simple horticultural methods to improve their crops.
Today, Peru’s coastal strip is a desert. Back then, however, it was wetter. As a matter of fact, there were small settlements here. People tilled the land and planted crops like corn, squash, cotton, quinoa, beans and potato. They also fished using bone hooks and nets. They lived on sea lions, seabird eggs, sea urchins and shellfish. The people twined cotton to make their clothing; later though, they learned to apply weaving techniques.
Trade occurred in the Amazon basin. Evidences of trade relations between the Amazon and Andean regions include cassava, sweet potatoes, rainforest bird feathers and coca leaf among others. Although metalwork and ceramics were yet to be discovered by people in this period, they did craft jewelry from shell and bone.
The inhabitants of the coastal area built simple dwellings from reeds and branches with stone lining. They also built structures meant for rituals and ceremonies. The most complex and unique perhaps were the Caral ruins built around 3000 BC. There were astronomical observatories as well. The ruins of the oldest one were discovered north of Lima.
People also settled in the highlands. Although little is known about how these people lived, the structures they built are considered to be the most developed from this period. The earliest ruins from the highland settlers were found near Huânuco.
Organized life in Peru did not occur until the 2500 BC. Early Peruvian civilization evolved in the next 1500 years. During these times, various organized cultures emerged like the Chavin and the Sechin. The Chavin were responsible for stylized religious iconography. Their influence spread to the whole coastal region. The Sechin on the other hand, may not have had many cultural achievements but they are equally memorable for their military hegemony.
The Chavin and the Sechin culture and influence eventually declined which paved the way for the development of other regional cultures like the Saliner and the Paracas. These cultures were responsible for technological and artistic advances.
They came up with weaving techniques which were more sophisticated than that of their predecessors. They also learned to make kiln-fired ceramics. After the Paracas, the Nazca emerged. We know the Nazca today for leaving a visible legacy. That is the cryptic and immense Nazca Lines.
The Inca Empire
The early inhabitants of Peru may be responsible for many cultural, artistic, military and technological advances. However, their accomplishments would seem inferior when compared to that of the Inca.
Around 1430, the Inca’s realm only consisted of the river valley surrounding Cuzco. Because of their brevity, however, they managed to expand their realm immensely to nearly 1 million square kilometers in less than a century. This means their influence and rule extended beyond Peru. They reigned from the northwest of Argentina up to the southern part of Colombia. To ensure their reign over the conquered territories, the Incas impose their way of life on their subjects.
The capital of the Inca Empire was Qosqo. It was the wealthiest city on the Americas with all their glorious temples adorned in heavy gold plate. Although only fragments of their architectural magnificence are left now, they are still astounding. You will find some of these magnificent fragments in Macchu Picchu.
Then the Spaniards Came
Because of an epidemic, the 11th Inca (king), Huayna Capac split the territory between his sons born of different mothers, Atahualpa and Huascar, believing that it was the best way to avoid conflict. Atahualpa took the north and Huascar took the south. Unfortunately, the 11th Inca was wrong. The war between the brothers started. It took years before one emerged as the victor. By that time, the Spanish were ready to take over.
While the north and the south were busy fighting in their civil war, Francisco Pizarro had discovered the wealth of the Inca Empire in 1528. He was astonished at the sight of the Inca’s coastal settlements. He decided to go home and gather enough forces for a conquest. True enough, Pizarro returned and buried a Spanish flag in a town in Peru in September 1532. He named it San Miguel de Piura.
The Inca Empire was at the height of its power in 1532. Atahualpa just defeated his half-brother so the empire is once again united under a single rule. Unfortunately, the new Inca was outsmarted leading to his demise and that of the entire empire. Pizarro requested an audience with Atahualpa which was granted. What was supposed to be a meeting turned out to be an ambush.
Atahualpa was captured and thousands of tribes people, unarmed, were killed. Pizarro and his troops made ransom requests. Because of the desire to gain their freedom and their leader back, the Incas offered ransom in the form of gold and silver. Some of which were literally stripped off from what used to be the most glorious temple the Inca empire had ever built, the Qorikancha. It turned out to be another trick from Pizarro. He killed the Atahualpa and marched forward bringing the great empire down to its knees.
The Spanish Rule
The Incas made several attempts to recover their territories. None of those attempts were successful, however. Peru was in great turmoil for the next 30 years with the Spaniards fighting among themselves for control. After the last Inca was defeated and Pizarro was assassinated, the next 200 years became more peaceful.
Lima was declared as the capital. The Spaniards called it “City of Kings.” They groomed Lima to become the commercial, social and political center of the Andean nations. The Spanish also built colonial churches in the highlands and a school of art in Cuzco.
The 19th century marked the beginning of revolutions as the people of South America grew more dissatisfied with the Spanish rule. Peru along with other South American colonies was freed. The Spanish fought in defense but finally surrendered in 1826.
After the war with Spain, things were still shaky for Peru as they also fought a war against Ecuador over border dispute. The 20th century was a period of military dictatorship and revolutions. The political instability’ in Peru ended in the 90s. This sustained period of peace opened Peru up for tourism. Adventure seekers from all over the world come to Peru to admire its complex heritage and undeniable beauty’.