The Inca - Culture and Civilization of South America


The Inca were a South American people who controlled a large empire that stretched along the Pacific coast from Ecuador to northern Chile. The Inca dynasty was founded at about 1200 A.D. and lasted until the end of the 16th century, when the Spanish conquerors came to South America.

The capital city of the Incan empire was Cuzco, which was located in the Andes Mountains in today’s Peru. What is left of the Inca civilization is scattered over the highlands of the Andes. The descendants of the Inca are mostly peasants who make up about half of Peru’s population.



Map of South America - Inca Population

The Inca lived in the central part of the Andes Mountains



Society and Culture

There were two classes in Inca society: the ruling classes and the peasants. The emperor was called “The Inca” or “Sapa Inca”. He ate from gold dishes and never wore the same clothes twice. Like the pharaohs of Egypt, he took his own sister as queen. The noblemen came from the capital Cuzco and helped the emperor govern the land.

Most people were farmers who produced their own food and clothes. The main crops were corn, tomatoes, squash and sweet potatoes, which the Inca were first to produce. They also raised guinea pigs, ducks and dogs. One of the most important animals was the llama. It providedthe peasants with wool and it could carry heavy loads as well.

The Inca spoke the Quechua language. They couldn’t write, but they used quipus, which were stringswith a system of knots attached to them. That’s how they recorded their harvest.

The Inca were very skilful in making handicrafts. Women were excellent weavers .They wove cloth into tunics. Men were great metalworkers. They knew how to extract metal from ore by heating and melting it. Then the metals were moulded into different shapes to make weapons and other tools. The Inca also produced pottery and made musical instruments such as flutes.

The Inca were great construction workers and architects. They built a large network of roads throughout the empire, as well as tunnels and suspension bridges that crossed narrow mountain valleys.

In Cuzco the Inca built massive walls made of huge stones. Some were more than 7 metres high and weighed many tons. Even today, centuries later, the stones fit together so well that you can’t even put a knife blade between them.

The Inca worshipped gods of nature—the sun, the earth or thunder. They sacrificed humans and animals. People also worshipped their ancestors and kept mummies of some of them. The Inca created a calendar by looking at the movements of the sun and the moon. Harvest feasts were celebrated in May, planting rituals were held in August.


Daily life

Lost CivilizationWhen the Inca got up in the morning they didn’t have to get dressed, because they slept in their clothes. Women wore long gowns with a sash at the waist. Men wore loincloths and shirts without sleeves. Both men and women wore sandals.

The average house had only one room made out of stone or brick. Normally it had a thatched roof. There were no beds or mattresses, so the whole family had to sleep on the floor.

The Inca lived in small villages. Even Cuzco, the capital, was not a very large city.



History of the Incan Empire


The history of the Inca is mainly known from stories that have been passed down and from records made after the Spanish conquered the empire. Starting in the 13th century, the Inca began conquering land and the empire became bigger and bigger. One hundred years later it was at the height of its power.

In the 16th century the Incan empire became weaker when a fight broke out between two of the rulers sons. They both claimed the throne and wanted to succeed their father. When the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro came he defeated the Inca and brought the empire under Spanish rule.

Memories of the Incan empire still remain alive today. Although they were oppressed in the centuries that followed, today’s government is doing many things to improve the life of the Inca and to make their culture more popular. Quechua became an official language and a portrait of a famous Inca king is now on a Peruvian banknote.



The Lost Inca City

Explorers have found ruins of a lost city on a peak in the Andes Mountains of Peru. They think the site belonged to the Inca who ruled the region more than 500 years ago. The ruins are on a mountain called Cerro Victoria in a very re mote region of Peru. This area was the place where the Inca retreated to when the Spanish conqueror Pizarro came in the 16th century.

Local people have known Cerro Victoria for a long time, but they didn’t know what it was. A British photographer went there with a team of archaeologists in 2001. The team had to hike and climb for four days to reach the site from the nearest road. Some of the ruins are 4,500 m above sea level.

When they got there they found storehouses, courtyards, roads, terraces and many other stone buildings. Archaeologists think that the Inca chose the place for two reasons. It was near important silver mines and it gave the people a great view of the mountains. The Inca may also have gone there to observe the sun and the moon from a perfect spot.

The explorers hope to find out when the lost city was built and how long the Inca lived there.


Machu Picchu - Charlesjsharp


Downloadable PDF Text- and Worksheets


Related Topics



  • although =while
  • ancestor = member of your family who lived a long time ago
  • archaeologist = a person who studies old civilisations and looks at the buildings of that time
  • attach = fix, connect
  • century = a hundred years
  • century = one hundred years
  • claim = ask for , want
  • conquer = to take control of a country by fighting
  • construction worker = people who build houses, bridges etc...
  • courtyard = an open space that has buildings around it
  • create = make
  • crop = food plants that are grown by farmers
  • defeat = to win over
  • descendant = someone who is a relative of a person or a family who lived a long time ago
  • dynasty = family of kings who have ruled for many years
  • emperor = a man who rules a country like a king
  • empire = many countries controlled by one ruler
  • extract = to take out
  • found =to start something for the first time
  • govern = to rule
  • government =the people who rule a country
  • gown = a long dress
  • handicraft =something that someone makes with their hands and then sells it
  • harvest feast = meal that people had in a long time ago when they harvested their crops
  • height = high point; climax
  • improve = make better
  • knife blade =the sharp metal side of a knife
  • knot =pieces of string and rope are twisted together
  • load = weight
  • located = to be found
  • loincloth = a piece of cloth that men wear to cover their sexual organs
  • mattress = the soft part of a bed that you lie on
  • melt = to make something very hot so that it becomes thin
  • memory = things you remember about the past
  • mine = a hole in the ground where people can dig for gold, silver or other rocks
  • mould = to form
  • movement = to change position from one place to another
  • network = system
  • noblemen =a man who is a member of the highest social class
  • observe = watch
  • oppress = to treat people very badly
  • ore = rock that has metal in it
  • peak = highest point of a mountain
  • peasant = a poor farmer
  • pottery = objects made of baked clay
  • provide = give
  • raise = to look after animals and use them as food
  • record =to write down information about something
  • remain = stay
  • remote = very far away from where people live
  • retreat = to move back
  • ruin = a part of building that is left over
  • rule =to have control oft he country and the people
  • sacrifice = when you offer something to god in a religious act
  • sash = a kind of belt
  • scattered = spread over a big area
  • sea level =the average height of the sea
  • shape = form
  • site = place, location
  • skilful = very talented
  • sleeve =part of a shirt or coat that covers your arm
  • society = people in general
  • squash = a vegetable that looks like a pumpkin
  • storehouse = a building where many things are kept
  • stretch = extend
  • string =a strong piece of thread, that is twisted together
  • succeed = to follow , to come after
  • suspension bridge =a bridge that hangs from strong steel ropes fixed to towers
  • terrace = flat places on a mountain
  • thatched roof = roof made of dry grass or leaves
  • throne = a special chair that a king or queen sits in
  • throughout = in all parts
  • tunic = a long piece of clothing that people wore long ago
  • waist = the narrow part of your body
  • weapon =something you use for fighting ,like a gun
  • weaver = a person who makes cloth
  • weigh = how heavy something is
  • worship = pray to