The Inca Empire was a complex society with an estimated population of 10 million people. They had large stone cities, beautiful temples, an advanced government, a detailed tax system, and an intricate road system.
The Inca, however, didn't have a lot of basic technologies we often consider important to advanced societies. They didn't use the wheel for transport, they didn't have a writing system for records, and they didn't even have iron for making tools. How did they create such an advanced Empire?
Below are some of the important scientific innovations and technologies used by the Inca Empire.
Roads and Communication
The Incas built a large system of roads that went throughout their empire. The roads were usually paved with stone. Stone steps were often built into steep areas in the mountains. They also built bridges where the roads needed to cross rivers.
The remains of an Ancient Inca road by Bcasterline
The main purpose for the roads was for communication, moving army troops, and to transport goods. Commoners were not allowed to travel on the roads.
Communication was accomplished by runners on the roads. Fast young men called "chaskis" would run from one relay station to the next. At each station they would pass the message on to the next runner. Messages were either passed verbally or by using a quipu (see below). Messages traveled quickly this way at the rate of around 250 miles per day.
An Inca Chaski runner by Unknown
A quipu was a series of strings with knots. The number of knots, the size of the knots, and the distance between knots conveyed meaning to the Inca, sort of like writing. Only specially trained officials knew how to use quipus.
A drawing of a quipu (artist unknown)
The Inca were able to create sturdy stone buildings. Without the use of iron tools they were able to shape large stones and have them fit together without the use of mortar. By fitting the stones closely as well as other architectural techniques, the Inca were able to create large stone buildings that survived for hundreds of years despite the many earthquakes that occur in Peru.
The Inca were expert farmers. They used irrigation and water storage techniques to grow crops in all sorts of terrain from the deserts to the high mountains. Despite not having beasts of burden or iron tools, the Inca farmers were very efficient.
Calendar and Astronomy
The Inca used their calendar to mark religious festivals as well as the seasons so they could plant their crops at the correct time of the year. They studied the sun and the stars to calculate their calendar.
The Inca calendar was made up of 12 months. Each month had three weeks of ten days each. When the calendar and the sun got off track, the Inca would add a day or two to bring them back into alignment.
Government and Taxes
The Inca had a complex system of government and taxes. Numerous officials kept watch over the people and made sure that the taxes were paid. The people were required to work hard, but their basic needs were provided.
Interesting Facts about Inca Science and Technology
The messengers who ran on the roads were punished harshly if the message was not accurately delivered. This rarely happened.
The Inca built a variety of bridges including suspension bridges and pontoon bridges.
One of the main forms of medicine used by the Inca was the coca leaf.
The Inca developed aqueducts to bring fresh water into town.
The basic unit of distance used by the Inca was one pace or a "thatki".